Spectacular - the Organ of Bridgewater Hall
Full track details at end of review
Jonathan Scott (organ)
rec. Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 2, 16 February 2009

Great Cathedral Organs of England: Volume II
Full track details at end of review
rec. 1974-1985
REGIS RRC1317 [78:19]

Although superficially similar, these two discs are in fact complementary. Either would be a suitable addition to the collection of anyone who simply wants a collection of short or shortish items played on the organ, even if they were not necessarily originally intended for the instrument. Each disc however has its own individual characteristics and these may well determine which, if either, of the two you might want.

Jonathan Scott is a relatively young musician who has previously made recordings both on his own and with his brother Tom. I was very impressed with their recent disc of music for harmonium and piano, and looked forward to a similar combination of flair, virtuosity and interesting choice of programme. The first two are certainly there, even if the programme is for the most part familiar or even over-familiar. There is no impression here of, in Adelaide Proctor’s immortal words, the organist’s “fingers wandering idly over the noisy keys”. On the contrary, his fingerwork is immaculate and purposeful, and the recording although apparently close does not catch any mechanical noise. The absence of a cathedral acoustic may trouble some people but it does mean that you can hear all the notes and appreciate the textures rather than just enjoy a mighty roar. In any event few of these pieces were intended for a church organ. Most are arrangements, mainly by the organist himself, and for the most part very skilfully done. Indeed the arrangement of Debussy’s “La fille aux cheveux de lin” is of very considerable beauty and effectiveness, especially as played on the flute stops of this instrument, and the Suppé is exciting and amusing in turns. I was not so convinced by the Walton, Massenet or Paradis. The Elgar frankly loses all its meaning when taken out of context and played on the organ. On the other hand Lemare’s selection from “Carmen”, which is effectively what his Fantasia is, is well chosen and one of the highlights of the disc. Marcel Laquetuit was a pupil of Marcel Dupré and later the organist at Rouen Cathedral. His Toccata, just about his only piece surviving in the repertoire, is virtually an entertaining copy of the Widor Toccata. It was wise to place the two well apart on the disc.

The discs have two pieces in common - Yon’s amusing Toccatina and that inevitable Widor Toccata. Whilst there are differences between the performances they are probably mainly due to differences between the three organs involved, and I enjoyed all of these performances. The main value of the Regis disc is in its historic interest in presenting a group of wonderfully assured and stylish performances by organists no longer active, on a selection of Cathedral organs. These recordings were all made by Brian Culverhouse, but unfortunately no information is given about the circumstances under which they were made. He had been responsible for an earlier series of EMI recordings of British Cathedral Organs but I am unclear as to whether or not these were a continuation of that series. What is entirely clear, however, is that he understood how best to capture the particular character of each organ and Cathedral. He even managed to tame the notorious acoustic of St Paul’s Cathedral. The recording of the Bridgewater Hall organ on Jonathan Scott’s disc is very lifelike and clear. The recordings on the Regis disc are very different, necessarily as the acoustic of each Cathedral differs. They are however by no means noticeably inferior and many listeners will get an especial pleasure from what is in effect a tour of some of England’s best cathedrals. What the disc does lack is the detail about the instruments that is given on Scott’s disc. This is a pity as it can add to the listener’s enjoyment, and would be of particular interest where later changes have been made to any of the instruments. Nonetheless I would doubt whether this is likely to be sufficient to put anyone off buying the disc.

The most enjoyable track by far was Barry Rose’s playing of Franck’s Chorale No. 3. In the hands of some players this can seem very episodic, and however enjoyable the sections are they may not seem to hang together. Here, however, the music is driven onwards and even in the slower and quieter sections there is a real sense of the inner propulsion of the music. Similar comments might be made about the Toccatas by Reger and Boëllmann, or the exuberant Alain Litanies. I would however want to draw a veil over the arrangements of the Berenice Minuet and the Londonderry Air, where the sound of the organ seems to fight against the character of the music. This is even more the case with the Sousa which starts with as unpleasant and raw sound as I have ever heard from an organ. Given that Noel Rawsthorne’s performances earlier of Yon and Reger on the mighty beast at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral are amongst the best on the disc it is probably fair to attribute the relative coarseness of the Sousa to the Coventry Cathedral organ. The Wagner is better in this respect although it is not a piece that I would want to hear too often on the organ.

As I said at the start, both discs have distinct virtues, and overall both are very successful. Jonathan Scott’s “Spectacular” certainly lives up to its name, and its panache, musicianship and clear recording should appeal to anyone attracted to the programme and the very able player. Great Cathedral Organs may appeal more to those interested in the particular players and instruments, although it too has an attractive programme. I am very glad to have heard them both - choose between them if you must but perhaps it is better to buy both.

John Sheppard 
Each disc has distinct virtues, and overall both are very successful. … see Full Review

Track Details:
Spectacular - the Organ of Bridgewater Hall
Franz von Suppé (1819-1895) Overture to “Poet and Peasant” arr. Scott [10:20]
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) “La fille aux cheveux de lin” arr. Scott [3:05]
Pietro Alessandro Yon (1886-1943) Humoresque “L’organo primitive” - Toccatina for Flute [2:23]
Sir William Walton (1902-1983) Crown Imperial arr. Murrill [10:06]
Jules Massenet (1842-1912) Méditation from “Thaïs” arr. Scott [6:03]
Marcel Lanquit (1894-1985) Toccata in D [4:39]
Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751)/Remo Giazotto Adagio in G minor [9:43]
George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) Hormpipe from Water Music arr. Scott [3:40]
Maria-Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824) Sicilienne arr. Goss-Custard [3:30]
Edwin Lemare (1866-1934) Fantasia on themes from Bizet’s Carmen [12:49]
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) Nimrod from Enigma Variations Op 36 arr. W H Harris [5:03]
Charles Marie Widor (1844-1937) Toccata from Symphony No 5 Op 42/1 [6:11]

Great Cathedral Organs of England Volume II
(Allan Wicks at Canterbury Cathedral - 1975)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Toccata and Fugue in D minor (“Dorian”) [12:55]
César Franck (1822-1890) Pastorale [9:12]
(Francis Jackson at York Minster - 1974)
Jehan Alain (b1911) Litanies (5:07)
Léon Boëllman (1862-1897) Toccata from Suite Gothique Op 25 (4:10)
(Noel Rawsthorne at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral - 1976)
Pietro Alessandro Yon (1886-1943) Humoresque “L’organo primitive” - Toccatina for Flute [2:40]
Max Reger (1873-1916) Toccata in D minor [3:45]
(Christopher Dearnley at St Paul’s Cathedral - 1974)
George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) Minuet from “Berenice” arr. Dearnley [4:02]
Traditional arr. Dearnley (1930-2000) Londonderry Air [4:29]
(Noel Rawsthorne at Coventry Cathedral - 1985)
John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) Stars and Stripes Forever arr. Rawsthorne [3:44]
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) The Ride of the Valkyries from “Die Walküre” arr. Rawsthorne [6:15]
(Barry Rose at Guildford Cathedral - 1974)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Jesu, joy of man’s desiring [3:10]
Charles Marie Widor (1844-1937) Toccata from Symphony No 5 Op 42/1 [5:14]