This is tremendous fun. Purists may run in horror but for the
rest of us there is a huge amount to enjoy here.
disc showcases some of the organ transcriptions made in bygone
years to bring great orchestral music to audiences who may
never have gone to a concert hall or opera house. Many of
them come from the great Victorian arrangers W. T. Best and
Edwin Lemare who were motivated by a desire to introduce great
music to the people of the provinces who would not have been
able to hear it in its original format. It is played here
with the utmost virtuosity by Andrew Wilson. Not only does
he know and love the magnificent instrument of Great Malvern
Priory, but he has an obvious affection for these arrangements
too, revelling in the kaleidoscopic colour of each number.
arrangements themselves tend to work – surprisingly - well.
While no one in this day and age would ever wish to be without
the orchestral originals, the solution found by each arranger
is normally sensitive and remarkably effective. Some work
better than others: the Bach Sinfonia sounds all busy-ness
and bustle and feels just like an organ toccata with lots
of virtuosity but not a lot of tonal variety. Elsewhere,
though, the contrasts are remarkable. Take the Fledermaus
overture, for example: in Strauss’s original it is common
for a theme to be played twice with different instrumentation.
That works surprisingly well here: the first appearance of
the waltz theme is bumbling and deep but immediately afterwards
it sounds light and airy on a higher registration. Likewise,
the Miniature Overture to The Nutcracker is
played on only 8’ and 4’ stops on the organ with no 16’ pitches
on the pedal, reflecting the lack of bass instruments in the
original. The Sugar Plum fairy sounds remarkably like a celesta,
while the flute stops are pulled out to very good effect for
the Dance of the Mirlitons. Wilson’s scampering fingers do
a very good substitute for the harp cadenza at the start of
the Waltz of the Flowers and the waltz rhythm carries very
effectively on the pedals.
Aida march takes more liberties than usual with the
written score, but it is very effective as an organ work,
the grandeur and scale working very well. After this the
Chanson de Matin sounds rather anaemic (it’s a rather
striking contrast!), but the ensuing strength of the Imperial
March certainly restores the mood. Venus is gently
affecting, though rather persistently reedy. Orb and Sceptre
is a bit nondescript until the entry of the “big tune” where
the tone becomes much more expansive and consequently more
impressive. Lemare’s Auld Lang Syne glows with Victorian
sentiment and is all the more lovely for it.
all the works represented here it is The Carnival of the
Animals that is most dependent on orchestral colour for
its success, and so it is inevitably here that you feel the
most musical loss. It’s a shame not to have clattering xylophones
in Fossils, and without the contrast of the clarinet
with the pianos the cuckoo loses nearly all of its effect.
That said, the elephant harrumphs away convincingly while
the melody of the swan glides through on the pedals against
the rippling effects of the hands at the top. The introduction
and finale are both good fun.
the disc Wilson’s playing is sensitive and affectionate in
music which he clearly has a lot of time for. Recorded sound
is excellent throughout with just the right bloom on the sound
without being too distant; the acoustic always helps the sound
and never gets in the way. The excellent booklet notes are
informative on each piece with its background, and there is
a “biography” of the organ together with its specification.
A very successful
disc; a treat for organ lovers who want something a bit different.