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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
The Grand Organ of Durham Cathedral
James Lancelot (organist)
rec. Durham Cathedral, September, October and November 2013
3-disc set containing CD, DVD and Blu-Ray
PRIORY PRDVD12 [79:00 (programme) + 90:00 (extras)]

These Grand Organ DVDs are perhaps the very best thing that the Priory record label does, combining excellent music in top-notch sound with the very best that a classical DVD should offer. Not only do you get a very well chosen programme of music to demonstrate the organ at its best, but you get it in brilliant surround sound. Add to this an extra film demonstrating yet more of the organ's workings, with insights into the programme and the location. This issue is every bit as successful as their previous instalments.

To begin with the extras, which make releases like this so distinctive. The organ tour is a very generous 53 minutes long, and Lancelot is a very engaging guide, clearly passionate about his instrument and able to convey his knowledge of it very successfully. This includes its history as well as a run-down of its various stops and capabilities. He also gives us a commentary as he plays Franck’s Pièce héroïque, a bonus of the Miner’s Hymn from the annual gala, and even a visit to the small practise organ in his own house.

The sound on the film itself is brilliantly balanced to provide as authentic an experience of an organ as it's possible to get in your front room. All six speakers are distinctly and individually used, with the pedal sound tending to come from the surround speakers as well as the low frequency bass. Tellingly there is no 2.0 stereo option on the DVD or BD, a demonstration of how important the surround sound is to their realisation of the film. The CD is in crystal clear stereo.

The programme itself is well designed to show the organ at its best, and Lancelot talks you through his choice of music in one of the extra films. Whitlock's Paean is almost a statement of intent, giving a quick tour of the organ's capabilities and finishing with some thunderous bass to let you know what you're in for. Bach is represented with his G minor Fantasia and Fugue, played with first lyrical then incisive brilliance. Rheinberger's seventh sonata leads through a majestic opening and lyrical slow movement to a dazzlingly played finale. Dupré's Placare is breathtaking, both in its playing and in the depth of its sound. Mulet’s famous Carillon-Sortie ends the disc with triumphant pomp. Elsewhere, Lancelot has a bit more fun with Haydn's Three Pieces for Musical Clocks — sounding delightfully reedy — and with Vierne’s bizarre Intermezzo, allegedly chosen to represent the cathedral’s grotesque gargoyles. Smaller pieces like Stanley's Trumpet Voluntary complement the programme very nicely, and a bit of appropriate local colour is added with Stanford's prelude on St Columba.

The accompanying visuals are very tastefully done. For the most part they show some of the majestic interiors of the cathedral but there are also plenty of shots of the equally majestic facade on its cliff dominating the Durham riverbanks. There is a good balance of shots of Lancelot himself at the keyboard, together with sweeping views down the nave or of the pipes. The balance is about right, I think; the interiors matched with close-ups of Lancelot's fingers and feet. As is Priory's fashion, they also show some appropriate scenes of the local area: for example, Haydn's charming pieces for musical clocks are accompanied not only by scenes of Durham's own cathedral clock but also of the Silver Swan automaton in the nearby Bowes Museum. Pictures of Durham University's Oriental Museum accompany Alain's dances to Agni Yavishta.

The booklet notes also contain the organ's full specifications, and it is generosity indeed that the package contains the film on CD and Blu-Ray, together with the whole programme on a CD. This deserves to have widespread appeal.

Simon Thompson

Track listing
WHITLOCK Paean (No 5 of 'Five Short Pieces') [2:28]
BACH Fantasia & Fugue in G minor [10:43]
STANLEY Trumpet Voluntary in D major [2:27]
HAYDN Music for a Musical Clock, Hob. XIX (selection) [3:51]
RHEINBERGER Organ Sonata No. 7 in F minor, Op. 127 [18:42]
STANFORD Prelude on St Columba, Op. 101 No. 6 [2:10]; Prelude on Gartan [2:10]
FRANCK Pièce héroïque, M37 [8:01]
VIERNE Intermezzo from Symphony No. 3 [3:59]
DUPRÉ Placare Christe Servulis, Op. 38 No. 16 [2:02]
ALAIN Deux Danses à Agni Yavishta, AWV 61 [4:03]; Litanies, AWV100 [4:41]
HAKIM Mariales [6:55]
MULET Carillon-Sortie [4:32]