ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Great European Organs, No. 56 Ð Sheffield City Hall
PERFORMER: John Scott Whiteley (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: PRCD 674
Two generations of the celebrated Willis organ-building family are represented here by organs of different size. The Sheffield City Hall instrument has four manuals and 75 speaking stops and was inaugurated by Edward Bairstow in 1933. It’s one of the few instruments by Henry Willis III to have survived more or less in its original state.
John Scott Whiteley, organist at York Minster, puts together a programme of varied music by
organ worthies (rather than great composers) which shows off the Sheffield organ’s many virtues, including, in his own Aubade, its singularly shimmering ‘Sylvestrina’ stop. Bairstow’s Prelude in C, which the composer played at his inaugural recital, is suitably grand and noisy, but for my money WT Best’s Concert Fugue demonstrates the organ’s brilliance and contrasts of Great and Swell divisions most effectively. The City Hall sounds oddly unreverberant. As for the playing, Scott Whiteley has the typical organist’s failing of stiff phrasing and an unforgivable tendency to slow down when a change of registration is imminent. Surely he could have used an assistant. The programme notes are very thorough and a good read.
Anne Page plays one of the highly admired smaller organs of the first Henry Willis – ‘Father’ Willis – in the United Reformed Church in Cambridge. It’s an honest, warm-hearted instrument with two manuals and 22 speaking stops and very vividly recorded. Her playing of one of Bach’s lesser-known Preludes and Fugues is a bit careful and the amusing ‘English Fantasy’ by Guilmant exercises both her and the pedals’ agility, but she does Mendelssohn’s Fourth Sonata nicely. Adrian Jack