Great European Organs, No. 81January 25, 2013By James R. See All My Reviews"Recorded in St. John the Baptist Church, Cirencester (England) this disc serves as an excellent guided tour around the magnificent new 4-manual instrument built by Harrison & Harrison, incorporating much of the previous 'Father' Henry Willis instrument. As connoisseurs of organ recordings will have come to expect, the presentation by Priory Records of this CD is of the highest standard, including some lovely photographs of the typically Harrison console, and the splendid new south-aisle case on the front cover (although it would have been nice to feature more prominently the beautifully painted, and intricately carved, Gilbert Scott case.) The repertoire selected here is rather under-appreciated English romantic music, and is certainly well-served by this surprisingly warm new instrument of, fittingly, cathedralesque proportions (given that the church is affectionately termed the Cathedral of the Cotswolds.) The programme begins with W. T. Best's Concert Fantasia on Old English Airs, which owes much to Best's civic organist responsibilities - shamelessly over-the-top, dramatic and delightfully vulgar - it is performed here with great showmanship by Anthony Hammond. It would be an excellent choice for any organist who enjoys Noel Rawsthorne's Hornpipe Humouresque, and is a well-constructed medley of six (not particularly well-known) songs from the 17th and 18th centuries. The piece provides a wonderful romp through many of the instrument's tonal colours, combinations and solo registers, and the mighty, thunderous sounds of the instrument display all the tonal glories associated with the finest of English organ building. James Lyon's Sonata No. 2 in e minor, opus 50 is a good choice to follow and, although the Allegro section is a little too long, it is a fine work which deserves a higher profile in the concert repertoire. The playing here is solid and secure, although perhaps Hammond could have revelled a little more in the softer sounds of the gorgeous soliloquy section; however his controlled, virtuoso performance of the Finale quickly redeems him. Herbert Brewer's Elegy which follows is a lovely piece which craves more evensong outings and, again, Hammond's registrations match superbly with his sensitive and tender performance. Herbert Howells' Sonata No. 1 in c minor, opus 2 fits both the instrument and the building's acoustics like a glove, and is definitely the highlight of this disc. The work demonstrates Howells' mastery of organ composition, excelling in every style of writing he chose, and shows the fantastically varied tonal palette of this instrument. Those familiar with his psalm preludes will recognise the rich, lush harmonies; the gradual, seemingly unending crescendi; as well as all the grandness and majesty to be found in Howells' later works. The final work recorded here is Christopher Steel's Variations on a Theme of de Machaut, the 14th century music director of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and as with much of Steel's work, it merges jazz and classical idioms. Hammond's virtuosity is again demonstrated here, and lovers of Messian and Cochereau's style of reflection and visual representation may find this work satisfying and interesting."Report Abuse
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