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Worcester Spectacular!
Christopher Allsop (organ)
rec. 2018, Worcester Cathedral, UK

I think that Priory are doing themselves down a wee bit by selling this as a ‘lollipops’ CD. Certainly, there are several warhorses here, as well as some pieces that are probably overrepresented in the record catalogues; there are some 285 versions of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 and a surprisingly spartan 68 recordings of Widor’s ubiquitous Toccata from the Symphony No.5.

The dictionary definition of a ‘lollipop’ is ‘a short and undemanding piece of classical music.’ This, I feel, is disingenuous – at least on this CD. For example, there is depth and intimacy in RVW’s popular, but never hackneyed, ‘Rhosymedre’ from the Three Preludes founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes. Equally thoughtful is Percy Fletcher’s Fountain Reverie.  The approachability of Pietro Yon’s 'Humoresque' Toccatina for (L'Organo primitive) is clearly a nod to popularity. Yet only so with organists, I fear. It is never heard on Classic FM, which seems to play only two organ pieces: the above-mentioned Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor, and Widor’s Toccata. Equally approachable is Louis-James-Alfred Lefébure-Wely’s Sortie in E flat which sounds at home on this Tickell organ. One of my favourite organ pieces, it could be played just as successfully on a Cavaille-Coll or a Wurlitzer.

Fewer people will know Theodore Dubois’s Fiat Lux (Let there be light) which develops from quiet music into a veritable Toccata. Probably everyone who has played the organ has ‘had a go’ at Easthope Martin’s Evensong. This could be regarded as the ultimate in sentimentality, but come on! it is a beautiful piece that is more about a love affair than the vicar’s Evening Prayer. Percy Whitlock’s Five Pieces for Organ is not liturgical in any way: in fact, they are charmingly secular. Naturally, they can be used at worship too. The Folk-Tune is a pastiche of the prevailing ‘pastoral’ school of the 1920s – and none the worse for that.

I had never heard Derek Bourgeois’ Serenade. Originally penned for his own wedding in the 1960s, it has also been arranged for brass band.  It is a charming little piece with a hint of the orient that deserves to be well-known. I’m not sure what part of the wedding service it was used for, though; certainly not the bride’s entrance...

Karg Elert’s powerful march Nun danket alle Gott op.65 no.59 needs no introduction. I was delighted that Christopher Allsop included Samuel Wesley’s lovely Air and Gavotte: it was a piece I learnt at organ lessons many years ago and enjoy to this day. Originally written for violin and piano, Elgar’s Chanson de Matin is always welcome in any one of its many incarnations. The liner notes remind the listener that local composer Elgar’s splendid Organ Sonata was first heard in Worcester Cathedral in 1895.

Finally, I accept that Sibelius’s Finlandia works well on this organ, especially the snarling opening chords, but that is not enough to convince me that this is not a transcription too far. I enjoy Sibelius’s Symphonies and Tone Poems but the politically charged Finlandia does nothing for me.

The main event of this CD is the instrument. This Quire Organ was built by Kenneth Tickell and Company in 2008. It featured in that year’s Three Choirs Festival which included a recital by Dame Gillian Weir.  The recording engineers have made a splendid job of balancing the sound levels of these contrasting pieces, from the delicate flutes of Pietro Yon to the massive noise of Mulet’s Carillon-Sortie.

Soloist Christopher Allsop is clearly a master of his instrument. All the works sound wonderful and the complexities of the war-horses are made to feel perfectly playable, especially of the rippling sounds of Lefebure-Wely’s Sortie in E flat. His wide-ranging skill is also apparent in the introspection of RVW’s ‘Rhosymedre’ and Bach’s Liebster Jesu wir sind hier.

The liner notes, written by the soloist, include brief, but informative, notes - usually just sentence - about each work, and there is a complete specification of the organ. The very short paragraph about the instrument could have been expanded considerably to reflect the complex history of Worcester Cathedral’s organs. There is a short bio of Christopher Allsop. Even with my magnifying glass, I could find no CD ‘total time.’

I enjoyed this CD of so-called ‘lollipops. However, as noted above, there is more here than mere ‘froth’; all these pieces deserve our attention.  All organ buffs will be keen to add this superb CD to their collection.

John France

J.S. BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 [8:31]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Rhosymedre (Three Preludes founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes) (1920) [4:21]
Pietro YON (1886-1943)
'Humoresque' Toccatina for (L'Organo primitive) (c.1918) [2:27]
Theodore DUBOIS (1837-1924)
Fiat Lux (Douze pièces nouvelles) (1893) [4:52]
Frederick EASTHOPE MARTIN (1882-1925)
Evensong (1910) [3:55]
Derek BOURGEOIS (1941-2017)
Serenade [2:56]
Percy WHITLOCK (1903-46)
Folk Tune (Five Short Pieces) (1929) [3:46]
Sigfrid KARG-ELERT (1877-1933)
Nun danket alle Gott Op.65 No.59 (1908-1910) [4:12]
Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier BWV 731 [2:45]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) arr. Jean SIBELIUS and Herbert A. FRICKER (1868-1943) Finlandia Op. 26 (1900/1907) [9:18]
Samuel WESLEY (1766-1837)
Air and Gavotte (Twelve Short Pieces) (1816) [3:43]
Henri MULET (1878-1967)
Carillon-Sortie (c.1912) [5:29]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) arr. Herbert BREWER (1865-1928)
Chanson de Matin (1897/1904) [3:18]
Louis LEFEBURE-WELY (1837-1869)
Sortie in E flat, L'organiste moderne, Book 11 (1867) [4:24]
Percy FLETCHER (1879-1932)
Fountain Reverie (c.1915) [5:40]
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
Toccata in F (Symphony no.5) (1879) [6:09]


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