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Great European Organs No. 90:
The Organ of Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, London

Alfred HOLLINS (1865-1942)
Concert Overture in C minor [7:27]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Elegiac Romance (1902) [10:22]
Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
Chorale Prelude on "St Ann's" [5:25]
Charles STANFORD (1852-1924)
Fantasia and Toccata [11:59]
Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912)
Three Impromptus [13:59]
J. Arthur MEALE (1880-1932)
Fountain Melody [5:35]
Vesper Song [5:12]
W.S. LLOYD WEBBER (1914-1982)
Dedication March [5:43]
Six Interludes on Christmas Carols [13:22]
Gerard Brooks (organ)
rec. Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, London, 1-2 March 2013
PRIORY PRCD 1099 [79:59]

I suspect that many more people have seen or passed the Methodist Central Hall than would recognise it as such. It was opened in 1912 and occupies a wonderfully prominent position just opposite the west front of Westminster Abbey. It is now used as a conference centre as well as a Methodist Church. An organ was originally constructed for the Great Hall by Arthur Hill, and this was rebuilt several times by Hill, Norman and Beard up to 1956. This was carried out by Rushworth & Draper in 1970 and most recently by Harrison & Harrison in 2011. That is the instrument heard here.

I have not yet had the pleasure of hearing it live but on the evidence of this disc it is an immensely characterful instrument, ideally suited to music of the type and period heard here. There is no risk here of hearing only the instrument's mighty roar with the detail of the music impossible to discern. Except in the loudest and most complex passages the musical argument can be heard and understood. Throughout the disc the instrument's sheer beauty of tone is remarkable. Whilst I would readily accept that it might not be suitable for music of all periods and types, the music chosen by Gerard Brooks plays to its strengths and both music and instrument are heard at their best.

I would not want to make extravagant claims for the quality of all the music here, but all is of interest even if the Coleridge-Taylor Intermezzi and Lloyd Webber Dedication March are not pieces I expect to want to return to often. The Six Interludes on Christmas Carols are however pleasant and ingenious fragments which give a better representation of a composer who was the organist of the Central Hall from 1958 to his death in 1982. Arthur Meale was an earlier organist there - from 1912 to 1932 - and the two miniatures included here are charming examples of light music of the period.

The works by Parry and Stanford particularly benefit from the instrument's beauty and clarity of sound, minimising the clogged textures which can afflict them in less sympathetic performances. John Ireland's early Romance is played in its original version rather than the more usually heard revision, and, whilst not characteristic of the mature composer, it does not outstay its welcome. Indeed none of the items here does so, due largely to the idiomatic and fluent performances by Gerard Brooks and to the recording by Neil Collier.

When an excellent booklet with notes on the music and a lengthy history of the organ is added the overall result is a further highlight in Priory's fascinating series, and one which should have an appeal well beyond the ranks of organ fanciers.

John Sheppard