Carlton Etherington at the Milton organ of Tewkesbury Abbey
Always derided by composition teachers as the 'easy' form of composition as it requires little or no thematic development or formal structure, this disc is a homage to this fascinating and satisfying genre, which is particularly suited to the organ. There was some music on this disc that I had not encountered before which, had I been aware of it, would have felt much the poorer for its absence. The two pieces on this disc that I feel privileged to have heard are the Karl Hller (1907-1987) Ciacona, Op. 54 and the Arno Landmann (1887-1966) Variations on a theme by Handel, Op. 29.
The Hller is an excellent and moody piece and works well for both player and organ. The Germanic influence to which he pays tribute - Bach, Bruckner and Reger - is evident in his style, as is the debt he owes to Hindemith in his sinuous contrapuntalism. The work is large scale and big-boned and suits the player's slightly cold approach, although it is brilliantly played and registered.
The Landmann is based on the theme from Handel's Harpsichord Suite in G minor and given an evocative and well-paced performance with a good sense of space and grandeur - not at all lacking in moments of quiet tenderness or fireworks!
The popular Reger Introduction and Passacaglia in D minor was a little disappointing in its inspiration; the Guilmant Morceau de concert is given a very stylish performance and is perfect for a demonstration of the lovely solo stops. The Karg-Elert Pax Vobiscum grows from its theme through most wonderful crescendo to full organ. (The joy of using the resident organist is that they know their instrument backwards and the balance will inevitably be just right, likewise their reading of the building.)
Flor Peeters' Dupr inspired Variations and Finale on an Old Flemish Song; Op. 20 is given a suitably French reading, the organ conjuring up a picture of sun streaming through pale glass into an incense-filled building. The Langlais Theme and Variations, taken from eight pieces entitled Hommage Frescobaldi, capture both composer and organ in French Baroque mood.
The recording is clear, well balanced and quite weighty, capturing exceptional detail (particularly the beauty of many of the different stops) and Tewkesbury's acoustic well. There is the occasional bit of action noise, which does not detract, but merely emphasises the quality of the recording and organ.
For all it's ability to play different repertoire very persuasively it remains a very English organ of fine overall voice, if lacking a little weight and body in the 32' reed, body which is certainly present in the Open Wood.
It goes without saying that the playing on the disc is of the highest order and the more I listen the more I admire Etherington's playing. There are moments of exceptional tenderness and beauty, excitement and power, but it is perhaps too in control and dispassionate.
Despite minor reservations there is so much music on this disc that is not generally available anywhere else, so much good music, it is most heartily recommended. AR
All content © Musical Opinion Ltd.