Alkan Organ Works, Vol 1
If you have any spare Christmas cash do make this glorious disc a priority. The first in a promised series of three, it scores top marks in every department. Kevin Bowyer displays his customary polish, felicity and technical mastery, playing with an assurance made all the more astounding since this programme – none of it previously recorded – is hardly standard repertoire, certainly outside France. However, he is no stranger to Alkan’s organ oeuvre: he made an acclaimed disc for Nimbus in Salisbury Cathedral in the late 1980s.
By all accounts Alkan’s organ technique equalled his command of the piano. In 1834 he gained the premier prix d’orgue at the Paris Conservatoire and he maintained close friendships with César Franck and Lefébure-Wély, dedicatees respectively of the Grands préludes and the Douze études. The first half-dozen of the Etudes – played on the pedals alone – are strikingly original and much more than mere technical exercises. Dupré considered them to be ‘the complete and indispensable foundation of pedal technique’. The Grands préludes are equally engrossing and entertaining, especially the fiendish 10th, which Ronald Smith termed a ‘Cossack Dance’. As the final notes of the transcription of Handel’s ‘Behold, and See’ hover, teasingly, on a half close, I eagerly await the succeeding volumes.
Blackburn Cathedral’s magnificent Walker/Wood organ (superbly captured by sound engineer Lance Andrews) combined with Bowyer’s effortless artistry and Malcolm MacDonald’s masterful notes make this a must-have recommendation.