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The Complete Organ Music of Basil Harwood Volume 1 Adrian Partington at the Organ of Bristol Cathedral

Sonata no 1 in C sharp minor Op. 5 1. Allegro appassionato 2. Andante 3. Maestoso

4. Dithyramb Op. 7

Six pieces Opus 15 5 Communion in F major Op. 15 No. 1 6. Interlude in D major Op. 15 No. 2 7. Paean Op. 15 No. 3 8. Short Postlude for Ascensiontide Op. 15 No. 4 9. Requiem Aeternam Op. 15 No. 5 10. Andante Tranquillo Op. 15 No. 6

11. Capriccio Op. 16

Recorded in Bristol Cathedral on 1 & 2 November 1999 Priory Records PRCD 683 [72'53"]

It could reasonably be argued that this disc was listening material for the 'specialist' only. After all, organ music as a whole tends to be somewhat of an acquired taste for most people, and the, until very recently, unfashionable era of Edwardian music together with many people's recollections of turgid English parish church organs would tend to bring to mind a result not to be enjoyed lightly, if at all. However, as Kenneth Shenton notes in the excellent booklet notes to accompany this disc "those who take the trouble to explore [this] music will be both challenged by and delighted with what they find." Indeed, this statement is no more than the truth, for while it is true that the lesser known contemporaries of Elgar have been ignored for many years, there is much of interest to be discovered in their music.

The Cathedral is the natural home of this repertoire, and the heritage of English Cathedral organs is a unique treasure quite unlike the wheezing and woolly asthmatics of the average Parish Church. While lacking both the strong tonal divisions of the north European baroque organs of Germany or The Netherlands, and the wonderfully distinctive reed choruses of 19th century French instruments, the organ of Bristol Cathedral, typical of many mid-sized English Cathedral instruments, provides the composer with a blend of sound resources and solo colours, together with a base chorus that lends a grandeur to the sweeping lines and Brahmsian harmonies that were such a feature of Edwardian music. The programme on this disc, exemplified by the symphonic conception of the opening Sonata in C sharp minor Op. 5 shows Basil Harwood as a composer completely at home in the, perhaps rarefied, but nonetheless demanding, situation of the Cathedral Organ loft. Unlike a French organ symphony by the likes of, say, Vierne, the imitation of orchestral colours is not a strong feature, and yet the architectural continuity in this sort of large scale works brings a natural comparison to mind. Adrian Partington's playing throughout is impressive; dexterous were necessary, but with plenty of shape and line in the phrasing and a fine sense of the dramatic. The six pieces Opus 15 provide ample opportunities for demonstration of such a range of skills, the sweep of the Paean Op15 no3 being a particularly fine example. Of course, it is all very Edwardian, the upper lip is of a redoubtable stiffness and even the tenderest moments have a dry-eyed clarity, but that is the language of the era in which Harwood was working, and the confidence of conception and execution can only be admired.

The Bristol Cathedral organ rises to Partington's requirements admirably. It is always a difficult task to record organs, especially instruments which are not freestanding or mounted on a choir screen. However, there are aspects of the capture of sound here that make one long for a greater sense of focus in the recorded sound. Some of the fast, loud passages verge on the fuzzy and soft passages with the Swell box shut are decidedly muffled, rather than just quiet. While some aspect of the generous acoustic is present, I suspect that ambient microphones in the nave were not used, and would have been beneficial, allowing more detailed capture of the actual instrument without sacrificing the acoustic.

These are small complaints only, for there is much to enjoy here. As mentioned above, the accompanying booklet notes are excellent and the composer's grandson has provided original photos of the composer which are reproduced, as is a full specification of the organ. Surprising, then, that there is no mention of who built the instrument, or carried out the various additions that have been made from time to time.

Peter Wells

Six pieces Opus 15 5 Communion in F major Op. 15

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