Vaughan Williams Organ * Ley

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COMPOSERS: Ashley John Long,Vaughan Williams Organ
LABELS: Albion
ALBUM TITLE: Vaughan Williams Organ * Ley
WORKS: Organ music and transcriptions; Fantasia on Aberystwyth
PERFORMER: David Briggs (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: ALBCD022

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This issue will naturally be a gold-mine for organ buffs, yet it has been expertly devised to have a wider appeal. With one exception, most of the original works are non-vintage Vaughan Williams: he was a dab hand at small-scale organ preludes and occasional pieces, and a good selection of those is here. The exception is the Prelude and Fugue in C minor – composed for formidable master-organist Henry Ley, and easily impressive enough to stand alongside other classic works of its kind in the repertory.

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At least as interesting, meanwhile, are the various organ transcriptions of Vaughan Williams’s music by others. John Francis’s booklet note points out that the composer’s early years as working organist in London (at St Barnabas, South Lambeth) may well have coloured his mature orchestral style, with its long-sustained, widely spread chords and powerful sense of acoustic space. The transcriptions of the Sea Symphony and London Symphony slow movements (by Henry Ley) and the Tallis Fantasia (by Peter Beardsley) sound convincingly idiomatic in their way, and also beautiful. Briggs’s concern to avoid organ-dirge syndrome, admirable in itself, leads him to undercut some of the music’s space and grandeur at special moments: the great climax of Largo sostenuto from A Sea Symphony, or the Tallis Fantasia’s space-generating opening chords, surely pass by a little too swiftly. In every other respect his command and musicianship are state-of-the-art. Malcolm Hayes