STANFOD Complete Organ Works Vol 1
The choral music of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford has not so much remained in the repertoire of British cathedral and church choirs as been a mainstay of it for the past hundred years. Not so his organ music. Numbering something in the region of 50 pieces, including five hefty sonatas all written within the space of a year, less than a handful remain in print, let alone in the repertoire. Many, of course, have never made it to CD, so this projected series of Stanford’s complete organ works performs a valuable service to one of Britain’s most distinguished composers.
It is difficult to imagine that valuable service being more impressively performed than it is here. Priory has come up not merely with an exceptional recording but also with excellent packaging and coherent, distinguished notes from Jeremy Dibble. The sumptuous Willis organ of Salisbury Cathedral is one of the undisputed wonders of the British organ world: an instrument, one feels, which would sound fantastic even if a cat decided to walk up and down the Great with all stops drawn. And as an advocate of this music, playing it with authority and communicative zeal, Daniel Cook is pretty much peerless.
What lets the side down, I’m afraid, is the music itself. Solidly crafted, earnestly written and impeccably styled, it lacks inspiration; and while there are moments of elevated invention, we do have to trudge through an awful lot of mundanity to reach them. The Six Preludes are perfectly serviceable church voluntaries, but shorn of the background clatter of shoes on marble and gossiping voices they offer sparse fare to the attentive listener, while the two sonatas on this disc rely more on strength of construction than on musical charm. The best thing here is probably the Fantasia and Toccata, which, delivered by Cook with a superbly insouciant virtuosity, has moments of dazzling spectacle and certainly draws the very best out of this fine instrument.
I await further releases in this series not so much in the hope of musical enlightenment as in the certainty of excellent performances from Cook and lovely recordings from Priory.