West, Blair, Battison Haynes

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COMPOSERS: Battison Haynes,Blair,West
LABELS: Priory
WORKS: Sonata in D minor
PERFORMER: John Kitchen (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: PRCD 756
This is the first volume in a series of Victorian organ sonatas, featuring works by Hugh Blair, Walter Battison Haynes and John E West (prime candidates for the label ‘Interesting Historical Figures’, in Tovey’s memorable phrase). Naturally the yardstick for this repertoire is Elgar, and, mercifully, the ‘IHFs’ featured do not pale into insignificance before him. Quite the contrary – they set Elgar amid a robust and flourishing literature for the organ.

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There is a pleasing integrity to the programme. Hugh Blair, one-time assistant organist at Worcester Cathedral, premiered Elgar’s Organ Sonata in 1895, and his own Sonata, of four years later, is wonderfully steeped in Elgarian panache. The organ he played at Worcester was a Hope-Jones, as is the organ of the present disc. John E West, chief music editor at Novello for 32 years, was a key figure in the life of any aspiring composer. Elgar apparently thought highly of him, and there was frequent correspondence between them, though his Sonata harks back rather disappointingly to an earlier Victorian idiom. In many ways the greatest revelation of this disc is the music of Walter Battison Haynes, the most cosmopolitan of the three composers, who brings a Germanic spirit to the Victorian style. All are displayed to optimum effect by John Kitchen on the relatively unchampioned organ in Edinburgh University’s McEwan Hall. William Whitehead