Organ Duets
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fantasia K608 (arr. Harrison and Leigh) [11:23]
Fugue in D major [3:13]
Fugue in C minor [5:01]
Jean LANGLAIS (1907-1991)
Double Fantasie pour deux organistes [9:49]
Deuxième Fantasie pour deux organistes [6:00]
Troisième Fantasie pour deux organistes [5:23]
Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656)
A Fancy for two to play [2:52]
Nicolas CARLETON (1570-1630)
A Verse (In Nomine) [4:09]
Andrew JOHNSTONE (b.1967)
Shack-up and Feud [5:58]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Martyrs Op.73 [14:15]
Charles Harrison and David Leigh (organ)
rec. organs, Lincoln Cathedral, August 2010
GUILD GMCD 7368 [68:01]

Not for nothing is the organ sometimes referred to as the King of Instruments. The player sits with multiple keyboards as well as a pedal board, each capable of a wide variety of tone colours. Brain, hands and feet are kept extremely busy, and even with modern electronic controls to help in changing stops the player may still require an assistant for that purpose as well as for any necessary page-turns. Given all that these resources can achieve it may be hard to imagine what a second player might add or what they could do. I am none the wiser after listening to this disc – perhaps a DVD would make this clearer – but the twentieth century pieces here, in particular, do contain passages the complexity and nature of which would appear to demand a second player. That said, I often think the same of some major modern solo organ works which would seem to the non-organist to require more than the normal number of hands and feet. For the second player to add anything perceptible to the listener more than usual audibility of the results is essential. One important and very gratifying feature of this disc is the comparative clarity of the recording by James Newton. There is little of the mush that too often results from hearing a large instrument in a large building. At the same time there is no feeling of the unrealistic results sometimes achieved by putting microphones adjacent to the organ pipes. Bearing in mind the size of the great Father Willis organ at Lincoln, and of the building itself, the quality of the recording is a special delight in itself.

The Mozart Fantasia is often played as an organ solo. I do not know how the present version differs from those usually played but the result is a particularly dramatic performance which makes it even harder than usual to imagine it played on the mechanical instrument for which it was written. The two Mendelssohn Fugues date from the composer’s visit to London in 1833 and that in C minor – the more interesting of the two – was apparently based on an improvisation in St Paul’s Cathedral. At that date pedals were still a novelty in English organs so that they were published in a version for organ duet for use on organs that still lacked them. The two early pieces by Tomkins and Carleton are played on a single manual organ in the Retro Choir in Lincoln Cathedral. It has a delightful sound wholly appropriate to this music.

Jean Langlais’s duets are even more of a delight. They are varied and immensely imaginative, recalling Messiaen but no mere copies of his style. Andrew Johnstone is a Dublin-based composer. His Shack Up and Feud (a reference to its form as a Chaconne and Fugue) is subtitled “An Argument for Organ Duet” and is intended to make audible use of two players. I am not sure that this is the case throughout but it is a bracing and enjoyable work worth repeated listening. That is the case even more so with the last and longest item on the disc – Kenneth Leighton’s fantasy on the Scottish Psalm Tune “Martyrs”. This reveals its secrets to the listener - or at least this listener - only slowly but it is most certainly worth the effort.

All in all this is a fascinating issue with good playing and recording of what is for the most part rare and welcome repertoire. As usual with Guild the presentation is admirable, with interesting notes and photographs and the specifications of both the organs used.

John Sheppard

All in all this is a fascinating issue with good playing and recording of what is for the most part rare and welcome repertoire.