A rewarding programme superbly played is a fitting end to Hill’s Winchester years.
A year after David Hill’s appointment as organist at Winchester the major reconstruction of the 1854 organ was completed. In July this year Hill relinquished his tenure after 15 years, so it is entirely fitting that in the fourth of Regent’s enterprising series he should display the instrument with which he has been so intimately associated. His programme is as rewarding as it is unexpected and is splendidly supported by Gary Cole’s magnificently vivid recording (and that’s listening to it in conventional stereo format – a re-release in ‘High-Density Surround Sound’ is promised).
It is incorrect to describe Elgar’s SecondRead more Sonata simply as a transcription of the Severn Suite for brass. Certainly two of the movements derive from it, but the Fugue was originally composed for Ivor Atkins and the newly-restored Worcester Cathedral organ in 1923, while the final coda is Atkins’ own work. Whatever its origins, the Sonata makes a wonderful display piece for the magnificent Winchester organ (with ample helpings of Tremendously Tubby Tuba for those whose taste runs to such things); and while Hill’s approach, in the first movement at least, seems inappropriately jaunty, he finds sufficient pathos in the Fugue to bring a wonderful sense of majesty to the triumphant return of the opening theme.
John Butt’s recent performance for Harmonia Mundi is more unequivocally Elgarian, but the glorious Winchester sound here is something not to be missed: as is the case with Bairstow’s Sonata. The sensitivity of John Scott’s 1994 St Paul’s recording cannot be over-stated, but the subtle delicacy of much of Bairstow’s writing is swallowed up in an attractive if ultimately confusing acoustic haze. Hill finds less magic in the work than Scott, but that is more than compensated for by the Winchester organ’s surprisingly convincing impressionistic credentials (admirably displayed by Hill in his evocative readings of Karg-Elert’s decidedly Debussian Impressions). All in all, a fitting swan-song for Hill’s Winchester years.