Judith BINGHAM (b.1952)
Jacob’s Ladder – Parable, for organ and strings * (2007) [12:35]
St Bride, Assisted by Angels (2000) [6:40]
Prelude and Voluntary [from Missa Brevis] (2003) [9:19]
Annunciation I (2000) [6:23]
Hope (1989/2003) [2:03]
Into the Wilderness (1982) [10:17]
The Gift (1996) [3:37]
Vol de nuit [arranged from The Secret Garden] (2004) [4:23]
Gothick (1973/2009) [1:57]
Incarnation with Shepherds Dancing (2002/2003) [3:53]
Ancient Sunlight (Prelude, Aria and Toccata) (2003) [8:45]
Tom Winpenny (organ, St Albans Cathedral)
The Dmitri Ensemble/Graham Ross
rec. St Albans Cathedral, England, 24-27 August 2009. DDD
NAXOS 8.572687 [69:51]

This valuable Naxos release brings together much of Judith Bingham's organ music in one handy place. As in other areas of her oeuvre, Bingham's endlessly imaginative writing for organ is deeply personal and, though not necessarily easy listening, still fundamentally approachable and perfectly at home in any British cathedral setting.

The CD opens with one of her most important organ works, and the only one in Tom Winpenny's recital not for solo organ, the four-movement Jacob’s Ladder - Parable for organ and strings, written in 2007. Winpenny describes the work, essentially a mini-concerto, thus: "The first movement contrasts heavy, serious chords with eerie reflective passages, whilst the second is a fleeting scherzo. The deep sleep of the Entr’acte is portrayed in organ-writing for pedals alone, whilst the final movement grows tentatively to a dramatic conclusion."

Winpenny's performance is aptly inspirational, and he is very ably supported by the Dmitri Ensemble under Graham Ross, who recently received considerable plaudits for their Naxos recordings of James MacMillan's superlative Seven Last Words and Giles Swayne's Stabat Mater here and here.

The programme includes several brief works, all primarily introspective in nature: two arrangements of piano pieces for children, the peaceful, semi-improvisational The Gift and the even more meditative Hope, and Gothick, a student piece that continues in a similar vein but which, given that it was inspired "by reading too much Edgar Allan Poe", has dark undertones. Inspired by a painting by Georges de la Tour, Annunciation I also begins with great calm, but there is more spookiness afoot: according to Winpenny, "a candle flickers in a small, dark room as the angel’s wings approach, and apprehension grows to an overwhelming, even frightening climax." Annunciation is also the theme of Ancient Sunlight, and the title of the last of its three varied movements, which ends with a dramatic, tumultuous representation of the Angelic Salutation (Ave Maria).

Another response to a painting, this time by the fifteenth century Netherlandish artist Geertgen tot Sint Jans, comes in the boisterous Incarnation with Shepherds Dancing. The relatively restrained scherzo Vol de Nuit is a transcription of part of Bingham's The Secret Garden, a BBC Proms commission for choir and organ based on the Biblical Garden of Eden story - see review of the Naxos recording.

St Bride, Assisted by Angels is based on a Celtic myth relating to the Nativity and incorporates a Celtic-style melody. Winpenny writes that the score contains poetry describing the scenes imagined in the music, but marked "for the eyes of the performer only". Into the Wilderness is the earliest unrevised work on the CD, and the longest single-movement piece. Dealing with the Satanic temptation of Christ, it is appropriately cryptic - even ambiguous. The Prelude and Voluntary are the opening and closing sections of Bingham's 2003 Missa Brevis, recorded by Hyperion in 2005, and well received in this review. The Prelude, subtitled 'The Road to Emmaus', is a musical sunrise, whereas the Voluntary is an account, lively and ultimately glorifying, of Christ's Ascension.

Tom Winpenny, very familiar with the organ as Assistant Master of the Music at St Albans, gives a thoroughly convincing performance of all these works, obviously approved of by Bingham herself, who was present at the recording sessions. Winpenny's performance has been beautifully captured and produced by Adam Binks - this is the standard by which all other organ recital recordings should measure themselves. The CD booklet is very informative, with fine notes on Bingham's music and the organ at St Albans by Winpenny, although the blotchy black-and-white photo of the king of instruments renders it rather more humble-looking!


Endlessly imaginative writing … deeply personal and still fundamentally approachable.