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Basil Ramsey listens to Paul Ayres' new organ CD 'Passacaglia'

CD Review

Passacaglia, played by Paul Ayres on the organ of St Peter's Church, EalingThe concept of a group of ground-bass pieces is musically attractive. Paul Ayres, as a composer and organist, has ensured that his programme is stylistically varied to an exceptional degree. Four bastions of this genre are in place - Buxtehude, Bach, Reger, and Healey Willan; after which it is mostly new territory.

Enterprising, yet tinged with sadness, is a cycle of 22 variations, each from a different composer. The theme is taken from the music of Joanne Johnson, a young composer of promise who committed suicide in 1997. The stylistic range is enormous suggesting a demonstration portfolio of ideas and techniques representing an end-of-the-century guide to what's relevant to a bunch of composers today. Two other essays are from Nicholas Ansdell-Evans and Dick Koomans, neither forsaking the past but utilising today's harmonic diversity with skill.

There's a touch of cheekiness in the 16th variation from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Paganini Variations, first written for television's 'South Bank Show', and here, matched in cheek, as an organ transcription.

Paul Ayres shows excellent technique and stylistic awareness throughout, although I do not find the 1893-renovated-1985 Bishop organ an ideal instrument for such musical adventures. Tonally restricted by some indifferent quality, the player does have struggles to match music with his ideals. The large-scale epics are therefore exceptionally challenging to Ayres. It still remains a CD exploring the organ and some new music with great enthusiasm and flair.

Copyright © Basil Ramsey, May 30th 1999


Ostinato works by Bach, Frescobaldi, Buxtehude, Purcell,
Reger, Willan, and modern composers

Paul Ayres on the Bishop organ of St Peter's Church, Ealing, London

Fand 102

Available from Blumlein's, 7a Dragon Street, Petersfield, Hants GU31 4JN, UK

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