This CD has three
distinctive elements. Firstly it places all three Concert
Overtures onto one disc. Secondly it gives what would appear
to be the only current recording of Evening Rest, Benediction
Nuptiale, and most importantly the Theme with Variations
and Fugue. The last bit of added value to this CD is the
fact that the Caird Hall organ in Dundee was designed by Hollins
himself. Even the most cursory examination of the music will
reveal that the instrument appears to be ideally suited to the
Hollins gave the
opening recital at the Caird Hall on Wednesday 27 June 1923.
His programme included Mendelssohn’s 1st Organ
Sonata, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, a Bach fugue,
two short pieces by Alexandre Guilmant and a few of his own
compositions including the somewhat enigmatic Evening Rest.
Interestingly the Toccata from Widor’s great 5th
Symphony was given - some forty years before being performed
at the Duke and Duchess of Kent’s wedding in York Minster and
subsequently becoming the bane of all parish church organists’
Well over a third
of this CD is devoted to the three great Concert Overtures.
The first, in C major was published in 1889 and represents Hollins’
first published piece. The work is conceived as being in ‘classical’
sonata form. Yet there is nothing pedantic about this music.
The sleeve notes sum it up well- “this is a work bristling with
youthful vigour, from the swaggering confidence of the opening
to the virtuosic display of the main allegro theme.”
The second Concert
Overture in C minor (1899) has remained in the repertoire
in spite of changes in Hollins’ fortunes over the years. It
is a work that reveals the composer’s ability to write ‘orchestral’
music for the organ. Cyril Rootham is alleged to have written
to Hollins, “You know that is a splendid overture, but it isn’t
organ music. I hear the fiddles in it.” The work is a fine balance
between the composer’s keyboard virtuosity and his profound
understanding of registration. It is a deserved masterpiece.
The third Concert
Overture in F minor was the last that Hollins wrote in this
form. I feel that it is the best. Of all the works on this CD
it is the most involved and complex. This is deep music that
is well described as being “brooding and elegiac.” It is not
hard to see that the world was a very different place between
the second and third overtures. Yet I do not believe that Hollins
developed beyond this music. I think that it may be the intellectual
and emotional highlight of his career. This is truly a masterpiece
and ought to be in the repertoire of all concert organists.
The Andante in
D is a deep and moody piece that is certainly more suitable
for church services than for the recital hall. Yet the mood
is more romantic than liturgical. It is an impressive arch shaped
structure that has “breadth and intensity of emotion rarely
found elsewhere in his [Hollins] output.” The composer himself
considered this powerful work to be his best. The programme
notes are not far wrong in suggesting that this work is “deserving
of its reputation as one of the great slow movements in the
English romantic organ repertoire.” It is a fine and moving
Nuptiale is a new piece to my ears. It was composed, perhaps
predictably, for the wedding day of friends of the composer.
It is quite naturally quiet and reflective and uses the softer
registrations of the organ. A little gem.
does not ‘do’ for me. I cannot explain it. It was written
as a ‘nocturne’ and was designed to display a number of the
features of the newly opened Johannesburg Town Hall organ.
The music never really gets going. It is a little bit ‘played
for effect’. Perhaps it sounds a wee bit like the Tower Ballroom
Little needs to
be said about the three Hollins potboilers – the Maytime
Gavotte, A Song of Sunshine and A Trumpet Minuet.
Even in these days of a certain disdain for Victorian/Edwardian
organists these works have held their own over the past eighty
odd years. These numbers could almost be said to be bordering
on ‘light’ music. Add to these three the absolutely charming
Allegretto Grazioso and we have four works that would
bring happiness to the most morose of organ buffs. These works
are great examples of tuneful music that is written with the
greatest possible craftsmanship.
Perhaps the biggest
eye-opener for me is the fantastic Theme with Variations
with fugue. At nearly quarter of an hour this is one of
Alfred Hollins’ most extended organ pieces. It was written in
1911 and reflects his “genius as composer and moreover, entertainer”.
It was dedicated to the great William Wolstenholme - when will
someone bring out a CD devoted to his music? The present piece
is a misnomer – two themes are used to provide the musical material
for all three parts of the work. The piece opens dramatically
after which the main theme is heard. This is the basis of seven
variations which nod in a variety of direction – including Arthur
Sullivan and Edward German. The fugue is an excellent text-book
example. Yet it is not as dry as dust. It builds to an impressive
climax on full organ. This is another work that well deserves
to be in recitalist’s repertoire.
The CD is beautifully
packaged by Delphian. The booklet is a model as to how all classical
music booklets should be. There are fine colour photographs
of the Caird Hall Organ, two nostalgic black and white photos
of the composer playing the same instrument, seven closely written
pages of programme notes complete with mini bibliography. In
addition there is a short essay accompanying the organ specification.
A brief bio of Timothy Byram-Wigfield completes this informative
The recording is
impressive – every registration of this fine instrument is crystal
clear. The sound balance and the clarity of the playing are
never in doubt.
erstwhile dedicated disc by David Liddle ‘The Organ Music of
Alfred Hollins’ [Priory PRCD 398] appears to have been deleted
from the catalogue.
However all is not
lost. This present recording becomes the touchstone for all
enthusiasts of Alfred Hollins music. The highlights of the disc
are the programming of the three Concert Overtures and
the delicious Allegretto grazioso. This latter piece
should be a favourite of all organists and would make a fine
alternative to the more usual wedding fare.
Finally at nearly
eighty minutes worth of music this is excellent value for money
– add in the fine playing, the great repertoire and the fantastic
sound – this makes it a superb addition to all organ fans’ (and
others’) CD libraries.