SUMSION Complete Organ Works Vol 1
Over the years Priory Records has honoured a wide range of composers in its benchmark ‘Complete Organ Works’ series by recording sympathetic artists on tonally appropriate instruments. The ranks of Gigout, Howells, Jongen, Karg-Elert, Parry, Saint-Saëns and Whitlock are now joined by one of the more neglected English organist-composers of the 20th century, Herbert Sumsion (1899-1995).</p>
<p>Vol 1 was recorded on the glorious ‘Father’ Willis in Salisbury Cathedral in 2011, an instrument that provides the perfect blend of warmth and sparkle for this quintessentially English repertory, which Cook despatches with bonhomie and nobility in equal measure. He presents Sumsion’s oeuvre in reverse order, opening with two of his last published compositions from the 1980s and concluding with his earliest work, the Introduction and Theme in B minor, which, when published in 1936, established him as a composer of the first rank. This recital piece is imbued with a dramatic intensity which burned with a less frequent intensity in Sumsion’s subsequent organ music. However, while never a radical innovator, his music flows with consummate ease, revealing a mastery of textural balance, a delight in variation form and a satisfyingly harmonic richness. Most beguiling is the delicious Prelude on ‘The holly and the ivy’. </p>
<p>Vol 2 offers a further half a dozen original works, the Sarabande and Interlude showing the influence of his friend Howells, while the most substantial piece is the <i>Air, Berceuse and Procession</i> of 1960, almost a sonata <i>manqué</i>. A keen recycler of earlier material, Sumsion’s <i>Prelude and Aria</i> of 1940 started out 10 years earlier as an orchestral overture, <i>In the Cotswolds</i>. The harmonic piquancy of the delightful Allegretto is beautifully matched by the tone colours of the organ in St Davids Cathedral, which is essentially a Willis of 1883, last rebuilt by Harrison and Harrison in 2000. The rest of the disc is padded out with arrangements of music by Vaughan Williams and Elgar transcriptions made by Herbert Brewer, Sumsion’s predecessor at Gloucester. Unlikely to be bettered.