Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
By and large this reviewer listens to the music before reading the CD booklet but for this release he could not wait. What connects Johannes Brahms, the last of the great Romantics, with Arnold Schoenberg, master of the unexpected? Having seen the subtitle under Brahms: 'Complete Works For Organ', I assumed that something was required to fill the disc and wondered whether Schoenberg had been chosen as a contrast. Wrong. In his illuminating notes Tom Bell explains how both composers looked back to Bach and tells us that Schoenberg, at the start of his career, composed within the Romantic tradition and, according to Hanns Eisler, before his death in 1897 Brahms, impressed by Schoenberg's work, offered to pay for the young composer to attend the Vienna Conservatoire. So perhaps the two do belong together and certainly Schoenberg's contribution to the programme, "Variations On A Recitative", is no mere make-weight. Organist Tom Bell draws together the virtuoso, lyrical and contrapuntal elements of Brahms' organ works, strongly influenced by Bach, and the startlingly similar qualities and influences in Schoenberg's major organ work. The relationship between these three towering figures in German music across three centuries is a revelation. Originally built for a large private residence on the outskirts of Leeds in 1869 by the German organ builder Edmund Schulze, the organ was subsequently enlarged and moved to St Bartholomew's in 1879. In 2004 the organ was fully restored by Harrison And Harrison of Durham, and the late 19th century German pedigree and tonal structure of this large instrument is ideal for this repertoire. Collectors of organ music will be interested in this release but the rest of us will find it too specialized.
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