Brahms, Wagner, DuprŽ

COMPOSERS: Brahms,Dupre,Wagner
LABELS: Signum Classics
ALBUM TITLE: The Organ of Westminster Cathedral
WORKS: Works by Brahms, Wagner, Dupré
PERFORMER: Robert Quinney (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD089
It’s not just the performer who is versatile here – Westminster Cathedral’s mighty four-manual Willis III organ built between 1922 and 1932, can apparently do just about everything. Considered Willis’s grand masterpiece, it’s a sort of cross between the best of the 19th-century French symphonic movement (typified by the organ builder Cavaillé-Coll) and the British ‘town hall’ instrument of the same period built for grand occasions – and orchestral transcriptions.

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So Robert Quinney’s choice of programme is tailor-made for the Westminster organ: disc one shows off its ‘town hall’ side with grand arrangements of Brahms by Lemare and Lionel Rogg plus some effective Wagner – also arranged by Lemare. As Quinney writes in his own notes, the Meistersinger Prelude seems almost to have been written specially for the organ. And its power is almost paralysing; so, too, however, is the beauty of the organ’s more intimate moments. Disc two is given over entirely to the music of Marcel Dupré, who advised on the Cathedral organ’s design and whose music combines 19th-century French harmonic colour and texture, a 20th-century biting edge and sophisticated counterpoint.

Quinney’s playing has an effective straightness and unshowiness from the sonic avalanche of the B major prelude and fugue to the multilayered, sweet-toned, poignant Cortège et Litanie. The music – and the building – needs an unfussy approach; Quinney’s technique is impeccable and his registration spot on, achieving some magical, ethereal effects in the softer movements of the Variations sur un Noël.

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Recording organs of this size within echoey spaces is a tricky business but I’m delighted to say that the record company Signum serves Quinney excellently; we get a sense of the performer’s articulation, dexterity and smooth pedalwork without missing out on the grand scale of both the instrument and the building. Bravo to all concerned – it’s spine-tingling stuff. Oliver Condy