The main organ of Västerås Cathedral was built in 1898 by Åkerman
& Lund. It has been rebuilt, changed and enlarged on a number
of occasions, most recently in 1998 when it was restored by Harrison
& Harrison Ltd, of Durham. During the autumn and winter 2008
– 2009 it has again been renovated and was inaugurated in its
new shape at the end of April this year. It is a four-manual instrument
with a beautiful façade and the cathedral, centrally situated
in Västerås about 100 kilometres from Stockholm, is well worth
a visit. Inaugurated in 1271 and extended during the 14th
and 15th centuries, it acquired its present size in
1517. It is one of only two cathedrals in Sweden awarded three
stars in the Guide Michelin.
has now reached number thirteen in his series Organ Fireworks
for Hyperion. The series started in 1984 at Westminster Abbey
and has taken him to a lot of magnificent churches around Europe,
including the mighty Veikko Virtanen 81-stop-organ in Turku
Cathedral in Finland. Herrick has often chosen composers and
works off the beaten track and volume XIII is no exception.
Percy Grainger and Ralph Vaughan Williams are well-known but
not for organ music, even though Vaughan Williams trained and
practiced as an organist. Maurice Duruflé, who was organist
of St-Étienne-du-Mont for 45 years, left a small but important
oeuvre of organ music but is best remembered for his Requiem.
Not being an organ
specialist I still have a liking for the instrument and the
one in Västerås Cathedral is certainly imposing. I regret though
that great portions of the programme consists of rather reticent
music that doesn’t live up to the ‘Fireworks’ title of the disc.
It is true that the opening Grand choeur by Weitz has
a grandiose finale that certainly displays the instrument to
its advantage. Weitz was born in Belgium and studied in Paris
with Guilmant, Widor and d’Indy. I am less enthusiastic about
Derek Bourgeois’s Prelude and Toccata. It is a recent
composition, from 2002, and it is dark, even sombre. The toccata
is more outgoing but feels unsettled and indistinct.
Rinck, born the
same year as Beethoven, studied with a pupil of Johann Sebastian
Bach. The theme for these variations is the same melody – ‘Twinkle,
twinkle, little star’ – that Mozart employed in his K 265. Interestingly
Rinck presents the theme first very slowly and in the minor
key but then follows a livelier variant. The nine variations
are very brief – only one surpassing one minute in playing time
– and they are fairly restrained. The concluding finale – by
far the longest movement – is a fugato and the only fireworks-worthy
part of the composition.
Otto Olsson is a
towering figure in Swedish music life during the first half
of the 20th century. His choral song Advent is
sung in most churches on the first Sunday of Advent, his Te
Deum (1910) has been frequently performed and is, together
with his second organ symphony, Credo symphoneacum, regarded
as his best works. His Requiem, written 1901-1903, lay
unperformed for 73 years and was a sensation when it was premiered
of the Proprius recording). But he was first and foremost organist,
holding a post at Gustaf Wasa Church at Odenplan in central
Stockholm from 1907 to 1956. The Introduction and Allegro
heard on the present disc, is the first movement of the organ
symphony mentioned above and it was obviously written for the
ecumenical meeting at Uppsala in 1925, though my sources give
1918 as the year of composition. He was markedly influenced
by the French school – Guilmant and Widor – though he never
studied in France, not even visited the country. It was a wise
decision to include this magisterial composition and the mighty
conclusion of the allegro is truly stunning.
Dedication March feels futile, coming immediately after
Olsson’s allegro, but it has its own charm. After a jolly opening
a kind of Elgarian turn-of-the-century idyll takes over for
a while but the carefree jolliness returns and maybe one can
imagine flag-waving people celebrating the coronation of Queen
Elizabeth II. The march was written in 1953 but it is unclear
if it was actually played in connection with the coronation.
Writing a Toccata
and Fugue in D minor, even in 1923, inevitably invites comparisons
with Johann Sebastian Bach. Edwin Lemare’s composition is however
a brilliant piece and can hold its own and there is even a reference
to JSB at the end of the fugue.
Handel in the Strand is a charming piece, here played
in Wolfgang Stockmeier’s arrangement. I have already mentioned
that Vaughan Williams was an organist and his powerful Prelude
and Fugue in C minor shows his affinity with the instrument.
Composed in 1921 it was not published until 1930 when it appeared
both as an orchestral piece and an organ piece.
I have often found
Maurice Duruflé’s music rather elusive and his Choral varié
is no exception. Not until the forth and final variation
does it catch fire.
Finally there is
William Mathias’s powerful and stirring Recessional.
Its acrimonious harmonies are salutary and refreshing and brings
the programme to a glorious end. Mathias was a prolific composer.
He is probably best known for the anthem Let the people praise
thee, O God, written for the marriage of The Prince of Wales
and Lady Diana Spencer, which took place in St Paul’s Cathedral
on 29 July 1981. It is a really fine piece and this Recessional,
written five years later, is equally stimulating.
I may seem rather
lukewarm about parts of this programme – and it is definitely
not the fault of Christopher Herrick, who plays as gloriously
as ever. The recording of this magnificent instrument is in
the same class as other organ records from Hyperion I have heard
and the documentation is fine. Organ lovers in general and readers
who are curious of some little known composers will find a lot
of interesting music here and I may very well grow to like some
of the pieces I have written off. Isn’t it a blessing that we
are not all cast in the same mould?