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In an Old Abbey
Sir Walter ALCOCK (1861-1947)

Basil HARWOOD (1859-1949)
In an Old Abbey
Op. 32 [6:34]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Severn Suite  Op. 87 (arr. Jeremy Cull) [18:01]
Herbert SUMSION (1899-1995)
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Two Hymn-Tune Preludes
(arr. Sumsion) [7:02]
John COOK (1918-1984)
Five Studies in form of a Sonata 
Douglas STEELE (1910-1999)
William WALTON (1902-1983)
(from A Wartime Sketchbook) (arr. Palmer/Gower) [4:35]
Paul Walton (organ)
rec. 25-26 September 2013, Bristol Cathedral
REGENT REGCD431 [75:27]

Paul Walton is Associate Organist of Bristol Cathedral and is involved in a number of other musical activities in the city. Here he presents a programme of British organ music from the twentieth century - some well-known, some slightly obscure, many arranged from other sources, but none without interest.

Elgar's Severn Suite exists in several versions. It started as a test-piece for band, with the composer arranging it for full orchestra soon after its composition. Later still the composer's friend Sir Ivor Atkins arranged the work for organ - as the "Organ Sonata No.2". Atkins' version left out some of Elgar's music and was generally found wanting in other ways. The present version, arranged by Jeremy Cull, makes good these deficiencies. Walton ably presents it with a good deal of Elgarian feeling and with excellent pacing and clarity of line. This is especially true in the Introduction and the succeeding Toccata, while in the Minuet Walton pays attention to the humorous aspects of the piece. He also provides a typically stirring Coda (see review).

Basil Harwood's well-known In An Old Abbey was arranged by the composer from a piece for cello and piano. It is the cello-like elements that Walton emphasizes as well as showing attention to individual details. Overall, I find this approach superior to that of Adrian Partington in the set of the complete Harwood organ music on Priory. A somewhat similar mood piece is Herbert Sumsion's Intermezzo although I found this less stimulating than usual with this composer (see review). Herbert Sumsion also appears, as arranger, in the organ version of the Vaughan Williams Two Hymn Tune Preludes, better known in their original form for small orchestra. Unfortunately Walton fails to bring out the varied textures of these pieces and this is perhaps the least successful item on the disc. Much better is Walter Alcock's Toccata, a piece of notable structural and emotional variety, all of which features Walton brings to the fore.

Two of the pieces here were new to me and both proved of interest. Douglas Steele's Arioso is lighter than the other pieces on this disc but quite enjoyable (see review). John Cook studied with Vaughan Williams and then served in posts in Britain and Canada before becoming Organist and Choirmaster at the famous Church of the Advent in Boston (USA). His Five Studies in the Form of a Sonata is a true sonata with its five sections linked by a leitmotif. The piece shows both a melodic gift and a strong sense of structure. The Prelude is gentle, but probing. Following a well-executed Fugue there is an imaginative Scherzo featuring varied dynamic changes. The most effective movement is the Ostinato where the leitmotif functions in the pedals like a tolling bell. The Finale has a Holstian jollity but again demonstrates the composer's structural sense. This piece is a real discovery.

As part of his editorial work for the Chandos William Walton series in the 1990s the late Christopher Palmer (1946-1995 - link link) arranged excerpts from three of Walton's wartime propaganda films (and one excerpt from "The Battle of Britain") into A Wartime Sketchbook. The Prologue incorporates music from Next of Kin and Went the Day Well. More recently the organist Robert Gower has arranged the Sketchbook for organ and this showcases Paul Walton's strengths as a performer: good rhythmic sense, skill in keeping lines clear and an affinity for the unique aspects of a composer's style. To some degree it also demonstrates the major problem I found in this recording: Walton's tendency to broaden melodies until they sometimes lose their vitality. However, given the overall high quality of Walton's playing, good sound quality and an excellent choice of programme this disc is a strong and appealing entry.

William Kreindler