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Peter DICKINSON (b. 1934)
A Cambridge Postlude (1953) [2:45]
Prelude (1954) [2:55]
Postlude on “Adeste Fideles” (1954) [2:31]
Prelude on “Song 46” (1954/5) [2:42]
Prelude on “Song 20” (1954/5) [2:27]
Prelude on “Song 34” (1954/5) [2:49]
Toccata (1955) [3:20]
Meditation on “Murder in the Cathedral” (1958) [5:26]
Study in Pianissimo (1959) [3:21]
Dirge (1963) [4:09]
Three Statements (1964) [6:38]
Carillon (1964) [3:41]
Paraphrase I (1967) [15:16]
Blue Rose Variations (1985) [15:44]
Millennium Fanfare (1999) [2:48]
Jennifer Bate (organs of St John’s Duncan Terrace, St James’s Muswell Hill and St Dominic’s Priory)
rec. 10 May 1982 (St James’s), 17 July 2004 (St Dominic’s) and 21-22 November 2007 (St John’s)
NAXOS 8.572169 [77:42]
Experience Classicsonline

I must admit that I did not know that Peter Dickinson had composed such a large output of organ music before receiving this generously filled release. These works were composed between 1953 and 1999, thus spanning his whole composing career although there has been a rather long gap between Paraphrase I (1967) and Blue Rose Variations (1985) and then Millennium Fanfare (1999). One must also mention the Organ Concerto (1971) recorded by Jennifer Bate with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Atherton (EMI, now re-issued on Albany) and Fanfares and Elegies (1967 - organ and brass), the latter remaining unrecorded at the time of writing.

Most of the pieces are fairly short and consist in the fairly traditional preludes, postludes and toccatas that one often finds in such repertoire. However, there are two substantial works here that by far exceed the organ loft: Blue Rose Variations written for Jennifer Bate in 1985 and Paraphrase I composed in 1967.

It would be idle to go into many comments about most of these works. Suffice to say that the earliest works, roughly from the very early but attractive A Cambridge Postlude (1953) up to the Meditation on “Murder in the Cathedral” (1958), may still be regarded as being in a fairly traditional mould although Dickinson’s personal touch may already be detected here and there in these early works. The lively Toccata of 1955 has become a favourite of mine for the music is full of rhythmic vitality and joyful energy that sometimes bring the late William Mathias to mind. These early works, however, are all superbly crafted and some of them have become popular. On the other hand, I find it hard to understand why the three Preludes on Gibbons’ Songs have never been published and apparently rarely played. They make a fine triptych that repays repeat hearings. In 1958 Dickinson went to New York for three years and was then in touch with many American composers who may have had some influence on his music-making. Study in Pianissimo (1959) is the only organ work that he composed in the States. The music uses elements of serial technique and, thus, contrasts with the earlier works that still belonged to the so-called cathedral tradition. Even so, Dickinson never became a strict serialist in any way. Later works, too, keep moving from that tradition by incorporating elements that Dickinson might have gleaned from Messiaen. The Three Statements may also be singled out for they display some more formal freedom inherited from improvisation.

A few words need to be said, too, about the more substantial works, of which Paraphrase I is the earliest composed in 1967 and based on a motet John (1963) to words by Thomas Blackburn. It consists of ten short sections of quite contrasted character. MacDowell’s piano piece To a Wild Rose seems to have exerted some fascination on Peter Dickinson who composed (at least) three pieces based on it: Blue Rose (1979 - piano), Wild Rose Rag (1985 - piano) and the substantial Blue Rose Variations composed for Jennifer Bate. In this fairly recent work Dickinson’s full maturity is given free rein. These variations inhabit hugely contrasted moods and atmospheres, sometimes turning the organ into a barrel organ. “Variation 6 has been regarded an orgy of secularity invading the once sacred organ loft” (Peter Dickinson). This might also be said of several other variations. Paraphrase I and Blue Rose Variations are major works that definitely deserve to be heard more often.

This well-filled release concludes with Dickinson’s latest organ work Millennium Fanfare written for Keith Bond at Aldeburgh Parish Church. The music is partly based on the opening chords of Dickinson’s Organ Concerto and on “trumpet passages based on the musical letters found in the name Aldeburgh”. This is a brief but imposing and at times rather terrifying work.

Need I say that Jennifer Bate plays superbly throughout this programme? She had already been associated with some of these works and was the dedicatee of Blue Rose Variations, so that her readings always strike the right balance between immaculate organ playing and superb musicality. One has to keep in mind that she is also a far from inconsiderable composer in her own right. Some of these recordings were made in 1982 at St James’s Muswell Hill and still sound remarkably well. By the way I cannot remember whether they were originally released then or not.

Peter Dickinson’s organ music is superbly crafted but also quite varied and attractive so that this generously filled release should appeal to anyone willing to explore some more recent, though by no means intractable organ music. Definitely not for organ buffs only.

Hubert Culot


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