Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
Following on from his world premiere recording of Judith Bingham's 'The Everlasting Crown,' Stephen Farr releases a rare recording of the Metzler organ of Trinity College, Cambridge. The 1975 organ contains pipework retained from earlier organs installed by Father Smith in 1694 and 1708 and it is this combination of the new and old that colours the musical programme with the message that old and modern idioms can be close relations. The title piece is another debut recording of a work by Judith Bingham. The inspiration for the piece is that elusive keyboard form, the harpsichord prelude non mesuré. In préludes of this type, the player assumes a doubly creative role; while the composer indicates approximate note durations and groupings by means of slurs, many more precise details of rhythm and phrase structure are left to the judgment of the performer. Bingham extends this tradition by realising in expansive manner the original prélude (from the Premiere Suite by Elisabeth Claude Jacquet de la Guerre). The 17th century original is treated as both a harmonic resource and a repertory of melodic fragments whose response to subtle chromatic inflection - the game of musical spelling - results in a composition which is rich in allusion to a range of contemporary keyboard practices. The titles of the movements - "Tombeau", "Labyrinthe", "Pastorelle somnambule" and "Envoi" - draw on numerous stimuli, some simply pictorial, others more subtly allusive (including moments of self-quotation). The form of the original work - albeit greatly expanded - is adopted as a structural template, a strategy which gives the work a satisfying sense of formal proportion. Bingham's work is both a homage to earlier compositional practice and an exploration of the unique tonal qualities of the Metzler organ. Whilst being the centrepiece of the recital, "Jacquet's Ghost" takes just seven minutes of the 67 of the total but I have quoted from Farr's notes in detail to give a taste of what he is trying to achieve. The other eight composers do much the same: take an earlier piece or style and develop it in a modern way and most are also debut recordings. The composers are Huw Watkins (b 1976), Alexander P F Boely (1785-1858), Jehan Alain (1911-1940), William Albright (1944-1998), Lionel Rogg (b 1936), Hugo Distler (1908-1942), Jon Lauvik (b 1952) and Bernard Foccroulle (b 1953). It has to be said that some of the older references are well hidden but when the vocal lines are added by members of Sidney Sussex College Chapel Choir under Director David Skinner, as they are in several places, then they are much less obscure. I would have liked more singing but this is predominantly an organ recital played and recorded very well on a fine instrument. Those with an interest in contemporary organ music are advised to investigate further.
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