The Organ

Philip Rushforth – The Grand Organ of Chester Cathedral

Philip Rushforth – The Grand Organ of Chester Cathedral
Music by Healey Willan, Harold Darke, Percy Whitlock, Vaughan Williams, John Sanders and Charles Callahan
OxRecs OXCD 104

Philip Rushforth has put together a fascinating and very worthwhile programme of English organ music from the last 100 years on the well-known Chester Cathedral instrument, largely rebuilt in 1910 by William Hill, and lovingly overhauled several times since. The disc opens and closes with two major works by Healey Willan, the distinguished English-born and long-time Canadian resident – an impressive Prelude and Fugue in C minor and an Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue in E flat minor. These rarely-heard are given performances of notable commitment and expressive virtuosity. The recordings are good, although in the closing pages of the C minor Prelude and Fugue there is a tendency (no more than that) for the massive sound to overload. Darke’s Fantasy in E is a beautiful piece that could have come from any period in this admirable composer’s career – the fine theme, first adumbrated in the tenor, is particularly striking. Percy Whitlock’s Plymouth Suite is a delightful set of pieces, admirably performed here, as are the fascinating Toccata of John Sanders (which gradually builds to a suitably imposing climax) and the meditative Aria of Charles Callahan. Philip Rushforth also includes his transcription of the Romanza from Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony, about which I have several reservations; the first is that he follows the originally published (and reprinted) erroneous bars starting at bar 164 (the timpani part is a bar out, and stays so for seven bars – the recent critical edition from Oxford University Press puts this passage right), with the resultant implausible harmonic clashes are retained. In addition, I was not convinced by the E at figure 11 in this movement – it does not reflect the original phrasing. It is also wrong to refer to the composer as ‘RV Williams’. These niggles aside, on the whole this is a very good record in terms of bringing to our attention some unjustly neglected music in superior performances.

Robert Matthew-Walker