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Sounds Orchestral
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Transcribed David Gibbs

Symphony No. 5 in B flat D485 [29:50]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Transcribed David Gibbs

Symphony No. 4 op 90 [32:42]
David Gibbs and Greg Morris (organ duet)
rec. Blackburn Cathedral, 14-15 February 2006. DDD
LAMMAS LAMM 197D [62:37]


There seems to be a flux of organ transcriptions of Mendelssohn symphonies at the moment. Not so long ago I reviewed Heinrich Walther’s very successful solo recording of the Fifth Symphony. Here, David Gibbs and Greg Morris present the former’s duet transcription of the Fourth Symphony, together with the Fifth Symphony of Schubert.

Apart from the obvious difference with Walther’s approach, namely that here two people are playing, an essential feature in transcription-conception needs to be discussed here to be able to assess this recording. I commented in my review of Walther’s recording that he seemed to set out to create a piece of organ literature from Mendelssohn’s score. This is reflected incidentally in his choice of instrument, the 1821 Bucholz organ in Barth. Gibbs seems very much more to be in the business of orchestra-imitation, not quite Peter Conte style, but with plenty of shaded dynamics, piston-pushing and the like. The fact that two people are on the bench reflects this approach and the choice of instrument likewise. The 1960s Walker at Blackburn again demonstrates that curious mix of pseudo-French reeds, highly colourful but idiosyncratic solo colours and flutes, and neo-baroquery. In my review of Walther’s CD I pinned my colours firmly to the mast of his approach and I find his results more convincing in general. The organ is in another league compared to the Blackburn instrument for a start.

But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t recommendable. Despite the ‘too’ clever approach, the duettists’ use of the instrument is, for the most part, cunning. The limited wind and brass in Schubert’s work is reflected in the limited use of the reeds. Some swell reeds appear to colour occasional crescendi, and quite effectively. The reeds are let loose somewhat in the Mendelssohn where they prove to be a mixed blessing. The use of the ‘big’ trumpet in the first and last movements isn’t subtle, while the solo reed used in the second movement is honkingly out of tune. In general though, a huge amount of registrational planning pays off, and you have to admire the sheer attention to detail which characterises these transcriptions and the way in which the music has been translated to the organ. The playing is pretty virtuosic, incidentally, even if, occasionally, I feel the result ends up being a bit ‘square’. I rather suspect this is an unavoidable consequence of the organ duet genre in general.

I wonder if David Gibbs - former assistant organist of Carlisle Cathedral - might be tempted to ‘translate’ another early romantic symphony to perform with Greg Morris - associate organist of the Temple Church in London - and take as his starting point a German, or even Dutch organ from the first half of the 19th century. The results could be fascinating I think!  The present CD is, nonetheless, very enjoyable.

Chris Bragg 



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