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Great European Organs - Volume 100: The Organ of Liverpool Cathedral
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Organ Sonata in G [28:07]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Adagio in E [6:12]
Percy WHITLOCK (1903-1946)
March: Dignity and Impudence [5:55]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Master Tallis’ Testament [6:40]
Noel RAWSTHORNE (b. 1929)
Londonderry Air [4:44]
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Crown Imperial [9:53]
3 Pieces from Henry V [5:46]
Orb and Sceptre [8:39]
David Poulter (organ)
rec. 10-12 August 2015, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral
PRIORY PRCD1158 [77:00]

I am preparing this review a matter of days before the UK votes in a referendum to decide whether to remain a member of the European Union or to stage what is popularly labelled as “Brexit”. Priory Records with this recording are going for an unequivocal “Prexit”. They are announcing their departure from Europe with a fanfare celebrating the biggest and best in Britishness. Whatever the rest of the UK might say, Priory are certain that the country’s organ lovers can survive perfectly well on their own. And with this, the hundredth release in the series, they are pulling the plug on their long-running “Great European Organs” series. They are certainly doing it in some style, with a fabulous organ, glorious music, a wonderfully gifted player and a sumptuous recording.

The first volume - Stephen Cleobury at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge playing a programme of mostly German music – was, I notice with some interest, recorded 30 years to the day before the referendum (make of that what you will). It was quickly followed – Europhiles please note – by a recording from Brussels which cast its musical net rather wider with a programme ranging from Vivaldi to Stravinsky by way of Schumann and Dupré. In the intervening years, a huge variety of organs has been featured, often prompting a feeling that the series would have been better titled “Interesting European Organs” rather than “Great” ones. A plethora of organists, moreover, has thrown up an eclectic mix of repertory ranging from the obvious to the obscure. But one thing has remained constant; the exceptionally sympathetic and understanding recording and engineering and a focus on the instrument above player or repertory. Booklets, often with a somewhat homespun quality about them, have provided plenty of information on the organs and have helped make Priory’s “Great European Organs” a must-have collector’s item for organ-buffs.

Concluding the series, we have the biggest cathedral organ in the UK performing some of the most stirring of all English music. While I would never suggest David Poulter’s take on the Elgar Sonata is the best available (my vote would go to John Butt on Harmonia Mundi for that), his is a performance which displays the glories of the mighty Liverpool Willis to an amazing effect. Perhaps the desire to display the organ somewhat obscures the musical argument – Poulter’s continual changing of stops and bouncing between manuals gives it a wonderfully orchestral quality, but induces in me a certain feeling of dizziness. Nevertheless, he does all this with glorious facility, letting the music flow with consummate poise and self-assurance.

Three famous Walton transcriptions end the programme, and here Poulter can be excused his love of colour and registration effects, not least in Crown Imperial where regal splendour, crowned by sparkling reeds, will send shivers up and down the spine of any true-blooded Englishman. Those delightfully jazzy rhythms which give such an upbeat feel to the march Walton wrote to usher in the new Elizabethan age are vivaciously pointed in Poulter’s scintillating account of Orb and Sceptre, proving that a mighty organ is just as nimble on its feet as the crispiest stand-alone tracker-action neo-Baroque one.

Sandwiched between these two bursts of patriotic fervour and regal splendour comes a selection of English organ works ranging from the vaguely silly – Whitlock’s pastiche on a Pomp and Circumstance march allows us a blast or two from the Liverpudlian Tuba - to the discretely touching – Bridge’s Adagio in E positively shimmers through the silvery Willis strings. Poulter also pays homage to one of his great predecessors, Noel Rawsthorne (Organist at Liverpool from 1955 to 1980) who, in his post-Liverpool life, has taken to producing some fine organ pieces including this sumptuous take on the Londonderry Air (showcasing a gorgeous clarinet stop). Also present is that icon of 20th century British organ music, Herbert Howells, in a most affecting and surprisingly intimate account of Master Tallis’ Testament. Those who love a good crescendo should listen to this; Poulter builds from a magical pianissimo to an awesome fortissimo with spell-binding intensity.
Marc Rochester



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