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Anna Lapwood (organ)
rec. 4-6 January 2021, Ely Cathedral, UK
Reviewed as a digital download with pdf booklet from

This is the debut solo album from the new doyenne of the organ world and a formidable achievement it is! The programme is made up of transcriptions, several by Lapwood herself, combined with a number of more recent original compositions by up-and-coming composers. If there is a theme to the recording, it is probably the way it reflects the quieter, subtler and more colourful end of organ music.

She chooses to open the album with a delectable account of the opening prelude of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, a work that underwent transcription by the composer himself. The arrangement here by Erwin Wiersinga is exemplary, drawing out the echoes in Ravel’s writing of older keyboard music, but this time in the organ loft rather than at the harpsichord. Lapwood plays three movements in this work and it was only in the third of them, the Rigaudon, that I felt the registration on the organ was a little heavy handed.

Gowers’ Voluntary seems to me as occasional as its title suggests – undoubtedly an effective enough piece but I found it pretty unmemorable, even if Lapwood delivers it with maximum aplomb. Briggs’ Light in Darkness I found more diverting in its mysterious hushed tones but again little really stayed with me even after repeated listening. I found that Parks’ Images, which gives its name to the whole collection, had a little more substance to it, but ultimately it too is a fairly minor piece. Which is pretty much how I feel about the older Boulanger piece included. I can imagine these pieces being a handy addition to any church organist’s repertoire and they make agreeable fillers in the context of the prevailing mood of after-hours in a big cathedral.

The heart and soul of this recital lies in the diaphanous rendition of the slow movement of the Debussy String Quartet. I was transported to some cavernous, candlelit Parisian church at midnight, all thought of the original banished. Not all of this is as fanciful as it might sound as, in her liner notes, Lapwood tells us that the album was recorded in the dead of night and that she particularly enjoys playing at that time. It shows, as this performance is gorgeous.

The other big piece in this programme is Lapwood’s own transcription of the Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes. I was a little sceptical beforehand as to how much would be lost of Britten’s fabulous orchestration but I needn’t have feared. Dawn is eerily effective. The best transcriptions take us somewhere removed from the originals and here I felt I was in a different kind of Britten world – that of the later Church Parables when Britten’s sound world had been refined to bare essentials. Lapwood’s choice of registration, always subtle and responsive, captures the pale, bleached Suffolk early light better than even the young Britten’s lusher orchestration. The sound of the organ is similarly effective in bringing Sunday Morning before our eyes, complete with the additional clanging bells. I did miss the gentle surge of the sea at night, so astonishingly painted by the composer’s dazzling score in the third movement, but what we get instead is a still, intense nocturnal meditation which again seems to connect with an important dimension of Britten. It builds to a climax of austere beauty.

The transcription I was least convinced by was the last, which never succeeds in taking me beyond the organ loft. Lapwood plays with brilliance but, unlike the previous three pictures, she never quite gets me to forget the original. There is a murkiness to the sound picture, presumably deliberate, which to my ears was messy rather than evocative. More seriously, Lapwood sounds like she is making heavy weather of it (if you will pardon the pun!). The hushed middle section, however, has a real tang of sea water in the air. The lead back to the more violent opening music is very exciting and the registration on the final chord is little short of inspired.

Strangely, one of the more conventional pieces on this disc is one of the most recent – Frances-Hoad’s Taking Your Leave. It is a well-made piece but sounds rather ordinary after all the dazzling colours that precede it. I felt it closes the programme in a somewhat flat manner. This impression isn’t helped by its being preceded by Lapwood’s own arrangement of early Messiaen in full mystical mood. Its delicate rainbow hues are another example of what’s best about this recording – changing our perception of the organ from just the roar of the big Victorian beasts.

This is hugely enjoyable disc. The programme is imaginative and challenging and vividly showcases an enormous talent.

David McDade

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) arr Erwin WIERSINGA
Le Tombeau de Couperin:
I Prelude [3:55]
III Forlane [6:23]
IV Rigaudon [3:49]
Patrick GOWERS (1936-2014)
An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary [3:43]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) arr. Alexandre GUILMANT
Andantino, doucement expressif: from String Quartet in G minor L.85 [8:16]
Kerensa BRIGGS (b.1991)
Light in Darkness [4:33]
Nadia BOULANGER (1887-1979)
III Improvisation from Trois Improvisations [3:20]
Owain PARK (b.1993)
Images [7:07]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) arr. Anna LAPWOOD
Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes Op.33a:
I Dawn [3:36]
II Sunday Morning [4:11]
III Moonlight [5:15]
IV Storm [5:06]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992) arr. Anna LAPWOOD
Vocalise-Étude [4:35]
Cheryl FRANCES-HOAD (b.1980)
Taking Your Leave [4:24]

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