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Scarlatti Sonatas Vol 2


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV582 [14:05]
Toccata and Fugue in F, BWV540 [14:31]
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV564 [16:04]
Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV542 [12:17]
Prelude and Fugue in E flat, BWV552 [16:49]
Ashley Grote (organ)
rec. Selby Abbey, UK, no date given

As someone who spent many years attending Christ Church Cathedral Oxford; latterly as a sidesman, I have had the pleasure of hearing some great organists, including Simon Preston, Stephen Darlington, Howard Goodall and Clive Driscoll-Smith. Since moving away from Oxford, I have had little opportunity to experience an organ resounding out in a large building. A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Samuel Bristow’s recital from Tewkesbury Abbey and received the present CD great pleasure. Marc Rochester has gone into great detail in his positive review concerning Selby Abbey and the organ. I will therefore restrict myself to discussing the present disc as a Bach recital from Ashley Grote, the current organist of Norwich Cathedral. I pause only to agree with Marc that Ashley, who questions whether Bach is apt for such an “English organ” and answers: “I would like to think that this most ingenious, brilliant and daring of all organists would have employed all the sounds at his disposal”. Marc states that Grote needs no justification, for his own playing and his highly imaginative use of the Selby Abbey instrument, are both utterly convincing. I totally agree and was convinced when I heard the “opening bars of the great Passacaglia thundering out with a lumbering, elephantine tread”. My B & O system was at a suitable loud volume. Fortunately my wife and son didn’t object and it helps that we live in a detached house.

I’m very fond of the Passacaglia as a form and it was used to great effect by Brahms in the Finale to his tragic Symphony No.4 ; a Passacaglia being a set of variations on a fixed melody (subject), while Chaconne, as used by Purcell and later Britten, is a set of variations on a fixed harmonic progression. This performance by Ashley Grote certainly makes me want to explore other organ recitals, if my speakers, walls and family can stand them. The Toccata from BWV540 (track 3) is played in such a melodic and musical manner despite the great instrument, that I can see myself humming along to it for ages. The contrast when he turns to the following Fuge is most effective. This is a great Bach album, not just a souvenir from Selby Abbey. This CD is probably best played a few tracks at a time As one might in church rather than in one go.

Appropriately, Grote’s recital ends with the Fuge from BWV552 which will be familiar to many as the opening line of the hymn “O God, our help in ages past” and “St. Anne’s Fuge”. It sonorities, powerfully and movingly played, are very well captured by the recording, which is very fine throughout.

This is an excellent, well thought out programme, with helpful notes on the music by Ian Wells. It will be an ideal CD to play when I want to experience J.S. Bach at the magnificent Organ of Selby Abbey, magnificently played. This deserves every success and I look forward to more from Ashley Grote.

David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Marc Rochester

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