Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Max Kenworthy
MusicWeb International, August 2007

Whilst this disc does not represent the finest and most dazzling organ repertoire, it certainly comes from a a very important chapter in the history of English organ music. The organ music of S.S. Wesley, son of Samuel, grandson of Charles, is the link between a long tradition of manuals-only organ music and the beginning of a new era characterised by obbligato pedal parts. S.S. Wesley was a renowned organist, though it is surprising that despite his compositional talents and his incredible ability at improvisation, he produced only a small number of compositions. Small, but nonetheless hugely significant, S.S. Wesley’s organ output paved the way for a great revival of organ music in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed he has been labelled as the greatest composer in the English tradition between Purcell and Stanford.

Thus Wesley’s organ works are remarkable for their historical significance, but not exceptional as a musical entity when placed against other compositions in this idiom. As a listening experience, this CD is nothing more than pleasant, not because of the actual playing which is stylish and polished, but because of the relative blandness of the music. Most of the pieces are marked Andante and after half a dozen or so, one finds oneself pining for something a little more uplifting. However, the music is creative and delightful, and in places quite suggestive of Wesley’s own skill as an extemporiser. Indeed the inventiveness of the fugue in the Introduction and Fugue in C sharp minor, is quite special and is a suitably fitting homage to Bach; Wesley was named after his father’s musical idol.

The instrument chosen for this recording couldn’t have been more appropriate – an organ as English as they come dating from Wesley’s time with lots of depth and colour. The softer solo reed stops are utterly charming: the orchestral oboe in the Larghetto in F sharp minor and the Andante Cantabile in G major particularly stand out; as does the clarinet in the Andante in E minor. For me the highlight is the Andante in F major, which is the centre-piece of the disc. It is an extended work, its pianistic style making it almost Mendelssohnian, that calls for technically astute playing and rhythmic conviction – requirements that McVinnie clearly has.

This is a CD for the organ enthusiast keen to fill a gap in the collection.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2007

Born in 1810, the son of the famous organist and composer, Samuel Wesley, Samuel Sebastian Wesley was to follow in his footsteps with forty-five of his mature years in charge of music at England's most important cathedrals, though he remained at each for a relatively short period. He had been a pupil of such prodigious gifts that at the age of sixteen - when he finished his full-time education - he was regarded as the finest organist in London. Strangely having gained his first major appointment as organist at Hereford cathedral, he was never to return to a London church. Composition played an important part of his entire career, though the bulk of his output came while young, and surrounded by a dearth of talent he was considered highly important, though in Germany he would never have risen above the rank of kapellmeister. The present release takes us through his life, his style never advancing with age, Bach colouring much that he wrote. That he was well versed in compositional technique shines through in every work and nowhere more so than the elongated Andante in F major taken from Three Pieces for Chamber Organ. Wesley was at his most impressive when he was not attempting to be a champion of Bach and was simply being himself, though a disc with five Andantes following one another was not inspired programme planning. Organ buffs will find added interest in the use of a Father Henry Willis organ built in Wesley's time and remaining largely untouched to the present day. It is situated in the little known English town of Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire, the church proving an admirable recording venue. It is played by the young James McVinnie, his articulation crisp and well delineated. Maybe just a?very little more pace in the Andantes would have lifted the music from the printed page, though the disc makes a reliable introduction to a composer not much known on the international scene.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group