Great European Organs Vol. 99: The Organ of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin
Robert Prescott STEWART (1825-1894)
Concert Fantasia in D minor [11:38]
Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)
Prélude Funèbre [7:04]
Edwin LEMARE (1865-1934)
Organ Symphony No. 1 in G minor, Op. 35 [37:26]
Jean GIROUD (1910-1997)
Toccata pour l’élevation [4:42]
Harvey GRACE (1874-1944)
Fantasy Prelude on Resurgam [8:50]
David Leigh (organ)
rec. 4-6 November 2015, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin
PRIORY PRCD1168 [79:00]
Much of the music on this disc – and several of the composers – will be unfamiliar even to the most avid organ enthusiast. Yet the fact that the music here is far outside the mainstream of present-day recital repertory should not in any way imply that it is not worth hearing. Indeed, much of it offers immensely satisfying rewards to the listener, and these are greatly enhanced by the outstanding playing of David Leigh.
The programme is clearly intended to take us through the multifarious delights of this relatively little-appreciated organ. A six-page essay on the instrument (including almost three pages of specification, listing some 75 speaking stops) charts its colourful history from a 1697 Renatus Harris through a host of British and Irish builders, the most recent work having been done by Harrison & Harrison in 1995, but the bulk of it originating from the instrument newly constructed by Willis in 1902. We do not get to hear every stop - the booklet tells us that the Great Open Diapason No. 1 is “one of the few ranks not heard on this recording” – but what we do hear sounds absolutely magnificent in this exemplary recording by Priory’s tireless Neil Collier.
Sir Robert Prescott Stewart’s Concert Fantasia certainly earns its keep on the disc by sending us through the ranks of the instrument in a kaleidoscopic array of colour and effect. Perhaps the piece would not stand up so well on a lesser instrument, but beyond its exploration of the resources of a large organ, it is the only piece on the disc to have a direct Dublin connection: as his obituary in the Musical Times noted, “Robert Stewart’s heart was ever in his native country, and the organ lofts of Trinity College Chapel and of the Cathedrals of Christ Church and St Patrick’s were his triple thrones”.
There is also a connection – albeit an extremely tenuous one - through the Celtic background of Guy Ropartz. His Prélude Funèbre might seem too reminiscent of his teacher César Franck to make much of an impact, but the rhythmic intrigues of his Sortie, a festive piece which has far more to say for itself than most similarly-named French pieces of the late-19th century, point to his Breton roots. Jean Giroud, on the other hand, spent most of his working life in Grenoble and appears to have had no Irish, Gaelic or Celtic connections. If his slow and dreamy Toccata pour L’élevation reminds anyone except the booklet-note writer of the harmonic idiom of Messiaen, I would be hugely surprised. It does, however, offer a rich harvest of the organ’s more warm and gentle flues.
Every commentary and article on Harvey Grace refers to his outstanding gifts as a writer, as a choir trainer, as an organist, an examiner and an adjudicator. Finding any mention of him as a composer is like looking for a needle in a haystack, yet he did produce a handful of pieces, many based on hymn tunes, and here is a stirring and eloquent fantasy on the tune Resurgam dating from 1922. Clearly no technical easy ride, David Leigh handles its journey from darkness to light with great aplomb, not least a glorious manual glissando in the final bars. But it is in the major work on the disc, the first of Edwin Lemare’s two solo organ symphonies, that Leigh shows his true mettle. This is a monumental work – some 37 minutes in length and conceived in full symphonic terms – requiring an equally monumental technique. All this is clearly well within the gift of David Leigh who produces a broad sweeping account in which virtuosity, musical insight, deft handling of the organ’s resources and a hint of showmanship combine to create a performance which alone is well worth the price of this very generously-filled disc.