The last organ DVD/CD combo to come my way featured Thomas
Trotter on the marvellous Birmingham Town Hall instrument (review).
It too offered a personal tour of the organ loft - the Salisbury
disc has no fewer than four separate clips - plus a programme
designed to showcase the talents of organ and organist alike.
There’s another link, for David Halls, appointed director
of music at the cathedral in 2005, has studied with Trotter.
Both men have an engaging presentational style - Halls is perhaps
a little more ‘chummy’ - and these ‘tours’
are interesting, if not essential.
It makes very good sense to offer a DVD and CD in the same box,
as past experience suggests one is more likely to revisit the
audio disc than the visual one. There are some minor irritations
on the DVD; the set-up menu is very basic, and clicking on audio
set-up - on most discs that allows one to select stereo or multichannel
- I was confronted with ear-blasting white noise and pilot tones
designed, I assume, to set-up four speakers and a subwoofer.
Similarly, video set-up offers picture calibration; this really
isn’t necessary, as most modern televisions are optimised
I’m also puzzled as to why Priory pursues what I can only
assume is a more expensive ‘dual inventory’ by offering
the DVD in either PAL or NTSC. Anyone who buys classical music,
opera and ballet on DVD or Blu-ray will know that NTSC is the
most widely adopted video standard; in the past ‘Never
Twice the Same Colour’ might have been the case, but in
the high-def age it’s no longer an issue. That said, the
PAL picture on my review disc was sharp and the colours true;
the sonics aren’t bad - in stereo at least - although
it’s more of a wash of sound than the forensic, strongly
three-dimensional presentation one expects from the best organ
Programming is key, and that Trotter disc is an example of how
to construct a varied and entertaining one. All too often organ
recitals tend to fall into one of two groups - safe or stimulating
- although not everyone agrees on what makes for an interesting
mix. Internet messageboard comments about Cameron Carpenter’s
Bach at this year’s BBC Proms - some enjoyed it, while
others complained of the organist’s ‘Wurlitzer treatment’
of the Toccata in F - rather prove my point. Either way
his Proms were well attended, which is good news when the organ
seems to be out of favour both as a recital instrument and on
Watching and listening to this Salisbury DVD I’m left
with the overwhelming sense that it’s anodyne; Halls’
playing style and the preponderance of gentle, pastoral pieces
is just too unvaried. Yes, there are some flashes of interest
- the Salisbury Fanfare, Bush’s Trumpet March
and the ‘Wurlitzer’ Coates piece are engaging, and
the Howells makes a thrilling statement - but I just couldn’t
summon much enthusiasm for the rest. Even the old staples -
Bach and Vierne - are solid but unremarkable.
It’s not a patch on Regent’s Trotter box, which
combines top-notch playing, superior sonics and, best of all,
an inspired selection of pieces. Perhaps the Birmingham organ
is better suited to such inventiveness and spontaneity than
Salisbury’s splendid but rather staid ‘Father’
Willis. Indeed, I’m reminded of a comment Halls made -
more than once - that the latter’s sound is always ‘coherent’;
it certainly is seamless and well behaved, but that translates
all too easily into meek and uninspiring. That may satisfy loyal
parishioners and visitors to the cathedral’s gift shop,
but it isn’t what I’m looking for in an organ recital.
A strangely muted affair; strictly for souvenir hunters.