By now most of us know what to expect from a Christopher Herrick
Organ Fireworks recording. What it says on the box is
what you get, this time on the organ of Melbourne Town Hall,
an 1871 William Hill instrument, restored from ruin in 2001.
The Guilmant Organ Sonata No.1 is the appropriate principal
demonstration piece. I came very close to nominating Volume
XII my Recording of the Month in 2008: the only reason why I
didn’t was that too much of the CD was taken up by an arrangement
of Brahms which I didn’t think worked particularly well on the
organ – see review.
Just over a year later Göran Forsling was a trifle disappointed
with some of the music on Volume XIII – see review.
The latest recording brings the series back on track. As always,
the sheer range of Herrick’s expertise impresses, from first-rate
Hyperion recordings of Buxtehude and Bach to the Fireworks in
this series, concentrating on this disc on the English and French
traditions of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The word ‘cornucopia’ unfortunately gets rather overworked,
especially in combination with the word ‘delights’, but you
may take Hyperion’s description at face value this time. I’d
love to be able to play as well as this, when the range of Herrick’s
expertise is almost greater than my own very wide-ranging musical
The CD opens with a comparatively restrained but enjoyable performance
of the Grand March from Aida in an arrangement by Edwin
Lemare and Herrick himself. If the Brahms arrangement on Volume
XII didn’t work to my satisfaction, this certainly does, though
I’m not sure that I’d describe it as ‘outrageous’, as per the
Hyperion publicity material, since the performance stresses
the grandeur of the music rather than anything else.
The short Fanfares and Dances by Paul Spicer which follow
provide a welcome contrast before we are again in grand style
with the Franck Pièce héroïque, a work which lives fully
up to its name – and Herrick doesn’t let us down, capturing
the mystery and lyricism of the music as well as its heroism.
The three pieces from Iain Farrington’s Animal Parade
again provide a quiet interlude. They’re too short to make much
impression, but they’re pleasant enough and they provide a lull
before the meatier material to come, like the Lanquetuit Toccata
which follows. I hadn’t heard this before: there’s only one
rival recording from Jane Parker Smith on Avie (AV0034 – see
but Herrick makes me wonder why.
The Hollins Triumphal March is an attractive and jolly
piece – another welcome refresher which receives an idiomatic
performance, as does the S.S. Wesley, though this is the kind
of music that Herrick could probably sail through on auto-pilot,
which probably applies also to the sentimental Dudley Buck Variations
on ‘Old Folks at Home’. I thought this outstayed its welcome
a little, though I admired the delicacy of the playing.
The Guilmant Sonata is the real star of the show – in
addition to Christopher Herrick himself, of course – and one
which doesn’t get too many outings. The main competition comes
from Ian Tracey on Chandos (CHAN9271 with Widor and Poulenc),
but there’s room for two recordings because the Chandos version
is of Guilmant’s own arrangement of the work as his Organ
Symphony No.1 for organ and orchestra. Does Herrick take
the opening of the finale a little too fast? I thought so, but
there’s not a note out of place in this dextrous performance:
in any case, there’s plenty of repose later and Tracey with
the BBC Philharmonic and Yan Pascal Tortelier are a little faster
overall for this movement. All in all, the Guilmant provides
a most satisfactory conclusion to a first-rate programme.
With excellent recording and notes which match Hyperion’s usual
high standard, including the impressive organ specification,
a strong recommendation is in order. The cover may not be as
attractive as that of Volumes XII and XIII, but that’s a trifle.
Only inveterate organ-haters or those envious of Christopher
Herrick’s expertise on the instrument should stay away.