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John Scott Whiteley plays organ music from York Minster
The English Cathedral Series Vol. XV

Jéhan ALAIN (1911-1940)
Litanies [5:19]

Maurice GUILLAUME (1899-1983)
Berceuse marine
, Op. 24 [5:46]
Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971)
Cortège et Litanie, Op. 19ii [7:51]
Désiré PÂQUE (1867-1939)
Pièce pour orgue
, Op. 80 [3:30]

Émile BERNARD (1843-1902)
Scherzo Caprice, Op. 26ii [6:27]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) arr. John Scott WHITELEY (b. 1950)
Petit Poucet (Tom Thumb) [4:15]
Joris VERDIN (b. 1952)

Pierre COCHEREAU (1924-1984) arr. John Scott WHITELEY (b. 1950)
Symphonie en improvisation [26:06]
John Scott Whiteley (organ)
rec. York Minster, September 2007
REGENT REGCD275 [73:55]


Experience Classicsonline

To call these pieces ‘French Fancies’ is in no way to undermine them. The organist of York Minster gives us a most entertaining and enlightening tour of some 20th Century French masterpieces here. They are brilliantly played and recorded with beautifully atmospheric sound, making what is probably a first choice for the repertoire.

The booklet notes for this Regent release deserve a special mention at the outset. Most of the composers here are unfamiliar and Whiteley, who both plays the organ and writes the booklet notes, gives us admirably concise introductions to the composers with brief, helpful analysis of their works, making this recital far more accessible than it could otherwise have been. The notes also contain a biographical note about Whiteley himself, a history of the Minster organ and its full specification. 

The sheer variety on display here makes this disc a good one for anyone interested in the huge breadth of sound an organ is capable of producing. Alain’s Litanie has a busy feel to it, and one can imagine it accompanying the congregation as they leave after a service. It also makes good use of a variety of stops throughout, most notably the trumpet. The works by Guillaume and Dupré are much more gentle, until we are roused by the majestic effect of pealing bells at the end of the Cortège et Litanie. The Pâque piece has a strange, ethereal beauty to it, with compelling use of dissonance. Equally, the Scherzo Caprice, most appropriately named, revels in its dual nature; gentle yet sinister, playful yet restrained. The Ravel piece is a transcription from his Mother Goose Suite and its gentle, undulating phrases suit the organ transcription very well. 

The Organetto is a collection of very brief pieces which showcase the organ’s capabilities very well, especially in its fifth movement which, in Whiteley’s words, is “a possible demonstration of the invention of stops”, while the final Vivace ends with all guns blazing. The concluding Symphonie en improvisation is a transcription of Cochereau’s recorded improvisations. It is very successful at treading the line between the formality of the written note and the ephemeral world of the improviser. The opening is arresting and exciting, while the following allegro is strangely subdued. There follows a spidery scherzo and a meditative slow movement, while the tarantella finale feels like a scamper after the opening chord has fired the starting pistol. 

The playing is remarkably fine throughout, with Whiteley providing a fine example of the organist’s art. Furthermore, the Regent engineers have done a great job at capturing the tricky Minster’s acoustic. They provide warm, immediate sound, while the echoes at the end of each piece fade away gently and unhurriedly. Well done to all involved.

Simon Thompson


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