Canadian Organ Music
Willan: Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue; Bales: Petite Suite; Ruth Watson Henderson: Chromatic Partita
Rachel Mahon (organ)
Delphian DCD34234 61.03 mins
No disc of Canadian organ music would be complete without Healey Willan’s Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue, and it is fitting that this recording from Coventry Cathedral opens with it. The Canadian organist Rachel Mahon is assistant director of music at Coventry, where as part of the famous post-war construction the organ was paid for largely by Canadian contributions raised by Willan himself.
Like several contemporaneous painters in Canada’s great Group of Seven, Willan (1880-1968) was British-born – self-described as ‘English by birth; Canadian by adoption; Irish by extraction; Scotch by absorption’ – but this music reflects that less than the influence of Reger. Mahon gives a sweeping performance that culminates in a tumultuous fugue.
The attractive enough Petite Suite of Gerald Bales (1919-2002) may be little more than ‘organists’ music’, but the other two works are of greater interest and owe something to French organ tradition. There are echoes of Dupré in the Chromatic Partita by Ruth Watson Henderson (b1932), in which eight short variations on a chorale theme show off the colours of the organ in Mahon’s brilliant registrations. Piquant harmonies in the Symphony No. 1 by Rachel Laurin (b1961) are handled with light virtuosity before the work ends with a blazing toccata.