Herald’s interesting new CD comprises an organist from New Zealand playing works for organ by British composers on a newish Schoenstein organ in Washington, DC. Nigel Potts, organist and choirmaster of Christ & St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in New York City was educated at the conservatorium in Wellington, Trinity College, London and most recently at Yale University.
The Schoenstein organ in Washington sounds a very fine instrument indeed, with its “celestial box” inside the Swell box and “ethereal box” inside the Solo box, this construction allowing for a wider dynamic range. The Washington organ was completed in 1995, Potts himself overseeing the installation of another Schoenstein in New York in 2008.
This well chosen programme includes some recording premiers and all of York Bowen’s works for organ. Bowen – a fine player of piano, organ, horn and viola – wrote a great deal of music, much for the piano, but surprisingly little for the organ. The Wedding March receives its first recording here, transcribed by Potts from the manuscript in London’s Royal Academy of Music; it was written in 1961, near the end of Bowen’s life, and is in typical ABA form, a fine piece well worth requesting instead of the much heard Wagner and Mendelssohn! The Melody in G minor is a richly harmonic miniature, but it is Bowen’s Fantasia which is his masterpiece for organ. Written in 1951 for the Festival of Britain, it is a big romantic work, even then out of fashion with some critics. It is a big, muscular virtuoso piece making demands on the player all of which Potts overcomes with aplomb.
Opening this recital is John Cook’s Fanfare, another piece written for the 1951 Festival, and the one for which the composer is most remembered. Wonderful brass fanfares resonate through the acoustic; this really is a terrific sound! Howells’ Rhapsody show off the organ’s ability to communicate those quiet sounds, and Potts builds to the central climax of this arch form piece with telling success. Whitlock’s Fantasy Choral also has an exciting climax, and is one of that composer’s more serious pieces. The sadly short-lived Whitlock wrote this piece in 1931 shortly after arriving in Bournemouth where he was organist at St. Stephen’s. Those who know Whitlock via his delicious light music will be delighted to find such a meaty piece here.
Sir Edward Bairstow, an irascible teacher judging from Paul Spicer’s excellent notes for this issue, was organist at York Minster from 1913 till his death in 1946. “Evening Song” dates from 1900 and quickly became a popular recital piece. The Schoenstein organ has a variable tremulant which is put to good use to imitate the vocal vibrato of the last section. Paul Spicer wrote “Saraband for any October 3rd” for Potts reflecting his birthday; written at a time when the organist was organ scholar at Lichfield Cathedral, the piece is rhapsodic in construction with a couple of powerful climaxes, one unusually for manuals alone, and like many such, with a quiet conclusion so suitable before the start of Evensong. The short Fanfares and Dances was written for the Potts’ wedding in 2004 to act as a Gospel fanfare; upbeat and confident, it makes happy listening. The recital ends with a couple of arrangements, a successful performance of Nimrod with an excellently judged climax, and, lastly, Walton’s Orb and Sceptre, written for the coronation of Elizabeth 11, perhaps taken a little too slowly here.
The recording quality of this release is superb. The clarity of the instrument is caught together with the building’s fine acoustics. Coupled with an exemplary booklet with excellent notes and a full specification for the organ this issue is most highly recommended.
1 John Cook: Fanfare
2 Herbert Howells: Rhapsody Op.17 No.1
3 Percy Whitlock: Fantasy Choral No.1
4 York Bowen: Wedding March; Melody in Gmin; Fantasia Op.136
7 Sir Edward Bairstow: Evening Song
8 Paul Spicer: Saraband for any 3 October; Fanfares and dances
10 Sir Edward Elgar: Nimrod
11 William Walton: Orb and Sceptre
— Peter Joelson