CD Reviews 2009
The current year's CD reviews and index to archived reviews can be found here. These are the reviews added to the website in 2009.
Franck: Corals 1-3, Widor: Symphonie No 5 Op 42 No 5, Hammond Hommage Widor Symphonie Improvisation
(in five movements); Hommage Franck; Prelude on the Coventry Carol. Figures at a Crucifixion: Three Studies after a
work by Francis Bacon
*****Raven OAR 961 [2xCDs for the price of one: 2 hours, 25 minutes]
This release is coincidentally more than an adjunct to the 8xCD box reviewed above, for although the music and influence of French composers for the organ in the generations succeeding the collapse of the French monarchy in 1848 is more than apparent here, this issue deserves to be taken very seriously indeed on its own terms. The first CD here is a programme of the major works by Franck and Widor the formers Trois Corals and the latters Fifth Symphony both composers music being given with considerable insight and authority and very well recorded in Coventry Cathedral. So far, so good: but what makes this a truly engrossing and indeed unique presentation is the second CD of music and improvisations by Hammond himself beginning with a major five-movement improvised Symphony a work that I would respectfully suggest should be published without delay, for on this basis it surely constitutes one of the most important large-scale organ works by any living British composer. It would appear to be magnificently played.
The Hommage Franck takes the form of a genuine homage to the masters three Chorals, and is well worth the attention of all admirers of Franck and his school nor is this a mere piece of jobbery in the style of, although it is not too difficult to appreciate where Hammond, in this work, is coming from so to speak. The much shorter Prelude on the Coventry Carol, and the 14-minute three-movement Figures at a Crucifixion is another of that quite remarkable series of musical works that appear to have been inspired by the individual British artist Francis Bacon although this is surely the first organ work, as opposed to orchestral piece by Gerard Schurmann and Mark-Anthony Turnage, to have been directly inspired by the artists creations.
I have found this to be a recording of no little importance, and it is very strongly recommended to those keen to hear what modern composers, with a more than working knowledge of the instrument, are creating for the organ. But it is extraordinary that this comes from an American company!
Music by JS Bach/Cameron Carpenter / Bernstein / Rachmaninoff / Piazzolla / Scriabin
(*****)Sony CD+DVD 8883796882 [c77]
This unique release is surely aimed at the young mans apparently considerable following throughout the world, for there cannot be very many traditional enthusiasts for organ music who will admire these composers equally, and in addition many of the tracks are transcriptions of works originally composed either for the orchestra or for solo piano.
In the latter instance, one may doubt if Scriabins Fourth Piano Sonata has ever been played on the organ before Carpenter adapted it, and it has certainly never been recorded in this manner before. Actually, whilst the dyedin-the-wool Scriabinist will recoil from such a concept (and its realisation) there are aspects of Mr Carpenters playing that suggest one would like to hear him play the work on the piano which I am sure he can do.
Cameron Carpenters own compositions display an unsurprisingly eclectic creative personality, and if many listeners feel they reveal an organist somewhat reminiscent of Virgil Fox at his most quixotic, there is such life and genuine energy in this playing that Carpenter cannot be wholly dismissed as a musician not to be taken seriously. Nonetheless, this remains a release perhaps solely for followers of this artist.
Poulenc: Organ Concerto; Saint-Sans: Symphony No. 3 Organ
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Yannick Nzet- Sguin; James ODonnell (organ)
***** LPO 0081 (58:05 mins)
The performances recorded on this disc were given as part of the Southbank Centres Pull Out All The Stops festival which inaugurated the newly refurbished Royal Festival hall organ earlier this year. The two works featured are among the most popular for organ with orchestra, and give the LPO under Nzet-Sguin as much of a chance to show off a variety of colours and timbres as the organ. The solo passages on the organ played by James ODonnell are immediate and vivid, but its sound is slightly recessed during tutti sections.
ODonnell demonstrates various registrations in the faster, fairgroundstyle interchanges near the beginning of Poulencs Concerto. Nzet-Sguin keeps the performers on a tight leash, until the central slow movement, where he secures luscious playing from the strings, redolent of the high Romanticism of Wagner or Strauss. The interpretation is rounded off with a brief, ironic conclusion.
Again in the Saint-Saens, Nzet-Sguin obtains neat and precise playing from the expanded LPO (notably from the chattering woodwind in the first movement) though also without sacrificing depth of feeling in the Poco adagio section, the orchestra evokes an Elgarian nostalgia and regret, which later comes to exude a Parsifal-like glow. The second movement opens with an urgent attack, and a sense of progression towards the majestic entry of the organ, which follows through to the excitement of the fugato. After that, Nzet-Sguin eases the tension, but not so much as to undermine an overall compelling performance. This is a treasurable recording of what must have been a memorable occasion in the concert hall.
Works by Tournemire, Debussy, Alain, Somervell, Bonnet, Mathias, Vierne, Bridge, Shostakovich, Distler & Hunt
*****Regent REGCD 446 (70:49 mins)
Following the death of Kenneth Tickell in July this year, this disc comes as a timely reminder of what a great builder the organ world lost. The instrument (installed by his firm in Worcester Cathedral in 2008) is profiled by Christopher Allsop through a variety of original organ pieces and arrangements, demonstrating its vivid colours and fine tonal balance. It is resonant and fiery in Durufls transcription of Tournemires Improvisation sur le Te Deum, even glowing and scorching in Alains Deux Fantaisies, while the brass fanfares of Shostakovichs Festive Overture come across clearly and cleanly.
Of course, the clarity of the performances owes as much to the panache of Allsops performances, as to the organ itself, whether remaining nimble and focussed in the quixotic lines of Debussys second Arabesque, alert and lively in the animated rhythms of Mathiass Toccata Giocosa, or brooding and ominous in Shostakovichs own arrangement of the Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtensk. The sleeve notes refer to Bonnets commemoration of the Titanic disaster as emotionally charged, yet that is what the work (or perhaps just the performance) precisely is not, although there is a good evocation of the dark depths into which the liner sank at the beginning and end of the piece.
On the evidence of this disc, the Tickell organ possesses both the weight of tone and versatility which make it ideal as a solo instrument in a cathedral, and presumably as an accompanying one also.