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Elgar Organ Sonata

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'...... I don't think they have never issued those Mitra vinyls on CD, do correct me if wrong - I have the Vierne 6 from that series and it is a fantastic sound, and performance of course).

 

Kynaston's Vierne 6 *was* available on CD some years ago from Mitra Classics; I tried to buy it online, but the company didn't have credit card payment facilities, and the German-only website was so unfriendly with regards overseas purchases. Sadly, it seems to have disappeared from the catalogue completely now.

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It's, in fact, just under £60, and can be ordered here.

Thanks, Mr Wolsey, you've helped me decide that it's worthwhile to pay out all this money to the Elgar Foundation. You may have seen the discussion on this topic on my Facebook timeline. I think it's a worthwhile financial sacrifice to make in the interests of the integrity of authentic musical performance! A lot has changed regarding this sort of thing since I first learnt it with Douglas Hawkridge so many years ago even though i remember him playing it so well at Sussex Gardens.

 

Malcolm

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There is a recording from sometime ago of the Sonata by Thomas Murray played on the big Hook organ at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Boston which really convinced me of the merits of the piece. The playing is of course stunning but the organ with its clear choruses, wealth of solo sounds and generally less than romantic tendencies brings a somewhat lighter touch to the music than we often get. There is excitement, thoughtfulness and when necessary momentum but the playing combine with choice of instrument really brings a different perspective to things.

 

I too have this on CD and agree with you on this!

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I’m not sure I, too, didn’t hear this Evensong, possibly in the car. I remember seeing the Music List and thinking ‘Elgar; New College; won’t go’. But, as AJJ & David say (#18, #21), it did.

 

With my memory in its present state (post-concussion), I can’t be sure; but was it this work, or another of the late Romantics, for which the Cymbelstern was employed on the last chord ? It almost sounded OK.

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Interesting that this topic crosses with another further down the list - Thomas Trotter's Ludlow DVD on which the Elgar is played. Watching and listening to him should convert those who have their doubts about it I would think. As stated on that topic, a superb DVD well worth getting, whether you like the Elgar or not.

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I don't know if this has been mentioned before, but there is an orchestrated version of Elgar's organ sonata. Which was recorded by Vernon Handley. I well remember a recital by the late Carlo Curley who, in his conversation to the audience, said that he hadn't really got on well with the Sonata until he had heard the orchestrated version - then he realised that "organists tend to play the work too stiffly".

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I'll also throw into the mix James Lancelot's acclaimed DVD of the Organ Sonata. It will take a little effort to get hold of it though.

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I'll also throw into the mix James Lancelot's acclaimed DVD of the Organ Sonata. It will take a little effort to get hold of it though.

 

Not only is the Lancelot performance extremely fine; he also demonstrates how to get round some of the musical and technical problems that the work presents. Worth having even for that even if the performance hadn't been utterly first rate (which it is!)

 

Malcolm

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Not only is the Lancelot performance extremely fine; he also demonstrates how to get round some of the musical and technical problems that the work presents. Worth having even for that even if the performance hadn't been utterly first rate (which it is!)

 

Malcolm

Been born and bred in Durham City, and knowing JBL, I may be a tad prejudiced. Its a fine teaching DVD, should be watched

 

Peter

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There is no finer performance of the Elgar First Sonata than Kynaston's at Ingolstadt (Mitra OSM 16157), on vinyl from 1977.

 

Completely agree - eclipses John Scott's for me, and that's saying something!

 

There is also the fine Reubke performance on the other side of the LP, which has the mastery of TT's later recording (on the same organ) but is more emotionally wrought, especially in the conclusion. Rather suits the work I think.

 

The organ is of course a well-worn vehicle for large scale German romantic music but acquits itself surprisingly well in the Elgar, helped of course by the infamous acoustics; one hardly misses the massed ranks of diapasons and rounded reed tone.

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It is matter of regret that a recording by Thalben-Ball isn’t available. Indeed, there’s very little from him on a well-known on-line supplier (the one with a name strangely similar to that of a South American river). Did he ever record it ? Did anyone here hear him play it ?

 

Nor, Sir Andrew Davis: himself a former King’s organ scholar and fine Elgarian.

 

I await the arrival of Mr Curley’s recording (at Redcliffe in 1991) from those sticky tropics, which I can’t recall having heard before. Mr Trotter, too: from Salisbury in 2006.

 

Have just listened to the 1st movement, played by Professor John Butt (King’s), which goes some way towards fulfilling my ideal. It does seem, however, that producing the characteristic Elgarian ebb and flow which, e.g., Boult and Barbirolli effortlessly manage, eludes many organists. I believe this is what Carlo Curley refers to in #31. (There are three indications as to how this should be performed in the first three bars.) Also, it should start forte; only becoming ff at bar 21- the end of the first page.

 

I was struck, on looking at the score for the first time in ages, how like Howells keyboard music it is; the latter being of some twenty and more years later.

 

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I have two of the recordings mentioned above - Roger Fisher at Chester (Motette CD-11501) and Carlo Curley at St Mary Redcliffe (Argo 433 450-2) - and have just spent an enjoyable afternoon renewing my acquaintance with both of them.

 

Both were recorded in 1991, which in the case of Redcliffe means the organ was fresh from its 1990 restoration. Both recordings come across with a broadly similar sound palette, which is perhaps a little surprising given the different pedigrees of the two instruments (Chester - Whiteley, Gray & Davison, Hill, Rushworth & Dreaper - versus Redcliffe - Harrison & Harrison). Both are distantly miked, excessively so I would say for the delicate sound tapestries which are a hallmark of this work - far too much of both is lost in the swirl of the acoustic. Thus you really need the score open to follow what is going on unless you are familiar in detail with the work. Both recordings are virtually the same length at 26 minutes give or take a few seconds. Fisher played from the Elgar Complete edition; Curley does not say. But he (and it was he himself who wrote the sleeve notes) falls massively into the trap of believing that the work was commissioned for the inauguration of the Hope-Jones organ!! Oh dear.

 

To my mind Roger Fisher plays it pretty 'straight' compared to Carlo, who employs more rubato and exaggerates (over-exaggerates?) the differences between his legato and staccato. His performance has more swagger, but some of his chords are so detached as to be almost completely lost - quite apart from the acoustic, I wondered whether the pipes actually had time to speak properly in some cases.

 

In his first movement Curley seems to interrupt the music noticeably at one or two points almost as though he was searching for the right piston, though this might have been deliberate phrasing. In Fisher's second movement the quiet accompaniment to the melody is just too quiet - one cannot hear it properly. Curley's rendition does not have this problem, though he takes it and the third movement significantly more slowly. By contrast his final movement is far, far too fast and it is here where one simply loses many of the notes which Elgar painstakingly wrote for us.

 

Which do I prefer? Actually I'm very content to have both, though if I had to dispose of one it would be Carlo's I'm afraid. There's just too much of the performer there, rather than the composer. But this is merely my opinion and others might disagree, especially as Carlo is no longer with us. His disc serves as a fitting memorial to him in many ways.

 

CEP

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Another more recent recording is Ben van Oosten’s, played in Salisbury. It’s on MDG. As Colin, I started listening through the recordings of the piece that I happen to have – regrettably, Carlo Curley’s is not among them.

 

I love Roger Fisher’s recording for its sheer zest; it sounds as if he was utterly enjoying himself doing the recording. And he saved the most startling effect for the end, pulling the Tuba just for the grand arpeggio. John Scott’s St Paul’s recording is wonderful too in its controlled romanticism – one of its many special moments being the sombre swell reeds for the opening gesture of the third movement, one other being the off-leash impression he makes in the very end. Thomas Trotter in Salibury, as well as in Ludlow, is sheer elegance.

 

Last but not least, Ben van Oosten, playing as mentioned in Salisbury, in a way has it all, and in his special way manages to sound excitingly beautiful while doing everything the most correct way imaginable. He can be so disarming.

 

A special place in my heart is reserved for a friend’s recording. Michael Gassmann, who by the way is an eminent Elgar scholar, recorded the piece here, with me pulling stops and turning pages. Before you laugh – the organ, it not ideally suited, can make quite a racket, with those French pedal reeds (as our host has witnessed); and Michael’s playing proved to me that in this piece the organ is not even half the music.

 

Best wishes

Friedrich

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I'm interested that Ban van Oosten has made a recording at Salisbury. I wonder though what it would have sounded like if he had recorded it on a Cavaillé-Coll instead. After all British and American organists are always playing French music on their instruments for example.

 

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It's one of my favourite organ pieces, a masterpiece, but very obviously orchestral and symphonic in conception, and this puts it beyond the technique of many classical organists. I think you need to have lived and breathed Elgar to appreciate his music completely. I was playing violin and viola in performances of Gerontius, Apostles, Kingdom and Music Makers through my teens and the combination of music and words spoke to and entered my soul. The man was a genious and the organ sonata reflects many aspects of his brilliance, not least his ability to create great tunes.

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But isn't it strange how the French managed to write "orchestral" organ music that sounds exactly right on the instruments they had in mind, but with similar music by the English you find yourself thinking, "This would sound better orchestrated"?

 

Well, that's my reaction anyway - not invariably, but more often than not.

 

(Of course, there is German "orchestral" organ music too, but that doesn't sound right whatever the performing medium.)

 

:)

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A couple of weeks ago I played the first movement of the Sonata in a recital. I first learnt it many decades ago with Dougie Hawridge who was in his elemet with this genre, and I've kept it in the repertoire on and off ever since. Preparing for this recital I carefully studied the Christopher Kent edition in the organ volume of the complete Elgar edition and found the more detailed markings very helpful and interesting, giving me a new perspective on the work. I also studied a YouTube recording of the Arthur Jacob orchestration which I found somewhat disappointing although it was an old and poor quality recording. The Elgar started the recital and it finished with the first movement of Widor 6. I discovered that both pieces are transformed if you observe all the phrasing, staccato etc., markings meticulously and practise doing so very slowly and meticulously. The result was that, for me and, I hope, the audience, both pieces came so much more alive than they often sound.

 

Malcolm

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The 1947 orchestration of the Elgar Organ Sonata was by Gordon, not Arthur, Jacob. The timings indicate the YouTube performance is that by the RLPO conducted by Vernon Handley in Aug/Sept 1988 which I find to be of good sound and brisk in the manner of Elgar's own performances. There is an alternative commercial recording by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Richard Hickox, recorded in May 2006 and at a rather more leisurely speed.

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A thought struck me, when this thread was recently revitalised. (I had been listening to an early recording of Sir Adrian Boult.)

 

With the striving for ‘authentic’/‘historically-aware’ performance practice, what is a keyboard player supposed to do about portamento ?

 

What did they do, if anything ? And might this apply to the Sonata in any way ?

 

I don’t know enough historic recordings of such repertoire, which is why I ask. (Cue responses.)

 

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