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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Sinfonia from Solomon (‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’) [3:35]
John HAWKINS (b.1949)
Footnote [3:00]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Voluntary in C [2:33]
Alan SMITH (b.1962)
Scherzo on Gopsal [1:39]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Air and Bourrée, from The Water Music [2:58]
Satoru IKEDA (b.1961)
Water Bubbling [5:12]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Overture to Esther [7:41]
Siciliano and Minuet, from The Fireworks Music [2:37]
John ELLIS (b.1943)
Overture and Gigue, from Handel-Inspired Suite [1:51]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Fugue in A minor [3:21]
Krzystof Aleksander Janczak (b.1983)
Le Tombeau d’Handel [3:46]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Two Pieces for Mechanical Clock [3:12]
William WOLSTENHOLME (1865-1931)
Introduction and Allegro, from Sonata in the Style of Handel [5:31]
Jos MARTENS (b.1985)
Little Prelude [1:02]
In Handel’s Name [3:04]
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)
Paraphrase [3:49]
Thomas NEAL (b.1990)
Lednah Loblied [6:50]
Samuel WESLEY (1766-1837)
Variations on a theme in Handel’s Otto [6:56]
Paul AYRES (b.1970)
The Departure of the Queen of Sheba, after Handel [1:45]
Paul Ayres (organ: Chamber Organ for the Handel House Museum (1998) by Goetze and Gwynn)
rec. 16-17 May, 2007, St George’s Church, Hanover Square, London
PRIORY PRCD894 [72:25]


Experience Classicsonline

This is a delightful recital, juxtaposing familiar and unfamiliar in a sequence which does more than merely juxtapose; there are intriguing continuities and patterns at every turn and Paul Ayres deserves warm congratulations botswh for the skill and vivacity of his playing and for the adroitness with which he has put this programme together.

In 1998 organ makers Martin Goetze and Dominic Gwynne built a chamber organ for the Handel House Trust - who opened their fascinating Handel House Museum in 2001). The organ is kept in St. George’s Church, Hanover Square (Handel’s parish church) and is modelled on chamber organs by Richard Bridge (d.1758) and Thomas Parker who may have been apprenticed to Bridge. A one-manual instrument with a key compass of 54 notes (GG AA CD – e3) it is very well recorded here and makes a gorgeous and thoroughly appropriate sound. The CD booklet provides a specification.

The music Paul Ayres plays can be divided into three categories. First, compositions by Handel himself, sometimes heard in new arrangements; nineteenth century works written in stylistic homage to Handel; recent compositions similarly inspired by the example of Handel and, in most cases, written for a composition competition for ‘Handel-Inspired’ music.

The programme begins with Paul Ayres’ own transcription of the Sinfonia from Act III of Solomon - popularly known as ‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’. The results are a joy, tutti and solo sections contrasted by use of the shifting mechanism, so that only the wooden pipes can be heard at times. With nicely balanced wit, the programme ends with a piece by Paul Ayres ‘The Departure of the Queen of Sheba’ which inverts/reverses elements from her ‘Arrival’ as imagined by Handel. Ayres observes ‘I had in mind the Queen’s gift-laden procession, dancing off into the desert’ – an image given splendid and idiosyncratic form in this enjoyable little piece.

In between the Queen of Sheba’s entrance and exit we are treated to a great many other sweetmeats - which the Queen surely ate during her time with Solomon. John Hawkins studied with Malcolm Williamson and Elisabeth Lutyens. His choral work This World, the fruit of collaboration with the poet and scholar Kathleen Raine, I remember fondly from a broadcast on Radio 3, responds to a rather pompous footnote in a nineteenth-century edition of Handel’s keyboard suites with some striking harmonic writing. Eighteenth-century keyboard arrangements of the Air and Bourrée from the Water Music, are followed by a splendidly inventive piece by the Japanese composer Satoru Ikeda (a new name to me) in his ‘Water Bubbling’. This is, as Paul Ayres notes, full of watery ‘effects’ – “not just bubbling, but flowing, cascading, freezing, evaporating, drenching”. It well deserves to find a place in recital programmes – at least for organists who have the technique to handle it - no pun intended. Alan Smith’s ‘Scherzo on Gopsal’ is another delight, playing a variety of musical games with one of Handel’s hymn tunes, full of engaging cross-rhythms and playful invention. Gopsal Hall, incidentally, was the name of the country house of Charles Jennens, Handelian librettist and patron of the arts, in Leicestershire. The organ he had built, to Handel’s specifications (see the fascinating essay by William D. Gudger) is one of the models studied by Goetze and Gwynne in the production of this Handel House organ.

The Polish composer Krzysztof Aleksander Janczak offers a beautiful meditative tribute to the great composer in his ‘Le Tombeau d’Handel’ and both Jos Martens (‘Little Prelude’) and Akmal Parwez (‘In Handel’s Name’) build their pieces on Handel’s initials G F H (i.e. G F B-natural). The charming variations on a gavotte from Handel’s Ottone are perhaps the most attractive of the nineteenth century pieces. They are here attributed to Samuel Wesley; elsewhere I have seen them attributed to Charles Wesley, but Samuel seems the likelier candidate as author of this amiable set of five variations. 

In truth, there isn’t a dud track here and Paul Ayres’ playing is consistently well judged. This is a recital which has lifted my spirits each time I have listened to it! My only very slight reservation is that for all the excellence of Paul Ayres’ booklet notes, they are a bit short on dates and in this regard I have supplemented them where I can.

Glyn Pursglove


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