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Andreas WILLSCHER (b. 1955)
Organ Symphony No.19, “Hallelujahs” (2017) [21.59]
Organ Symphony No.20, “Laetare” (2017) [29.51]
Die Seligpreisungen (‘The Beatitudes’) (1974) [20.15]
Carson Cooman (organ)
rec. St. Bartholomew’s Church, Armley, Leeds, 2017
DIVINE ART DDA25162 [72.06]

It is always good to hear contemporary music for organ and this CD will give a great deal of innocent pleasure. The music is tuneful, easy on the ear, but perhaps not especially memorable, despite the best efforts of the Divine Art recording team.

The composer, himself an organist, has studied and worked principally in Hamburg.

The organ is a notoriously difficult instrument to record, and the engineers have achieved wonders in capturing the organ of St Bartholomew’s, created by Edward Schulze. The Schulze dynasty, which dates back to the time of Bach, built the organ in Germany for use at Meanwood House, owned by Thomas Kennedy, who commissioned the organ for his wife, Clara. The first recital at Meanwood Towers was given by Samuel Sebastian Wesley. The organ was sold when Clara became ill and it was then placed in the Church of St. Peter in Harrogate (it was too big in tone, and sound was muffled). In 1879 it moved to Armley and has undergone various amendments and reconstructions. Thanks are due to David Butcher – who has worked on the organ – for his excellent essay on the organ in the accompanying leaflet. There is also very useful information at Lavender Audio which supplements the essay with further detail.

It is interesting to compare the capabilities of this organ with the sound of the contemporary Father Willis instruments, which are perhaps more familiar to English listeners (Salisbury Cathedral has perhaps the ultimate example). The St Bartholomew’s organ has not often been recorded – I can currently find only Graham Barber’s collection, ‘Christmas at Armley’, recorded on a Priory disc, and a recital by Tom Bell of Brahms’ works for Organ, coupled with Schoenberg – a rather more challenging recital than the one on this CD.

Willscher’s music falls easily on the ear and offers scope for colour – Carson Cooman’s sensitive playing shows very well the capabilities of the instrument. But, in a sense, there is the rub. The two organ symphonies and Die Seligpreisungen are pleasant and accomplished but I found in them nothing very distinctive. They could have been composed at almost any time in the last hundred years or so. They are biblical in inspiration, as their titles make clear. Organ Symphony No. 19 draws its name ‘Hallelujahs’ from five specific instances of praise in scripture, four from the Old Testament, the last from the visions in the Apocalypse, providing a joyous ending. Organ Symphony 20, ‘Laetare’, perhaps the most interesting of the three works, and here played by its dedicatee, is, as the title suggests, about instances of praise, though based on texts from across the Church year. (The title is potentially misleading: ‘Laetare’ Sunday refers to the 4th Sunday in Lent, when, by tradition, rose rather than purple vestments are worn: the name comes from the opening word of the Introit. Only the third of the five movements refers specifically to this Lenten mass). The symphony includes a variety of forms, whether variations in the second movement or settings of Gregorian melody in the third.

Production values are very high, and this is a rewarding disc for lovers of the organ.

Michael Wilkinson

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