I quite distinctly recall finding, in the early 90ies, my first GEO series CDs offered specially at low-price at the local music shop in Freiburg. Among the first I bought was the Ely one, with Dr. Arthur Wills playing the Guillou Toccata, some Parry, Widor’s Romane and an eight-movement Symphonia Eliensis of his own making. I remember being quite flabbergasted at the sound of the Harrison, as well as at the forceful impact of Dr. Wills’s playing. Furthermore, at that time, British organbuilding and organ music was virtually unknown in Germany, where everyone was still firmly walking West and trying to grasp the French stuff. So this was exciting news to me, and must have been to many. Nowadays, German churches are buying redundant Binnses by the dozen.
Whoever collected CDs from the GEO series might have his or her favourites. I can’t quite choose between the Ely one, the late John Scott’s organ sonata disk from St Paul’s (including, entirely brilliant, the Elgar) and Roger Sayer’s Reykjavik programme. Graham Barber’s disk from Coventry is another favourite, not so much for the Karg-Elert symphony, which I never quite got the knack of, but more so for Francis Jackson’s beautiful 4th sonata and Sowerby’s Pageant of Autumn.
I believe the series owes much to its first handful of players: Graham Barber, Jane Watts, John Scott, John Scott Whiteley, and Keith John (who, to my ears, always chose the most exciting programmes). Of course there were more, and equally brilliant, players, but these five name seem to have set a standard that radiated through much of the whole series. In which I found surprisingly little repetition in the repertoire, btw.
It’s a bit ironic, I think, that it has to end just this year. The last disk is, apart from being quite brilliantly played and recorded, so very distinctly British. Along with the Elgar, it also includes Bridge’s Adagio, Whitlocks “Dignity and Impudence”, and Rawsthorne’s Londonderry Air, as well as both of William Walton’s coronation marches, framing movements from his Henry V incidental music. It’s probably silly by me to see symbolized here the whole mad tragic of 23 June – a Great European Organ, being heard with a programme that seems to belie the title of the very series it concludes.
And now look what Stephen Cleobury played, at King’s in 1986, for the very first volume. Other times back then.
All best wishes indeed,