The chronological running order that this disc espouses takes
one on a most remarkable aural journey. It begins with apprentice
works cast securely in the Anglican organ tradition, through visionary
experiences in America, and
thence to a kind of pluralist expansion in which technique and
ambition are held in perfect equipoise. That is, at least, one
way of looking at this highly diverting and engaging disc, which
happily gives us Peter Dickinson’s complete works for organ.
can feel the filtered influence of Howells, in particular,
in the earliest works. It’s true of A Cambridge Postlude
though the composer does note the ‘bluesy figure’ in the pedal
part. It certainly has confidence and élan from a 19 year
old. The Prelude is by contrast a reflective work,
conveyed with quiet intimacy and concentration by Jennifer
Bate, before we re-gather to experience the brilliant toccata
that is the Postlude on “Adeste Fideles”. The Gibbons
Preludes have remained unplayed for half a century but that’s
no reflection of their musical status. Once again Howells
is an influence one feels, especially in the case of Song
46 whilst Song 34 is the most extrovert and celebratory
with delicious false relations and – a sheer coincidence,
surely – a hint of Malcolm Arnold in ‘whooping’ form.
more evidence of the strong demands he makes on his executant
in the Toccata of 1955, a sonorous and powerful opus.
More personal, obviously, is the Meditation on “Murder
in the Cathedral” which is a spooky affair, pregnant with
portent, raptly atmospheric, and lit by some suitably deft
dynamics. From his American period comes The Study in Pianissimo
with its serial basis and this prefaces the decidedly gloomy
Dirge. This last incidentally, as with a number of
other pieces, is being heard here in first ever recordings.
second of the Three Statements hints strongly at the
powerful jazz syncopations to come but before these are fully
unleashed there’s the terrific Carillon to experience.
This bell study is a festive feast, exciting and vibrant,
with tremendous colour and sense of texture as well as control
of volume and a strong sense of spatial separation between
the various bells evoked. The two longest works are Paraphrase
I which was written in 1967 and then Blue Rose Variations
which followed many years later in 1985. Paraphrase I is
a work that coalesces amplitude with an almost ’chamber’ delicacy
and refinement of articulation – for example the second section
[track 16] – and that varies dynamics and moods between the
thoughtful and zesty scherzo. It’s highly accomplished and
makes for pleasurable listening. Of a more extrovert character
is the Blue Rose Variations. Here we find the full
flowering of Dickinson’s immersion in older Jazz forms, and he utilises Edward
MacDowell’s To a Wild Rose with increasing visceral
effect. The opening put me in mind of Fats Waller’s later
organ recordings made in London (on EMI’s
Compton organ), though tinged with a soupçon of cocktail hour
blues. The Fairground meets the Varsity Rag in this variational
pleasure ground, full of contrasts and fun and ebullience.
There are some strongly ‘comping’ left hand chords [track
30] which have an almost boppish urgency – and then a resplendent
ending to conclude a work of good humour and freedom; freedom,
that is, from unwanted academic expectations and constraints.
Greybeards need not apply; the rest of us can queue.
just to show that not all is rosy in the garden we end with
the brief but cataclysmic Millennium Fanfare – in which
Sturm und Drang meets Til Eulenspiegel, and the thing ends
in a blaze of Kubrick. Overwhelming!
recording has been gauged to perfection – three organs in
three locations, so it clearly demanded expertise in setting
up. Talking of expertise Jennifer Bate proves an interpreter
of remarkably persuasive skill; sensitive to dynamics, to
colouration, to refinement and when necessary, explosively
every way then this is a treasurable disc and full of variety.
see also Review
by Hubert Culot