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That the music should be played on the Bristol Cathedral organ is entirely appropriate. Harwood studied with George Riseley, who was in turn deputy at the Cathedral, organist to a number of Bristol churches, and from 1876 in charge at the Cathedral. I therefore approached this first CD of Harwood's complete organ works with eager anticipation, in the hope that 'Thornbury' would be equalled and surpassed. The specification of Riseley's and Harwood's organ comes with the liner notes, as well as a listing of changes since 1907, with notable additions of 1990. Harwood's First Organ Sonata (1886) is a major contribution to the repertory, dramatic, lyrical and learned. The Bristol instrument and indeed Adrian Partington are at their most convincing when there is a constant flow of music, as in the fugal development to the sonata's finale. Here there is a steady increase in tension and rhythmic impetus that makes for exciting listening [listen -- track 3, 2:36-3:20]. Less satisfactory, however, is the second subject of the first movement, a pleasant lyrical idea at the mercy of the Bristol organ's tendency to huff and puff and therefore disorientate a little Partington's sense of timing [listen -- track 1, 1:50-2:48]. This criticism applies equally to those moments when Harwood relies on dramatic pause and indeed cathedral echo to reinforce the declamation and to some changes of registration when the essential line of the music suffers. The start of the very attractive Andante tranquillo Op 5 No 6 has just this air of faint uncertainty I find disturbing.

In the latest Grove Jeremy Dibble claims that the 1892 Dithyramb was much admired by Elgar, as it might well have been. Harwood features nowhere, however, in the published Elgar correspondence, nor do his contributions to four of the Gloucester festivals, all attended by Elgar, raise a word of comment in the diaries. Dithyramb is nonetheless a remarkable piece, and was intended as the opening movement of a second sonata, to be completed by the Interlude Op 15 No 2 and the Paean of Op 15 No 3. All three pieces feature on the CD, but Walter Parratt advised separate publication of the Dithyramb. The most elementary juggling with a CD player can reconstruct the sonata with ease and to considerable effect. A splendid conclusion to the CD is provided by the Op 16 Capriccio, where the opening launches a virtuoso piling up of passagework that has irresistable panache. Here Partington and organ are thrillingly at one and in devoted service of the composer. Three more volumes in the series, featuring different organs, are promised by Priory Records, and I await them with interest, wondering whether 'Thornbury' may be a little more submerged than by volume 1.

Copyright © 24 April 2002 Robert Anderson, Moscow, Russia



The Complete Organ Works of Basil Harwood - Volume 1

PRCD 683 DDD Stereo 72'53" 2001 Priory Records Ltd

Adrian Partington, organ of Bristol Cathedral
Sonata No 1 in C sharp minor Op 5; Dithyramb Op 7; Communion in F major Op 15 No 1; Interlude in D major Op 15 No 2; Paean Op 15 No 3; Short Postlude for Ascensiontide Op 15 No 4; Requiem Aeternam Op 15 No 5; Andante Tranquillo Op 15 No 6; Capriccio Op 16




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