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Romantic Organ Music
William H.  HARRIS

Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Campion [10:59]
Peggy HADDON (1931-2004)
Suite Piccanin: Lullaby [3:47]; Kwela [1:52]; Lament [2:34]; Amandla [2:30]
Josef RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Sonata No. 18 in A major: Phantasie [6:05]; Capriccio [5:32]; Idyll [4:19]; Finale [7:58]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Chanson de Nuit [4:58]
Severn Suite: Introduction [2:30]; Toccata [4:56]; Fugue [3:12]; Minuet [8:12]
Roger Fisher (organ)
Peta-Ann Holdcroft (cello).
rec. St Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg, 9, 11 May 2007. DDD
PRIORY PRCD895 [70:33]
Experience Classicsonline

The organ of Johannesburg’s Anglican Cathedral was built in Rushworth and Dreaper, at that time in their heyday. It dates from 1929, the same year in which the church building was completed. At that time, the area in which the Cathedral was built was “at the very centre of Johannesburg society” to quote the booklet. Unfortunately, it now finds itself on the edge of a slum, and keeping its organ in anything like good condition is increasingly difficult. Despite the efforts of the Dean, those in “positions of influence” have provided only “limited support”. Reason enough to buy this CD then. They need your support in Johannesburg.
The organ retains all of its original pipework. However, a comprehensive programme of enlargements was carried out between 1987 and 1997 which all but ignored the essential character of the instrument. These additions included a horribly misconceived Choir division with every imaginable squeak and rasp; there’s even a Rohr Schalmei as if the Krummhorn wasn’t enough. The core of the organ still belongs to the late imperial English organ style and there is enough here, despite the organ’s condition - which is sometimes audibly detrimental - to enjoy.
Roger Fisher, for many years organist of Chester Cathedral, plays with great panache, as indeed he always has. For me he is one of the English-speaking world’s great players of Romantic and late Romantic literature. His 1970 Reubke recording for EMI remains breathtaking, as does a more recent live recording of the Whitlock sonata at Lincoln. The sheer flourish of the opening of the William Harris is contagious; the piece deserves to be better known. The Rheinberger is a curious choice, I find his music invariably dull, and Fisher plays it, as indeed it always is played in the UK, as if Rheinberger was a turn of the 20th century Englishman. The swell box(es) flap, the tuba makes occasional appearances; in short, the aesthetic is very different to anything Rheinberger would have recognised. Nonetheless the approach suits the organ well. Fisher’s playing in general always strikes me as a sort of unsullied ‘English’ view of the organ as heard in old recordings of Jackson, Eden, Sumsion, Dearnley et al, but now rather rare, even among the younger generation of organists in the UK. Continental influences of any sort are charmingly absent here.
The undoubted highlight of the disc is the Elgar Severn Suite. A version of part of this was made in 1933 by Ivor Atkins and published as the Sonata No. 2 for organ. The Edinburgh organist Dr Jeremy Cull has transcribed the entire work and transposed it from B-flat to C, a far more practical ‘organ’ key. The results are thrilling; hopefully this transcription will gain more popularity than Atkins’.
Chris Bragg


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