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Paul AYRES (b.1970)
Rainbow Toccatas
Suite for Eric [12:59]
Variations on Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen [7:05]
Mostly Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor [6:58]
Fantasy-Sonata Over the Rainbow [17:25]
Prelude on Eleanor Rigby [3:49]
Toccatina on Here Comes the Sun [2:43]
Lament on And I Love Her [4:05]
Trio on Ich steh’ mit einem Fuss in Grabe and Hey Jude [5:34]
Danse Macabre on Norwegian Wood [1:31]
Recitative on Yesterday [3:20]
Concerto on I want to hold your hand [3:58]
Adagio Cromatico on Michelle [4:09]
Toccata on All You Need is Love [4:44]
Paul Ayres (organ)
rec. 2015/16, St. Barnabas Church, Ealing, London
PRIORY PRCD1159 [79:59]

Having recently found Cristina García Banegas’s collection of Beatles’ hits arranged for organ something of a damp squib (“Beatles Love Bach”/drama musica DRAMA010), it seemed appropriate to look at some more from another source, and my reviewer’s eye fell on this 2017 Priory release from English organist Paul Ayres.

Unlike Banegas, who did little more than offer basic organ transcriptions of the original songs, Ayres has turned these nine Beatles’ numbers into self-contained organ works, each with a character which, as the individual titles suggest, translates the originals into idiomatic pieces for organ in familiar styles. Some are highly effective; others are not. The menacing, if slightly lumbering Prelude with its occasional leaps into remotely reflective territory, seems to superimpose morsels of Eleanor Rigby on to an idea which could possibly go with just about any tune. The effect is slightly shambolic but not at all displeasing, and with the delightful little Toccatina which follows we get something which really suits the original Here Comes the Sun while standing as a highly effective organ work in its own right. I can’t help but feel Eleanor Rigby would have worked better as the theme behind the Lament; as it is, the tune of And I Love Her is cut up into almost unrecognisable chunks in this ponderous dirge. Banegas tried her hand at combining Bach and the Beatles in a single work with mixed results; Ayres has much more success in combining the Sinfonia from Cantata 156 with Hey Jude and comes up with a clever piece of organ music which perfectly captures the idea he moots in his booklet essay, that the Beatles’ music combined “innocence and sophistication”. The Dance Macabre on Norwegian Wood has many highly effective moments, but periodically delves into a world of confusion and ends in mid-air, which might or might not be a commentary on the drug culture of the time. Yesterday finds itself translated into the word of French classical organ music, which works quite well but stretches its material a little too far. The pseudo Concerto on I Want to Hold Your Hand, which Ayres suggests could be a joint composition involving “Lennon, McCartney, Handel, Greene, C P E Bach and Haydn”, is a lot of fun, and works superbly, as does the setting of Michelle over a slowly moving chromatic bass, although suggesting, as Ayres does, that since the eponymous girl was apparently French, this music recalls Franck, Fauré and Vierne. This sequence of Beatles tunes ends with a French-style Toccata on All You Need Is Love which works extremely well and is, for my money, the most effective piece of the nine.

The word Rainbow has been appropriated by so many political and social causes in recent time that it is impossible to see this CD as not having its own socio-political agenda. But, so far as I can tell, Ayres is not allying himself with the Rainbow Nation of South Africa, the gender issues espoused by the Rainbow Alliance or, most recently, the British National Health Service celebrated by the pasting of rainbows in windows. Priory do not help matters here by a cover which has no hint of a rainbow on it, merely two colours, a dusky pink and a dark blue. The title might have some connection with the Beatles’ famous association with the psychedelic or, more prosaically, with the Ayres’ own Fantasy-Sonata Over the Rainbow. This latter work, which cleverly takes snippets of Harold Arlen’s famous song, and weaves them into a five-movement suite (none of the movements actually being a Toccata). But for my money, the title perfectly describes the CD’s opening track, a sparkling, colourful Toccata from the Suite for Eric.
There are two big surprises here. The first is the glorious sound of the organ of St Barnabas, Ealing. On paper it looks large and dull, its specification dominated by 8 foot stops, and with 2 foot stops and mutations seeming like a rare and endangered species. It was built by William Hill in 1877 for a church near Portsmouth and rebuilt in Ealing by Nicholson’s in 2011. It is certainly a fabulous example of an English Romantic organ, but the sound Ayres draws from it suggests something far more versatile.

The second surprise is the music itself. I am deeply suspicious of any CD devoted to the self-published music of the performer. Those suspicions are fully justified by Ayres’ dreadful attempt to re-write the ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which sounds suspiciously like an excuse to cover up the fact that when he recorded it he played lots of wrong notes and got his timings muddled up (but I am wrong in that – you can actually buy the sheet music from his website). But there are some very fine pieces of music here. I like very much his short set of tiny Variations on the chorale Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen, and I have also declared my huge admiration for the Toccata from the Suite for Eric. The same Suite’s Intermezzo, which brings in a whiff of the cinema organ, is another gem, although on the strength of both the Aria and Duo, it’s probably a good thing that the other movements of what is, apparently a seven-movement work written for his friend Eric Tyson, are not included here.

Uneven as the music is, Ayres plays it all with great verve and vitality, making a powerful case for himself as both a composer and a performer, and shows off to astounding effect this exceptional instrument, well recorded here by Priory’s Neil Collier.

Marc Rochester

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