John Kitchen has made a number of well-liked recordings for the
Delphian label, as accompanist and as solo performer. My colleagues
praised the first volume of his programme, Instruments from
the Russell Collection (DCD34001 – see review)
and the second (DCD34039 – see review).
The music on those earlier recordings was designed principally
to show off the instruments; while this very well filled new CD
also serves the same purpose for the Stirling organ, its musical
content is much more substantial.
The Rushworth and Dreaper organ at the Church of
the Holy Rude is a massive beast, reportedly the largest in
Scotland. Its history is outlined by Andrew Caskie in the booklet
and a full specification is given, though the registration for
each individual piece is not listed. Together with John Kitchen’s
own notes on the music and some excellent colour photographs
– including that on the CD cover – this makes for an attractive
and informative booklet. For all its size, the organ does apparently
have an Achilles’ heel – the inadequate cornet combination had
to be replaced in performing the Asma piece by the French horn.
The wide range of music puts the instrument and
its player through their paces, a test from which both emerge
with flying colours. The Guilmant Grand Chœur ‘in the
manner of Handel’ makes an excellent extrovert introduction
to the recording – though not especially Handelian – and the
following Duruflé Méditation (as thoughtful a piece as
its name implies, derived from the Agnus Dei of the Messe
‘Cum jubilo’) is an excellent foil. If you don’t yet know
Duruflé’s Fauré-inspired Requiem and his other Masses
and choral works, you should make their acquaintance as soon
as possible. Duruflé’s own recording of the Requiem,
Messe ‘Cum jubilo’, etc., is a fantastic bargain on super-budget
Warner Apex 256461139 2. Its mid-price predecessor has been
my version of choice for a long time.
The Widor Symphony No.4 is not the
Symphony with the famous Toccata – it’s less overtly appealing
but it certainly has its compensations: the Andante cantabile
(track 5) is especially attractive. I don’t suppose that anyone
is likely to buy this CD for the sake of the Widor or the other
French works but if, as I expect, most purchasers will obtain
it as a memento or because they have some connection with the
church or the organ, they will receive good performances of
all these pieces into the bargain. Those who insist that the
likes of Widor must be played on a Cavaillé-Col organ will be
very pleasantly surprised to discover how idiomatic the Stirling
instrument can be made to sound. It would have been instructive
if the notes had given the registration employed to achieve
The other music on the CD will be less well known.
I hadn’t come across Feike Asma but his fantasy on the evening
hymn ‘k wil U o God mijn dank betalen (I offer you my
thanks, O God) is attractive, as is the music by the other Dutch
composer, Cor Kee, variations on the song Merck toch hoe
sterck (Just see how strong they are) which ends the CD.
Asma works the hymn tune very subtly into the music, commencing
with another tune altogether and only gradually introducing
the main theme; sadly, of course, this effect is somewhat lost
on those – myself included – not well acquainted with Dutch
hymn tunes: listen for something that sounds similar to O
God, our help in ages past. It’s a reflective piece rising
to a climax, the sort of music that would make an effective
prelude or postlude to Evensong, and deserves to be better known.
I hadn’t come across Cor Kee, either, though, of
course, I had heard his son Piet Kee, the organist. As Kitchen
notes in the booklet, Merck toch is an extremely inventive
piece, based on a song about the valiant Dutch struggle against
their Spanish overlords, and its final climax makes a splendid
conclusion to the CD.
The three hymn preludes by Stanford, Milford and
Parry and the Rowley Benedictus are smaller beer but
well worth hearing and well played. The transcription of Elgar’s
first Pomp and Circumstance march is something of a sore
thumb in this company, the opening Guilmant piece and the Widor
having already very effectively demonstrated the sound of the
The recording is excellent throughout and the notes
in the booklet are most informative. The information about
the less familiar pieces is especially valuable – that on Feike
Asma, for example, partly helps to atone for the listener’s
lack of familiarity with the tune on which the fantasia is based.
One small problem: there are actually 15 tracks
on the CD, not 13 as reported on the insert and in the booklet.
The Feike Asma Fantasia is track 9, not 7 as stated, and for
every track thereafter two needs to be added to the number given.
Otherwise, you may wonder why Asma’s music sounds so much like
Widor’s or where the familiar hymn tune St Columba comes
into the Stanford and Milford preludes! This is the kind of
mistake more usually associated with bargain-basement recordings
than with a distinguished independent like Delphian and I hope
they will put it right. The text displayed when the CD is playing
gets its right.
No jokes, please, about the Scots spelling rude
for rood, derived from the Old English word ród
for ‘cross’, as in the poem The Dream of the Rood:
Rod wæs ic aræred. Ahof
ic ricne Cyning
heofena Hlaford ...
Weop eal gesceaft
cwiðdon Cyninges feall.
Crist wæs on rode.
[I was raised up as a cross.
I bore up the mighty King, Lord of the Heavens ... all creation
wept, told of the fall of the King. Christ was on the cross.]
Delphian are becoming
a real force to be reckoned with. Their recent 2-CD set of Messiaen’s
organ music is a splendid bargain (Michael Bonaventure on DCD3406,
2 CDs for the price of 1) as well as a fine performance – see
Mention of Messiaen reminds me that Jennifer Bate’s authoritative
performances of his music are available absurdly cheaply from
Regis – see review
– and, with their original Unicorn covers, as very inexpensive
downloads from The