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Liszt and Wagner: The Opera of Two Composers
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Pilgerchor (Tannhäuser) (1845) [6:42]
Vorspiel (Tristan und Isolde) (arr. Gottshaig) (1865) [9:10]
Verwandlungsmusik (Parsifal) (1882) (arr. Bennett/Bristow) [6:30]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Fantasie und Fuge uber ‘Ad nos, ad Salutarem Undam’ (1970) [30:52]
Resignazione (1877) [1:53]
Am Grabe Richard Wagners (1883) [3:56]
Samuel Bristow (organ)
rec. 2019, Tewkesbury Abbey, UK
Private Release [57:33]

This is a very enterprising private release by an up and coming organist who is a fourth year student at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Organ Scholar at Birmingham Cathedral. There is a comprehensive set of notes with details on the music, the Tewkesbury organ (built for Magdalen Oxford) and a biography of Samuel Bristow. As is surely a sign of the future, there are details of recitals and this recording on Samuel’s Facebook page. He has certainly chosen an interesting debut programme of Liszt and his notorious son-in-law Richard Wagner. It was recorded in the beautiful Tewkesbury Abbey, which I visited as a child. The notes state that the arrangements are all by organists contemporary with the two composers and all very successful in delivering a convincing rendition of the original orchestral score within the comparative limitations of the organ. Samuel has taken the arrangers’ respective markings as a starting point but chose to use his own discretion at the organ of Tewkesbury Abbey to produce what listeners hear. Bristow has been entranced by the music of Wagner since he was exposed to Parsifal, aged 12. He also recommends the listener hear the whole programme from start to finish in one sitting, which I did. The experience took me back to listening to the organ in Christ Church Cathedral Oxford, where I was Sidesman for twelve years. I should add that the programme notes are very useful and should be read in conjunction with listening to the pieces.

The recital begins with the familiar “Pilgrims Chorus” from Tannhäuser, arranged by Liszt. It is a favourite of mine, as someone who listens rarely to operatic Wagner, but loves a lot of the preludes and orchestral works. The quality of the organ playing is clear from the opening bars and the sound, nicely captured in the cathedral acoustic. Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on the chorale "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam", was composed for the organ, unlike the other pieces here. It dates from the winter of 1850 when Liszt was in Weimar. The chorale on which the Fantasy and Fugue is based was from Act I of Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera Le prophète, to whom it was dedicated. For a work of thirty minutes, the attention is held throughout and the playing is inspired. It is an intriguing piece and despite not being one of my favourite composers, I respect Liszt for his achievements. I have nothing but admiration for the playing here and enjoyed it very much; there is a great temptation to turn up the volume.

The Prelude or Vorspiel from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is a familiar “bleeding chunk” and often programmed, with the Liebestod but works well on its own in an arrangement (done by Gottshaig, one of Liszt’s favourite pupils) As the notes point out, Wagner’s affair with Liszt’s daughter Cosima and their child was called Isolde. Gottshaig’s arrangement is highly successful and the sonorities are here beautifully captured. It is followed by the meditative, very short Resignazione, written by Liszt in 1877. This in the more measured style he adopted after taking Holy Orders in 1865. The final work by Wagner is a highly effective arrangement of the Verwandlungsmusik “Transformation music”. I remember liking its orchestral version in a Bruno Walter recording. Again, the notes are extremely useful and aid the listener. The execution is first class. Appropriately, the final work is “At the Grave of Robert Wagner” and was originally for string quartet. It seems entirely apt for the organ.

My wife, who is no fan of either composer, greatly enjoyed the CD, loving the playing and sound, describing it as “very imposing”. I really enjoyed this recital and felt it worked very well as a programme. Samuel Bristow is clearly an organist to be reckoned with and this disc deserves recognition. I look forward to following his career develop with great interest.

David R Dunsmore 
From Samuel Bristow: by email as above or Flat 4, Elm Lodge, 65 The Park, Cheltenham, GL50 2RY, or Facebook page. £12.50 (incl. p&p) or £10 in person.

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