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The English Cathedral Series: Volume XIX, Peterborough Cathedral
David Humphreys (organ)
rec. William Hill/Harrison and Harrison organ, Peterborough Cathedral, 2014. DDD
Booklet includes organ specification
REGENT REGCD459 [63:07]

In a sense it’s superfluous for me to review this CD: those collecting the series and those for whom the Peterborough organ and David Humphreys have special significance will probably have snapped it up already, so I’m writing for the undecided.

What they will find here is a good cross-section of organ works from the renaissance to the second English musical renaissance which began with Stanford and Parry – whose Fantasia and Fugue in G makes an ideal opening – and reached full fruition with Elgar, whose Sursum Corda in Edwin Lemare’s transcription stands at the heart of the recital.

The Peterborough organ has been through many changes, perhaps fitting for the cathedral of a town which itself changed its name: the abbey, which later became the cathedral, and the town were originally known as Medehamstede, then as Burgh before adding the dedication to St. Peter. Built in 1894 by William Hill, the organ was rebuilt in 1930, restored in 1981 and again in 2004/5 and is due for further improvement work in 2015.

It isn’t as mighty an instrument as many, with only one 32-foot stop, but it compensates with the variety of its stops and is well suited to the programme which David Humphreys has chosen. The two opening items demonstrate the appropriateness of those choices, with a notable absence of barnstormers. The Parry calls for wit and wisdom rather than mighty power and it receives a performance to match. The music of John Bull could easily become lost on a modern organ but Humphreys plays it with sensitivity.

Schumann’s Study for the Pedal Piano reminds us that it’s too simplistic to regard him as an out-and-out Romantic. Though the work could hardly be mistaken for Bach, JSB is clearly its model. Composed for a keyboard instrument with pedals, known as a Pedalflügel, made for Schumann in 1843, it was an upright piano modelled on the clavi-organum or pedal harpsichord which Bach is known to have used, so the music is ideal for performance on the organ. I mention this because it isn’t made entirely clear in the otherwise excellent notes in the booklet. It receives a loving and domestic-sounding performance here, appropriate for an instrument designed for domestic practice rather than in church or concert hall.

Elgar’s Sursum corda, originally for organ strings and brass, is heard in Lemare’s colourful transcription which suits both the organ and the organist. Though the booklet contains a full specification of the organ, it would have been especially helpful to have had details of the registration chosen for this piece.

Marcel Dupré’s Final which rounds off the programme is about as barn-storming as it gets. I don’t recall hearing this work before, so it led me to listen to all seven pieces from which it comes, as recorded by Roger Delcamp on Volume 5 of Naxos’s complete Dupré organ works (8.554026). That recording was made on the organ of an Episcopal Church in the USA, no more akin to the Cavaillé-Coll instrument with which Dupré grew up, but both organists create a more than passable imitation. In fact, the Sept pièces were composed in America for American musicians, so an English or American organ will do nicely. There’s very little to choose between the performances: both serve to round off their respective recitals very well.

The keen-eared will have noticed a Bach connection here, too: the Op.27 pieces were designed as portraits of American musicians and the Final represents a musicologist, hence the repeated B-A-C-H theme in German notation.

With good recording – it benefits from a volume boost – those collecting the series or with a special attachment to the organ or David Humphreys should have no regrets in purchasing this latest instalment of a series which goes from strength to strength. I’d encourage others to buy, too. If you’re looking for something to shake the foundations you won’t find it here, but these are fine performances of music well chosen for the instrument. You may also wish to investigate an earlier Regent recording, made while David Humphreys was at St. Edmundsbury, on which William Hedley thought his contribution exemplary (REGCD295 – review).

Brian Wilson

Details:

Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848–1918)
Fantasia and Fugue in G, Op.188 [11:01]
John BULL (c1562–1628)
Salve Regina I (5 verses) [6:59]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856)
Study for the Pedal Piano, Op.56/5 [2:39]
Max REGER (1873–1916)
Toccata in d minor; Fugue in D, Op.59/5 & 6 [8:35]
Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637–1707)
Choral Fantasia on Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BuxWV223 [7:09]
Edward ELGAR (1857–1934), transcr. Edwin LEMARE (1865–1934)
Sursum Corda, Op.11 [7:24]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–91)
Fantasia in f minor, K608 [10:32]
Philip MOORE (b. 1943)
Sonata for Organ: Andante tranquillo [4:00]
Marcel DUPRÉ (1886–1971)
Sept Pièces, Op.27: Final [4:44]

 




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