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David BEDNALL (b. 1979)
Magna Voce
Magna voce cane et magno cum jubilo [5:12]
Meditation: Passion Chorale {5:52]
Ach Herre Hott, mich treibt die Not [2:49]
Evocation of Wells Cathedral (O Radix Jesse) [8:56]
Festal Sortie on Gopsal [4:13]
Charity: Berceuse [4:25]
Iubilium [4:42]
Adagio for Organ [9:23]
Toccata: Aberystwyth [3:33]
Meditation: Wie Schön leuchtet [5:39]
Triptych in Honour of Herbert Howells [23:15]
Paul Walton (organ)
rec. 2016, Blackburn Cathedral, England
REGENT REGCD498 [78:02]

This generously-filled disc is the first devoted exclusively to the organ music of David Bednall. However, his name should be familiar from numerous discs devoted to his choral music, while in the earlier part of his career he made several recordings as an organist himself. Still in his 30s he has established quite a reputation as a choral composer, and is certainly amazingly prolific – his website lists over 100 works composed over a period of 16 years. While a majority of those works is for choir, and specifically for church/cathedral choir, there are instrumental works (a string quartet, piano sonata and sonata for viola and piano are mentioned as forthcoming works) and dotted chronologically throughout the list are works for solo organ. The 13 pieces on this disc comprise a cross-section of those solo works ranging from Adagio of 2002 to Evocation of Wells Cathedral (Radix Jesse) and Triptych in Honour of Herbert Howells of 2016.

The opening item lends its title to the disc, and was written in 2009 for Martin Baker and the newly restored organ of St Luke’s Battersea. It certainly lives up to its title (which translates as “Play with a loud voice and with the greatest joy”), the tremendously crisp and gutsy qualities of the sizzling Blackburn Cathedral organ giving it all a splendid fizz. At times it seems to try too hard to be exultant, and the ceaseless onslaught of great waves of organ sound in big crashing chords (with the 20th century French toccata very much an obvious influence) does become a little tiresome. However very occasional moments of repose give us a fine taste of the subtler parts of this magnificent instrument. Written just a year earlier, Iubilium also seems on the point of bursting its seams with surges of exuberant festivity, although here some jazz-infused rhythms add spice to the succession of hefty, often overwhelmingly celebratory chords.

Lutheran chorales have obviously been an important source of inspiration for Bednall, and in addition to two Meditations on, respectively, Herzlich thut mich verlangen and Wie schön leuchtet, there is his contribution to a project instituted by William Whitehead to complete Bach’s Orgelbüchlein. The first of the Meditations conveys an image of the Passion with a mournful opening, a procession of increasing intensity (Bednall, in his booklet note, suggests it has “something of the feel of the walk to Golgotha”) and a final, subdued ending. Paul Walton’s masterful command of the organ and his sense of an overall vision makes this one of the more impressive performances on the disc. The second evokes some of the luminosity associated with the original chorale text, but this is not so much a brightly shining light as a glimmering one, and it is a tribute to Gary Cole’s excellent recording that, even with this largely pianissimo playing and the heady Blackburn acoustic, every detail is perfectly conveyed. We certainly hear in this piece the influence of French music, which is even stronger in Ach Herre Gott, mich treibt die Not. With the best will in the world, this sounds little more than an improvisation in the style of French toccata with the chorale theme put into the pedals. That does not in any way diminish its effectiveness when played with such verve and on such a glittering instrument as this.

The pieces based on hymn tunes “Gopsal” and “Aberystwyth” are in a similar vein, although the former clearly relishes big crashing chords more than the latter, which is primarily concerned with virtuoso fingerwork; one wonders what sort of music young British organist-composers might have composed had there never been the examples of the French toccata to follow. Also celebrating French music through the channels of an English hymn tune, the Charity: Berceuse reimagines Vierne’s classic with Stainer’s tune at its heart. Here we have a fine example of Bednall’s rich, romantically-infused harmonic vocabulary, leisurely unfolding in Walton’s relaxed performance.

Beyond the obvious influences of Bach, the French romantics and British hymnody, there are a couple of more personally-inspired works here. Of considerable originality and interest is the Evocation of Wells Cathedral which evokes to great effect the idea of light, in its many guises, reflecting on and shining through the glass of the cathedral’s Great Jesse Window. The composer’s note focuses on the visual ideas behind the work, although Walton’s playing elevates it into something which, despite its obvious improvisational roots, has considerable musical substance. While this work was written for someone Bednall describes as “a dear friend”, the Adagio has an even more personal back story. The innocuous title does not begin to hint at the huge intensity of the piece nor its epic journey across the entire tonal range of the instrument; a journey magnificently helmed by Walton in this powerful performance.

The Triptych in Honour of Herbert Howells celebrates one of the key figures in British cathedral music of the 20th century without ever actually quoting Howells directly. The three movements each carry titles which have a Howells resonance – “Come Sing and Dance” is the title of a Howells song, “On Chosen Hill” is a Gloucestershire landmark which Howells frequently visited, while “Holy is the True Light” is the title of the last part of Hymnus Paradisi – and the music is infused with both the formal elusiveness and harmonic richness of Howells’ own quintessentially English writing. In his organ music, however, Bednall obviously finds it very difficult to move far from France, and in a blind tasting I would be inclined to suggest that this is more in honour of Maurice Duruflé. Never mind that, this is a scintillating piece of music, brilliantly played by Paul Walton on one of the more arresting English cathedral organs of our time.

Marc Rochester



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