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RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Organ Fireworks – World Tour
Christopher Herrick (organ)
rec. various locations, 1984-2009 HYPERION CDA68214 [76:44]
One of the most successful organ series ever to appear on CD is Hyperion’s Organ Fireworks. It was launched about the same time as the CD format itself – volume one was released in 1984 – and has carried on through 14 volumes which have showcased organs in the UK, (twice), the US (twice), France, Finland, New Zealand, Iceland, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, and Australia. That first volume in the series established the winning formula of a spectacular organ magnificently recorded, a programme with big showcase works intermingled with rare gems and spiced up by items with a local flavour, excellent booklet essays and, of course, Christopher Herrick’s hallmark playing – tremendous virtuosity, genuine musicality and compelling communication. This single disc provides a taster, a retrospective and a highlights compendium all rolled into one; and it also makes a splendid stand-alone disc for all lovers of the organ.
This disc traces the chronology of the series, beginning at Westminster Abbey with one of the rarities the series picked up and which has since become almost established recital fare; one of the many Trumpet Tunes by the American composer David Johnson. Musically, it might have seemed an odd choice for the original disc, and an even odder one to put on this disc which allows just one track from each of the 14 releases, but it showcases one of the most powerfully majestic organs of all, so its inclusion is fully justified. From Vol 2, which entailed only a short trip on the Circle and District line from Westminster to South Kensington and the Royal Albert Hall, we have one of the organs and one of the works which seem almost to define the idea of Organ Fireworks. Based on several of the patriotic English sea songs with which the venue resounds one Saturday night each September, Edwin Lemare’s Concert Fantasia was, according to the original booklet note – which is reproduced here alongside full details of the organ and the track list of the original disc, - originally conceived for the Edison Phonograph cylinder. What other excuse is needed to present again this dazzling demonstration of Herrick’s matchless virtuosity?
For vol. 3 the team took a ferry to France (the channel tunnel had yet to open when they made the recording in 1990) and the massive organ of St Eustache in Paris. As a demonstration of the dynamic range of an organ, the choice of Bossi’s French-titled but distinctly Italianate Pièce héroïque is excellent, stretching as it does from a delicate pianissimo to a mighty fortissimo. Authentic Parisian music was included on the fourth disc of the series, for which the team made the first of their three trans-Atlantic crossings. Lefébure-Wély’s Sortie is not the famous (notorious?) B flat one, but an equally outrageous one which would not be out of place as an accompaniment to a fairground carousel. More French music, but with an aggressive edge is drawn from the fifth volume, recorded on the 1980 Veikko Virtanen monster in Turku Cathedral, Finland. This proves to be an instrument which has all the aggressive edge required to deliver a mesmerising, truly breath-taking account of Alain’s Litanies.
For the sixth disc, the team made the first of two journeys into the southern hemisphere. Celebrating the 1906 Norman & Beard instrument of Wellington Town Hall, Herrick honoured its colonial-era self-confidence by showcasing the most iconic stop of large English organs of the period in the ebullient pot-boiler by Norman Cocker. Travelling right round to the other side of the globe, and zooming in on possibly the most extraordinary building visited in the series – the Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik and its 1992 Klais – the choice of programme here included the complete Sonata on the 94thPsalm by Reubke. For this disc, they have included just the Fugue, which is more than enough to get a flavour of this dark, almost austere music.
From the cold of the far northern climes to the torpid heat of the tropics, the next volume showcased the Rieger of Hong Kong’s Cultural Arts Centre. Here we have possibly the one genuine piece of mainstream repertory on this disc, Liszt’s great Prelude and Fugue on BACH in a performance which, when I reviewed it for another publication, I suggested was about the best then available. Listening to it again, I think it still is.
One of the gems thrown up by Herrick’s masterful handling of repertory was a piece which had never come to my attention before in over half-a-century of organ playing, listening and reviewing. This was not the only gem revealed in this series which had me trawling the publishers’ catalogues to secure my own copy and get it into my own recital repertory. As a title, An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary might not seem to offer much in the way of originality, and the name of Patrick Gowers has been one which has remained largely on the periphery of standard organ repertory. Yet the trip to Switzerland – a country whose organs Herrick has done so much to promote through his equally magnificent Bach series for Hyperion – was well worth it for the inclusion of this jazz-infused and utterly compelling piece which the booklet notes describe, with no hint of exaggeration, as “sizzling”.
A trip to Canada and the most recent instrument in the series; the Létourneau organ at the Winspear Centre in Edmonton which Herrick had inaugurated in 2002. He recorded the 10th Fireworks disc there the following year and included Joseph Bonnet’s impressionistic evocation of daybreak, complete with birdsong and chiming bells. Staying in north America for the 11th disc, the Fireworks team headed down to Texas and the Fisk organ in the McDermott Concert Hall in Dallas. Matching the spirit of the location, Herrick came up with an amazing piece by the Norwegian composer Mons Leidvin Takle which, as the booklet notes put it, “plants the listener in the parade ground...plunges him into the smoky depths of the jazz cellar…and enjoys a tour of a superb fairground”.
Denmark claims to be the birthplace of Dietrich Buxtehude, and recognising this, vol.12 of the series, recorded in Haderslev Cathedral, offered up not just a goodly helping of Buxtehude, but a Hommage à Buxtehude by Petr Eben. This disc gives us just a short taste of the work in the dangerously insistent Finale. A day’s drive across the Oresund Bridge and into Sweden brought about the penultimate volume, which included another discovery; Guy Weitz’s magnificent Grand Choeur Benedicamus Domino which was included to demonstrate the grandeur of one the organs of Västerås Cathedral.
The series concluded in 2010 on the organ of Melbourne Town Hall. I really wish they had chosen to take the Marcel Lanquetuit Toccata from that disc to close this one, but we can’t blame Herrick for wanting to include something he himself arranged for the series – The Grand March from Aïda. It also highlights what is, for my money, the finest of the generous handful of Tuba stops sprinkled over the disc. It makes a pyrotechnical climax to this marvellous look back over some of the best organ playing and recording the CD medium has ever carried. Marc Rochester Track Listing David JOHNSON (1922-1987): Trumpet Tune in D [2:41] – Westminster Abbey Edwin LEMARE (1865-1934): Concert Fantasia, Op. 91 [9:03] – Royal Albert Hall Marco Enrico BOSSI (1861-1925): Pièce héroïque in D minor, Op.128 – St Eustache, Paris Louis-James-Alfred LEFEBURE-WELY (1817-1870): Sortie in E flat [3:51] – St Bartholomew, New York Jehan ALAIN (1911-1940): Litanies [4:40] – Turku Cathedral, Finland Norman COCKER (1889-1953): Tuba Tune [4:26] – Wellington Town Hall, New Zealand Julius REUBKE (1834-1858): Sonata on the 94th Psalm – Fugue [6:56] – Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland Franz LISZT (1811-1886): Prelude & Fugue on BACH [11:34] – Hong Kong Cultural Centre Patrick GOWERS (1936-2014): An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary [3:36] – Berner Münster, Switzerland Joseph BONNET (1884-1944): Matin Provençal, Op.3 No.2 [5:28] – Winspear Centre, Edmonton, Canada Mons Leidvin TAKLE (b.1942): Festmusikk [3:53] – Lay Family Concert Organ, Dallas, Texas Petr EBEN (1929-2007): Hommage à Buxtehude – Finale [2:43] – Haderslev Cathedral, Denmark Guy WEITZ (1883-1970): Grand Choeur “Benedicamus Domino” [4:23] – Västerås Cathedral, Sweden Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901): Grand March from Aïda [6:46] – Melbourne Town Hall