It is a most appropriate choice for this recording to be made on the organ of Coventry Cathedral. Outside Canada, and largely inside it too, the great wealth of Canadian organ music is little known, and there are not many Canadian organists or organs that can pay it full justice. Rachel Mahon is a Canadian organist who is currently based at Coventry Cathedral as assistant director of music, and combines her knowledge and background in Canadian organ music with her expertise and understanding of the opulent Harrison and Harrison instrument in Coventry.
Now to the four substantial works on this programme. Healey Willan (1880-1968) is represented by his grand Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue (1916) which is, maybe, the only Canadian work that has found a place at the core of Mahon's repertory, whose stirring performance is greatly enhanced by some outstanding sound quality that encompasses the vast dynamic and pitch range of the organ superbly.
Listen — Healey Willan: Fugue (Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue)
(track 3, 3:33-4:23) © 2020 Delphian Records Ltd :
The Petite Suite by Gerald Bales (1919-2002) is a prime example of the deep-seated French influence in Canadian music, although the sparse and acerbic musical language seems more akin to Kenneth Leighton.
Listen — Gerald Bales: Intermezzo (Petite Suite)
(track 5, 0:29-1:28) © 2020 Delphian Records Ltd :
The Chromatic Partita by Ruth Watson Henderson (born 1932) is also influenced by the French organ school, where a set of eight short variations revolve around a choral melody employing various solo stops and combinations. The haunting string chords are in the style of Alain (Variation 6), while the final Toccata is firmly embedded in the post-Dupre manner.
Listen — Ruth Watson Henderson: Variation VI (Chromatic Partita)
(track 13, 0:00-0:20) © 2020 Delphian Records Ltd :
Maybe the most French-rooted piece on this disc is the most recent work of the four. In the Symphony No 1 for organ (2008) by Rachel Laurin (born 1961), one can easily identify the concept of the solo organ symphonies by Franck and Widor, and she uses its four movements to explore the full colouristic scope of a modern organ. The second movement is a 'Scherzo' thoroughly in the Vierne mould, while the closing Toccata bears remarkable similarities to that by Marcel Lanquetuit. Nevertheless, this is a fine and sumptuous work, greatly enhanced by a splendid performance.
Listen — Rachel Laurin: Scherzo (Symphony No 1 for organ)
(track 17, 5:33-6:28) © 2020 Delphian Records Ltd :
Vibrant music making, brilliantly performed and recorded, and with some magnificent annotations by Giles Bryant thrown in for good measure. Rachel Mahon has done Canadian organ music and Delphian Records proud in this memorable issue. Recommended.
Copyright © 17 April 2020