LEIGHTON Missa de Gloria. Six Fantasies on Hymn Tunes
This is the first time Kenneth Leighton’s organ music has all been recorded by one player on one instrument. To be honest, it’s not exactly one player, but more of that later. As for the instrument, the bright, somewhat angular Edinburgh Rieger, despite this kind of recording which blunts some of the instrument’s rawer edges, may clarify Leighton’s dry and acerbic chromaticisms, and illustrate with great vividness the detail of the extended Missa de Gloria (not least in the invigorating opening to the Gloria), but for my taste lacks the grandeur and heady atmosphere of the echoing Blackburn Walker which so disappointed Christopher Nickol when he reviewed the comparative Naxos disc back in September 2011.
CN was also disappointed by the omission from that disc of three of the six Hymn Tune Fantasies. No such disappointment here. All six are included, and with Stephen Farr’s crisply rhythmic playing we experience with wonderful clarity Leighton’s clever manipulation of these familiar, comforting tunes. How lovely, for example, to hear the somewhat mundane ‘Jesus bids us shine’ transformed into such an enchanting and jaunty jig.
The excellent Resonus artwork includes a picture of four hands (and part of an ear) at the organ console. Captioned ‘Stephen Farr and John Butt’, it draws attention to the fact that Martyrs is a duet. Organ duets can be fun but this is serious stuff, and the Farr/Butt partnership reveals considerable unity of musical thought to produce an immensely absorbing account. Indeed, it is the sheer musical quality of Farr’s playing and his obvious sensitivity towards the rhythmic and textural detail of Leighton’s music which makes this a hugely impressive release. I eagerly await the next volume.