Underpinning 21st-century virtuosity with a moving story of continent-crossings both musical and personal, Rachel Mahon’s debut recital album surveys a century of organ music from Mahon’s native Canada, presenting it on a British instrument which is itself a testimony to the generosity of Canadian music-lovers in the difficult years of post-war reconstruction. In 1952 Healey Willan, an organist and composer born in England in 1880 but resident in Canada since 1913, presented the Provost of Coventry Cathedral with a cheque from the Royal Canadian College of Organists, representing a sizable donation from the College’s members and the Canadian public towards the cost of an organRead more for the new cathedral, which opened in 1962. Having made the opposite move to Willan, from Canada to the UK, Mahon is now Assistant Director of Music at the cathedral. Her recital opens with Willan’s own, Bachian Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue and follows it with items by his student Gerald Bales and by Ruth Watson Henderson, before culminating in another work of transcontinental influence, Rachel Laurin’s impressive contribution to the French organ symphony tradition.
Rachel Mahon has done Canadian organ music proud in this outstanding recording. It is difficult to imagine a more impressive location for these four substantial organ works by Canadian composers of the past 100 years. Here is as stirring a performance as you could wish for, greatly enhanced by an outstanding recording from Delphian that encompasses the vast dynamic and pitch range of the Coventry organ superbly.
Mahon plays with presence and muscularity to match her fireproof virtuosity, and her time as organ scholar at St Paul’s Cathedral seems to have given her an intuitive sense of how to use large acoustics to dramatic ends.
The repertoire well suits the Coventry organ, and the recorded sound is both exciting and atmospheric.