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The English Cathedral Series - Volume XVIII: Worcester
Details at end of review
Christopher Allsop (2008 Kenneth Tickell Quire organ, Worcester Cathedral)
rec. Worcester Cathedral, 2014. DDD
Booklet includes organ specification
REGENT REGCD449 [70:49]

The first reason why I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to review this recording is that it has allowed me to hear the fairly new Tickell organ of Worcester Cathedral.  It’s a versatile instrument, well suited to the many French works included in the programme but equally at home with English compositions and, most surprisingly of all, with Shostakovich.  If you had told me that his Festive Overture could sound so well on the organ as to make you think it had been composed with the instrument in mind, I wouldn’t have believed you until I heard the last item on the CD.  A little re-thinking by Christopher Allsop himself and it sounds tailor-made.

This is Allsop’s first solo outing, though he has featured on earlier Conifer, Regent and Griffin releases: Gwyn Parry-Jones liked his accompaniment of David Briggs’ Messe pour Notre Damereview.  He has been based at Worcester since 2004 and clearly knows his way around the new organ, playing with impressive virtuosity but also with real feeling for the very varied programme that he has chosen.

The Worcester acoustic is beneficent and the recording captures the wide dynamic range of the instrument very well – perhaps too well because while the meditative tones of Somervell’s Air in C (track 5) no doubt make a strong impression if you are sitting in the cathedral, they tend to be less effective in domestic listening conditions.  Turn the volume up on a sunny day with the windows open and, as much as you want to feel as well as hear the force of the organ, you need to worry about the neighbours, especially in the Shostakovich.

There’s no simple answer to this but it’s an issue which arises in the context of modern DDD and DSD recordings.  We no longer need to worry about a low recording level causing analogue hiss to mask the very quiet passages but most people’s homes are not cathedrals or recording studios and they’re not always suited to very wide dynamic range recordings, as I’ve just written in my review of the new BIS SACD/24-bit download of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, where the same problem is even more apparent.

Predictably, Robert von Bahr, the boss of BIS records, has courteously disagreed with me about the issue of recording levels in an email.  I mustn’t go on about this, and I’m very far from wanting recordings to be levelled out, as ClassicFM do for the benefit of in-car listeners and those listening on modest equipment to their low-bit-rate DAB, but some very wide-ranging recordings leave the listener in a quandary: set a comfortable level for the loud passages and the quieter passages lose their impact.

The notes in the booklet are fairly brief.  They include a full specification of the Tickell organ, but in a very small font and superimposed on a photograph of the organ pipes.  I would have liked more about the new organ than the brief paragraph included.  There’s a more legible list of the stops and rather more detail online.

These small niggles apart, I greatly enjoyed the music, performances and recording.  Collectors of this valuable series will need no urging from me but all organ enthusiasts and most general music-lovers should also enjoy this CD.

Brian Wilson 

Details :
Charles TOURNEMIRE (1870–1939) Improvisation sur le Te Deum [6:29]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862–1918) Deuxième Arabesque (trans. Léon Roques) [3:51)]
Jehan ALAIN (1911–40) Deux Fantaisies : Première Fantaisie, JA072 [4:31]; Deuxième Fantaisie, JA117 [6:04]
Arthur SOMERVELL (1863–1937) Air in C (arr. A G Mathew) [4:43]
Joseph BONNET (1884–1944) In Memoriam – Titanic, Op. 10/1 [10:18]
William MATHIAS (1934–92) Toccata Giocosa [3:35]
Louis VIERNE (1870–1937) Pièces de fantaisie, 2nd. suite: Feux Follets, Op.53/4 [4:54]
Frank BRIDGE (1879–1941) Three Pieces for Organ, H. 190: Minuet [4:32]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–75) Katerina Ismailowa, Op.114c: Passacaglia [6:23]
Hugo DISTLER (1908–42) Four Spielstücke, Op. 18 [0:22 + 1:25 + 3:39 + 1:22]
Donald HUNT (b. 1930) Tomkins’ Trifle [1:45]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Festive Overture, Op.96 (trans. Christopher Allsop) [6:51]


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