John Challenger (organ) (Salisbury Cathedral)
Works by JS Bach, Handel, Walton, Rachmaninov, Lemare, Alcock, Elgar, Wagner, Widor and Thalben-Ball
John Challenger (organ)
Salisbury Cathedral SCA002 78:09 mins
If John Challenger’s programme doesn’t exactly win prizes for originality, that was never the point. The clue is in the title. And it’s very much an ‘occasional’ disc, shaking hands with Salisbury’s first ever Organ Prom in 2018 which was designed to give the Cathedral’s venerable Father Willis instrument a rousing send-off ahead of restoration. Scuppered by coronavirus, the planned 2020 ‘welcome back’ had to be reconfigured as a virtual affair, hence a recording reliving the summer of ’18, and glorying in evergreen comforts such as the Bach Toccata and Fugue, Elgar’s Nimrod and, for those with a sweet tooth, Lemare’s Andantino – better known as ‘Moonlight and Roses’.
With a nod to the ‘Last Night’, this Prom is bookended by Walton’s Orb and Sceptre and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance MarchNo. 1, both gloriously kaleidoscopic earfuls that show off the organ’s colours in all their regal majesty. Challenger is a skilful ‘orchestrator’ and, compounded by Lemare’s reworking of the Prelude to Act III and Bridal March from Wagner’s Lohengrin, he negotiates the transcriptions with a lively invention and fluidity. The Bach receives the full ‘Grand Guignol’ and then some. Perhaps Nimrod is dangerously slow, but the Widor Toccata bowls along with disciplined élan. A perfect stocking-filler.