Elgar: Organ Sonata in G, Op. 28; Enigma Variations (transcr. John)

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COMPOSERS: Elgar
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Organ Sonata in G, Op. 28; Enigma Variations (transcr. John)
PERFORMER: Keith John (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67363
The Organ Sonata was Elgar’s first substantial work of a symphonic nature, sometimes referred to as his ‘Symphony No. 0’. So it makes perfect sense to couple it with an organ transcription of his great set of orchestral variations, written just four years later. With ‘Nimrod’ a long-established organ solo, and with the king of instruments participating in the original score, underpinning the closing pages of ‘E.D.U.’, one wonders why the whole work has not been organ-ised before.

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For the Sonata (a solid, unspectacular performance) and his new Enigma, Keith John has chosen the utterly and quintessentially English-sounding Temple Church organ, a well-bred, superbly integrated 1924 Harrison & Harrison. The opening statement of the Enigma (Andante) might cause some anxiety, for John gives unsubtle prominence to the clarinet’s subsidiary theme at 1:04 mins. Thereafter, the complex voicing and choice of registration is handled masterfully and imaginatively in a technically brilliant performance that employs the instrument’s full range of colours and sonorities. Hyperion’s recording is, as you’d expect, top of the range. John provides his own detailed essay in which he enterprisingly reproduces Elgar’s own notes on each Enigma variation, written for a 1927 set of pianola rolls. Jeremy Nicholas