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Organ Party - Volume 4
Kevin Bowyer (organ)
rec. 2017, Beverley Minster, UK

If there are any other organists around today who have at their finger and toe tips a repertory as extensive, as extraordinarily wide-ranging and as technically daunting as Kevin Bowyer, I have yet to hear of them. Bowyer made his name in the 1980s recording music which others regarded as either unplayable or simply not worth the effort involved. But he did not just play it, he communicated it, making the inaccessible accessible and elevating the mediocre (and sometimes downright bad) to a point whereby one wondered why nobody else seemed to be playing it. I have long treasured his scintillating recording of Giles Swayne’s Riff-Raff and his complete recording of the Novello edition of J S Bach’s organ works, released at a time when the words Novello and Bach were regarded as incompatible as Methodism and Whisky. Bowyer’s still at it – in no way can it be said that age has withered him – and his recent spate of recordings for Priory offers him a golden opportunity to exploit all the recesses of his repertory and at the same time have a real ball on some of the country’s most enticing (and often under-valued) instruments. Many of the pieces here have a personal connection with Bowyer, some were written for him, but all of them come across as if they are all crowding around him in a bar, eager to buy him drinks and enjoy the bonhomie his playing exudes. One, Anthony Whittaker, even goes so far as to describe his piece as conveying “ebullience, whimsy and a hint of trouble-making”. Not for nothing is this series of discs called “Organ Party”.

Listening to Neil Collier’s splendiferous recording of the magnificent organ of Beverley Minster, gets you wondering why this isn’t the must-record organ for all organ labels. But then, most labels haven’t had the courage to let Bowyer loose on the instrument, and so have not had anyone around to reveal its glories in quite such a dramatic way. And if you want to know what a really fine organ sounds when it’s allowed to let its hair all the way down, just revel in the outrageous fun of Bowyer’s over-exuberant take on Macchia’s over-the-top Boogie-Toccata.
Little, if any, of this music has ever found its way into the repertory of other significant players, and that’s not just because they can’t always play it – although the almost throw-away virtuosity Bowyer exhibits in Mons Leidvin Takle’s Blues Prelude (what miserable lives organists must lead when a blues is seen as something brisk and exuberant?) is something few other organists could hope to match – but because so much of it seems outwardly unenticing to the player. Bowyer does lay claim in his characteristically chatty booklet notes to having turned the music of Wolf-G Leidel into “a modern classic” and somehow it’s no surprise to learn that Leidel’s subsequent music for Bowyer includes one which calls for a 128-foot pedal stop. On this disc, Leidel is represented with the extraordinarily tame (although Bowyer describes it as “smiling all the time”) Wer Weiss, wie nah emir mein Ende…, but it’s clever programme which gives us this moment of sober reflection before plunging into the next round of intoxicating substances.

The first time a wedding couple asked me to play A Whiter Shade of Pale I have to confess I almost fell asleep at the console out of sheer boredom. Bowyer hams it up gloriously in this arrangement by Paul Ayres, happily brushing away the pseudo-Bach cobwebs in favour of some kind of psychedelic organ-trip. Bowyer is the alchemist who can turn even the most dreary dross into glittering gold; as evidenced by Leonard Tubb’s largely incoherent and rambling celebration of bells – which here positively sparkles and glitters in the streaming sunlight of Bowyer’s brilliant musical intelligence.

I am not sure that there is much to recommend Harold Thalange’s Tá Prothúra as a piece of music, but as a vehicle to explore the highways and byways of the Beverley organ, it could hardly be bettered. Similarly, the Three Short Pieces in English Genres of Stephen Burtonwood seem superficially uninspiring and predictable, but, boy, do they sound impressive in the hands of Bowyer. And while it labours under the most unprepossessing of titles, Harvey Gaul’s Daguerreotype of an Old Mother turns out to be a real gem, a moment of beautifully calm reflection in an atmosphere otherwise high on unrestrained high-jinks.

Marc Rochester

Alan Spedding (1938-2014): Intrada [2:17]
Stephen Burtonwood (b.1951): Three Short Pieces in English Genres: In a Renaissance Style [2:41]; Prelude- Quiet Waters [3:04]; Processional [2:55]
Mons Leidvin Takle (b.1942): Blues Prelude [2:43]
Harold Thalange (b.1995): Tá Prothúra [7:12]
Leonard Tubb (1910-2000): Les Cloches [6:16]
William G Ross (1881-1928): A Song of Rejoicing [3:43]
Ronald Watson (b.1936): Eucharistia [6:23]
Anthony Whittaker (b.1968): Fete de Chambard [4:02]
Harvey Gaul (1881-1945) : Daguerreotype of an Old Mother [6:59]
Edward d'Evry (1869-1950): Concert Toccata in D [4:44]
Wolf-G. Leidel (b.1949) : Wer weiss, wie nahe mir mein Ende [2:08]
Grimoaldo Macchia (b.1972): Boogie-Toccata [4:34]
Procol Harum arr: Paul Ayres: A Whiter Shade of Pale [3:18]
Anthony Baldwin (b.1957): A Little Suite: Sarabande [4:10]; Cantilena [3:42]; Gigue de Trompette [1:50]
Frederic Curzon (1899-1973): March of the Bowmen [5:17]

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