Mandelion - 20th-Century Organ Works
This is an extraordinary collection, another tribute to Bowyer’s prodigious exploratory fervour following his previous Nimbus recordings: Schoenberg/Hindemith (1/95), Harvey/Davies/Williamson (7/97) and his acclaimed complete Alain (7/98). Not to mention his Bach! It is surprising to find how much such a diverse group of composers has in common in the period following Messiaen’s stupendous innovations which redefined the personality of the organ. This is emphasized by the use of a single instrument throughout. But the religious shadow of Messiaen also falls on Tavener in Mandelion, an eloquent 1981 piece which has given the title to the whole collection. Mandelion is a meditation on icons and the various images of the face of Christ. Not Roman Catholic, of course, but by no means Tavener’s spiritual minimalism of more recent times and there is a blazing triadic climax at 16'10'' and C major to end with. Nothing like that in the magisterially confident Seven Stars which Ferneyhough wrote in 1970, substituting for his teacher, Klaus Huber. There are passages where the player has to improvise in the style set and no registration is specified. Bowyer takes it all in his capacious stride, as he does the half-hour Opus Alchymicum by Mellers where he had a special role in the work’s final form. It seems overextended but the final ‘Illuminatio’ makes a superb toccata on its own and the whole thing is a fine 85th birthday tribute to this influential musician who ought to have more of his music on CD.
An even older work is probably the best part of the weaker second CD – The Seven Last Words by Alan Ridout (b.1934), who died prematurely three years ago. Written for Alan Wicks in 1967, this is a vivid evocation of the chosen scenario, pertinent and concentrated, where every section has audible coherence. There’s a striking elegy for two-part pedal solo. Of the remaining pieces Diana Burrell’s Arched Form with Bells is genuinely inventive in both textures and continuity and there really are church bells at the end; Part’s 1976 memorial tribute is placidly minimal; and Patrick Gowers’s Toccata and Fugue, already available on CD twice without its fugue (Priory and OxRecs), dwarfs its much later partner. Plenty to explore in this imaginative anthology.'