Reviews

GMCD 7304 – Organ Spectacular from St Paul’s Cathedral with Huw Williams

Huw Williams at the Organ of St Paul’s Cathedral

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American Record Guide May/June

Williams is assistant music director and sub organist at St Paul’s. This program of incon­testable chestnuts was the last recording before the 2006 restoration work by Mander. Listeners with even a drop of English blood will savor this. The interpretations are appro­priate, registrations accurate, and tempos well suited to the literature and resonance of St Paul’s. Murrill’s ‘Carillon’ is a bit sparse in interest, and the Purcell Rondeau has been played to death (it forms the bookends for Brit­ten’s Guide to the Orchestra), but these are not the fault of Williams. Church organists will like this if only to hear very practical service music done well. METZ

CHURCH MUSIC QUARTERLY MARCH 07

The start of this CD made me titter: the organ at St Paul’s, which has provided accompaniment to national expressions of both joy and grief, is heard here sounding more like a fairground instrument with an outstanding performance of Lefébure-Wély’s Sortie in E flat. More jollity follows later, but by way of immediate contrast Vaughan Williams’s Rhosymedre then follows. Indeed there is plenty of quirky variety an this CD with works such as the Dubois Toccata, and a prelude from Trois Préldes Hambourgeois by Guy Bovet: for five minutes Wren’s architectural masterpiece is turned into a quasi-Hammer House of Horrors. The performer, Huw Williams, is the Assistant Organist at St Paul’s and total master here of his daily workhorse. In numbers such as Bairstow’s virtuosic Scherzo and more sombre works such as Thalben-Ball’s Elegy, he shows off the power of the St Paul’s instrument, and (if it isn’t a paradox given the cavernous space it fills) its intimacy. This is an excellent 75 minute audio-tour of a famous and much loved national treasure by an authoritative (and unstuffy) guide.

Choir + Organ  January/February 2007

A fine debut from Huw Williams on Guild also marks the last recording from the 108 speaking-stops, five-manual, Bernard Schmidt-designed, Christopher Wren-cased organ of St Paul’s Cathedral before major restoration and refurbishment. And what a splendid send-off it is! Williams clearly revels in the instrument’s virtuosic divisions and these 19 evergreen miniatures by Clarke, Widor, Gigout, Howells, Mathias and others – every item a scene-stealing joy – splendidly showcase the strengths of both soloist and organ.

Gramophone January 2007 – EDITOR’S CHOICE

If, as the disc’s title seems to suggest, the organ is the star first and foremost here. It’s apt. The St. Paul’s organ has got guts and fire in its belly – despite being scheduled for a major overhaul. But then there’s attack and a sense of scale to the whole of this recital with Huw Williams delivering organ playing writ large (I’m not sure, having said that , any organ could deliver music writ small)

AT LONG LAST, A ‘SPECTACULAR’ THAT LIVES UP TO THE DESCRIPTION.

This is neither the first, nor will it be the last, recording to be billed as an “Organ Spectacular”. But it is one of the very few where the title is not only entirely apt but verges on the understatement. First, there is spectacular music. Guy Bovet’s Hamburger Totentanz combines humour (not least with a delicious quotation from Für Elise) and brilliant organ effects in a way which can only be described as spectacular, Murill’s Carillon sets that spectacular St. Paul’s acoustic buzzing., while the Bairstow Scherzo sets off some spectacular aural fireworks.

Second, there is some truly spectacular playing. Huw Williams shows himself not just a master at this particular gargantuan Instrument but has real musical perceptiveness, bringing to spectacular life music which many of us might take for granted. That most spectacular organ showpiece of the all, Widor’s Toccata, receives here a performance which, in a market which is not so much saturated as overwhelmed, comes very near to the top of my list of favourites. While even such reserved gems as  Whitlock’s lovely Folk Tune and Howells, haunting Master Tallis’s Testament come over with unusual depth and intensity.

And finally there is a truly spectacular organ. Oddly, the disc is billed as being” the last solo

“You’d have to go a very long way to hear an organ which can set the spine shivering ant the goose bumps erupting so powerfully as the St. Paul’s instrument does”

recording of the instrument before the organ undergoes major refurbishment and restoration “, which makes it seem as if we are hearing something on it very last legs. But that is not the case at all; you’d have to go very a very long way to hear an organ which can set the spine shivering and the goose-bumps erupting so powerfully as the St. Paul’s instrument does with the build up to the spectacular climax of Thanben-Ball’s Elergy.

In short, a truly spectacular disc which can be unreservedly recommended to anyone who has even the remotest interest in organ music.
Marc Rochester