Animal Parade
Christopher STEEL (b.1938)
Changing Moods Op. 59 [12:47]
John GARDNER (b.1917)
Five Dances for Organ Op. 179 [17:15]
William MATHIAS (1934-1992)
Recessional Op. 96 No 4 [5:01]
Dobrinka TABAKOVA (b.1980)
Diptych [9:33]
John RUTTER (b.1945)
Toccata in Seven [2:11]
Animal Parade [25:24]
William Saunders (organ)
rec. Brentwood Cathedral, 13-14 April 2010
REGENT REGCD346 [72:04]

Organ recital discs often feature works and composers unfamiliar to those who are not aficionados of the organ loft, but this one still stands out for its enterprise. Six works by British - or British/Bulgarian in the case of Dobrinka Tabakova - composers, all still living apart from William Mathias. Only two of the individual movements exceed five minutes - and even then only just - so that there is no opportunity for boredom to set in; indeed the variety of musical character is one of the best features of the disc.

By some way the work which impressed me most was John Gardner’s Five Dances. Their titles, including Lavolta, Pavin and Jig, might suggest that these would be some form of pastiche. In fact although they certainly do have the general mood that their titles might suggest they do have real character of their own and the work as a whole is succinct, imaginative and full of musical interest. It is hard to understand why it has not claimed its deserved place in organ recitals – the disc would be worth having for it alone.

The Diptych by Dobrinka Tabakova, written for William Saunders, although clearly related to the composer’s Bulgarian roots, transforms them into something very individual but idiomatic for the organ. It is well worth hearing, but the other real discovery for me on the disc was the Animal Parade by Ian Farrington, himself a noted organist as well as pianist. It is a kind of organ equivalent of “The Carnival of the Animals”, each of the twelve short movements being inspired by verses by Esther Eidinow. The composer suggests that these can be read before each item but here they are printed in the booklet. This is sensible as whilst it is interesting and moderately amusing to read them once I cannot imagine wanting to hear them read every time I listen to the music. And I am sure that I will want to do the latter again. This Suite has energy and imagination and shows off the varied capabilities of the organ very well although surprisingly the composer’s website indicates the availability of a piano version. The movements include the hippopotamus, the barrel organ monkey and piranhas. All are succinctly but vividly characterised. Animal Parade is surely likely to be a regular part of many organists’ Bank Holiday recitals.

The Mathias Recessional is well known and well played here. The Suite by Christopher Steel is in five movements with descriptive titles (Genial March, Pensive Ground and so on) after the manner of Britten’s Simple Symphony. However whereas the Britten goes well beyond the scope of the titles this does not. It is a series of pleasant but to me uncompelling pieces of light music.

All in all this is a very welcome and enjoyable recital of music off the beaten track but worth exploring. The booklet includes full notes on the music and a history and specification of the organ.

John Sheppard

A very welcome and enjoyable recital of music off the beaten track but worth exploring.