The Grand Organ of Gloucester Cathedral Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Two Trumpet Tunes and Air (arr.
Hope) [4:59] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 [10:07] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Rhosymedre [4:58] Paul DUKAS (1865-1935) The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
(arr. Hope) [11:52] George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759) Organ Concerto No. 13 in F (movements 1 and 2) [6:27] Pierre COCHEREAU (1924-1984) Final (Symphonie de Boston)
(trans. Filsell) [5:53] Franz LISZT (1811-1886) St Francis of Paola Walking on the Waves
(arr. Rogg) [12:24] Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Psalm Prelude Set 2, No. 1 [9:58]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ March No. 1 in D
(arr. Lemare) [8:19]
Bonus feature: Leo SOWERBY (1895-1968) Pageant
Jonathan Hope (organ)
rec. 1-4 September, 6-9 October 2015, Gloucester Cathedral
3-Disc set containing CD, DVD, Blu-Ray
DVD picture format: 16:9. Sound: Stereo, 5.1 Surround. Region Code All (worldwide) PRIORY PRDVD14 [74:37 (programme) + 66:00 (bonus features)]
This is the fourteenth volume in Priory’s series showcasing the organs in some of Britain’s leading cathedrals. We’ve previously reviewed the releases covering Canterbury, Salisbury and Durham. This is the first issue in the series that has come to me but it’s clear that Priory have elected not just to present the sound of the organ in question but also to let us see in great detail both the instrument and the cathedral in which each is housed. I believe that early releases in the series included a DVD and a CD but more recently a Blu-Ray disc has been included as well. I hope I’ll be forgiven an outrageous – and very obvious – pun in saying that in terms of presentation Priory have pulled out all the stops to show off Gloucester Cathedral’s organ.
The organ dates back to 1666. Subsequent extensions and improvements involved a number of celebrated organ builders, including Henry ‘Father’ Willis. In 1971 the instrument was completely redesigned by Hill, Norman & Beard; their work was instructed by the cathedral’s long-serving Organist, John Sanders with Ralph Downes as consultant. A substantial overhaul, by Nicholson & Co, took place in 1999 during the tenure of Dr Sanders’ successor, David Briggs. The organ, which sits imposingly on the Quire screen, has four manuals plus pedals. The booklet contains a full specification.
The CD contains all the organ pieces with the exception of the Sowerby ‘bonus track’. In this review I’m going to concentrate on the Blu-Ray disc, the contents of which are duplicated on the DVD.
Jonathan Hope’s performances of the various works are exceptionally fine. He has been Assistant Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral since March 2014 – before that he was Organ Scholar at Winchester Cathedral – so at the time these performances were set down he’d been at Gloucester for some 18 months. It is clear from the tour of the organ that he gives as part of this package that the Gloucester organ is a complex instrument yet his performances show that even in the relatively short span of 18 months Hope had become completely at ease with the instrument and formidably skilled in exploiting its resources to splendid effect.
His command of the organ is shown, for example, in his own transcription of Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The original score is brilliantly and inventively orchestrated; Hope’s transcription is highly effective and makes imaginative use of the organ’s resources to produce a quasi-orchestral sound-picture. He makes an equally impressive and colourful job of Edwin Lemare’s transcription of Elgar’s celebrated march.
Original organ music fares just as well. The Cochereau offering is a transcription of the finale of a symphony that the great French organist improvised in Boston, MA in 1956. It’s hugely demanding and Jonathan Hope plays with great virtuosity. His bonus track similarly calls for virtuosity. Apparently, there was some spare session time left at the end of the weeks of recording and it was felt that the pedal division of the Gloucester organ had not been shown off sufficiently. So Leo Sowerby’s Pageant was selected to fill the gap. The piece was new to me but, my goodness, it makes a terrific impact here. It’s a showpiece for the entire organ but the pedals are especially to the fore. Hope displays phenomenal footwork of the sort that could easily win him a place on Strictly Come Dancing.
In a completely different vein, I loved his account of the Howells Psalm Prelude. He builds this from the tranquil opening to an imposing central climax before the music subsides into tranquillity. Also tranquil is VW’s lovely Rhosymedre. There had to be some Bach and Hope gives a dramatic and dynamic performance of the great Toccata and Fugue in D minor. His fingerwork and registrations result in a performance of great clarity, not least in the fugue.
The performances are enhanced by expert camerawork. Naturally there are plenty of shots of Jonathan Hope in action and during the course of the recital virtually every aspect of the organ, both its external casework and its inner workings, is shown. What makes this such a fine production, however, is the way in which Gloucester Cathedral itself is shown off. This is one of the very finest of English cathedrals and if you don’t know it then this film will reveal not just its majestic scale but also a myriad of exquisite detail. Even if you do know the cathedral well I guarantee you’ll relish seeing the building filmed in such perceptive detail; you may also see some aspects of it that you’d never noticed before. Some of the camerawork also takes us out into the city of Gloucester and the countryside nearby.
In addition to the recital Jonathan Hope gives us a tour of the organ. Here he relates its history, detailing the various rebuilds and refurbishments that have taken place over the years. I was interested to learn that Henry ‘Father’ Willis apparently remarked later in life that the Gloucester organ was his “stepping stone to fame”. The organ has a distinctive sound, one that is especially appropriate for French music and we get a good feel for how this is achieved during the tour. Jonathan Hope takes us through the various elements of the organ – the swell, the choir organ, the pedal division – and explains how the instrument speaks to West and East. Along the way he illustrates many of the stops and combinations and though the descriptions are a bit technical at times it’s all explained – and illustrated - in such a way that my interest was held even though I’m not an organist. At the end of the tour Hope demonstrates the full potential of the organ through a short improvisation on the tune of the cathedral’s bells. This improvisation, he says, starts from nothing and builds up to “absolutely everything”; at that point the sound he is producing is quite superb.
There’s a fascinating short feature where he illustrates the organ by playing the Cochereau piece commentating as he goes along. The picture is divided into four screens. Two of these show different views of the console; another shows the pedal board; the fourth shows the shutters on the swell box. Hope gives a commentary as he plays, explaining what he’s adding to or taking away from the mix at any one time so as to produce a wide variety of sounds to show the music off to best advantage.
The sound is superb. I got excellent results playing the Blu-Ray disc through my TV and when I played it as an audio disc through the Blu-Ray player connected to my hi-fi system the results were even better. I’ve heard this organ in situ many times in the last thirty years and I can vouch that the Priory engineers have captured it excitingly and truthfully. I can also confirm that they’ve caught the aural ambience of the cathedral – and its tricky resonance – very well indeed.
This package from Priory seems to me to be an ideal way to demonstrate a great organ – and the great church in which it is housed – both to organ buffs and to the general listener. Every aspect of the package is first-class. The camerawork is consistently apt and imaginative; the sound quality is superb; the documentation, which includes excellent notes on the music by Jonathan Hope as well as a full specification of the organ, is first rate. Add to all that a perceptive and wide-ranging choice of music and masterly performances by a very fine organist and I doubt that the Gloucester Cathedral organ has ever been shown off to such advantage.