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Westminster Abbey Organ

Great European Organs Vol 7 Jane Watts plays the organ of Westminster Abbey Priory records

Alexandre Guilmant Sonata No 1 in d minor Op 42 1 Introduction and Allegro 2 Pastorale 3 Final

4 March Upon Handel's "Lift Up Your Heads" Op 15

Sigfrid Karg-Elert 5 Passacaglia and Fugue on BACH Op 150

Maurice Dupre 6 Cortege Et Litanie Op 19 No 2

Variations on a Noel Op 20 7 Introduction 8 Variation 1 9 Variation 2 10 Variation 3 11 Variation 4 12 Variation 5 13 Variation 6 14 Variation 7 15 Variation 8 16 Variation 9 17 Variation 10

18 Final Op 27 No 7

Jane Watts - Organ Recorded 25/26 January 1988 in Westminster Abbey

Priory Records PRCD 237 [69'25"]

Recordings of Organ recitals tend to have a (not entirely undeserved) reputation as suitable gifts for train spotters, and the organ anorak's obsession with "inches of wind" can easily be as off-putting as it sounds. However, anybody who has had the good fortune of attending a major occasion in a great church such as Westminster Abbey would be aware of the awesome musical resources that are laid at the hands and feet of a great organist. This recording, now over a dozen years old, but still available and highly regarded, was the first recording made of the organ in Westminster Abbey after its substantial rebuild in the mid 1980s. The organist, Jane Watts, was at the beginning of her career when this recording was made, although the playing throughout is of a maturity and perfection that showed her easily as a consummate master. The choice of repertoire might also not be one that would appeal to every listener at a quick glance, but the traditions of French 19th and 20th century organ composition are so impressive that this really is a repertoire that deserves recognition outside the wet-weather gear closet.The tremendous power of the Guilmant sonata is impressive for sheer grandeur, never more so than with the blazing reeds at the end of the last movement, but it is in the Variations on a Noel by Dupre that the greatest range of colours and subtleties lies. Not only the power, but the intimacy (a feature of music with which the organ traditionally struggles) is persuasively handled.

The two works with baroque connections, Guilmant's 'March upon Handel's "lift up you Heads"' and the Karg-Elert 'Passacaglia and Fugue on BACH' are eminently listenable works in which Jane Watts exploits a huge range of sonorities. The accessible musical language is immediately appealing in the Handel variations and the sheer drama of the Passacaglia and Fugue on Bach is instantly compelling. This is not background music.

This recording retains an excellent reputation, although this reviewer does think it a slight pity that more of the sense of the great acoustic of the Abbey was not retained. As an introduction for anybody with no CD of organ music in their collection, it would be hard to do better. Here is a great and famous instrument, being played with consummate panache in repertoire that suits it down to the ground. Highly recommendable.

(editors note: 'anorak' is an English term for someone who is tediously obsessive about details which might not be central to anyone elses interest!)

Peter Wells

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