Thomas Winpenny - Organ Works - Audiophile Audition

13 June 2012
Audiophile Audition
Peter Joelson
5 Stars

After a period in the wilderness of cathedral canticles the music of Sir Charles Villiers (pronounced Villers) Stanford (1852-1924) once seen as stuffily Victorian by some influential critics, was taken out of dusty drawers in the late 1970s and reassessed.  Slowly but surely much of his orchestral and chamber music has been recorded, some performed for the first time, and its association with Empire and anti-macassar gradually weakened.  Who would have thought when the BBC broadcast performances of the symphonies under Alan Suttie 35 years ago that we would have the luxury of two recorded cycles?

The church music and music for organ did survive Stanford's post mortem wilderness years, performed week in and week out in cathedrals and parish churches.  The school I attended had the full complement of 700 sing Stanford's Te Deum in B flat (I can hear it in my head now as I write) and despite it being a jolly good sing, we referred to it scandalously as Tedium in B flat.

Tom Winpenny has Stanford's music in his blood. Chorister at York, music scholar at Eton (which  counts Peter Warlock and Sir Hubert Parry as just two well-known OE composers, not to mention Dr "Ducky" Mallard of NCIS), assistant organist at St Paul's (it is he at the organ in LSO Live's recording of the Mahler Symphony No. 8 under Valery Gergiev) and now assistant at St Alban's, his recital programme of some of the organ music is a thoroughly satisfying release.

The big works shine in their majesty.  What a fine piece the opening Fantasia & Fugue is, and its considerable demands are overcome with seemingly effortless ease.  The more intimate pieces, some easier on the fingers and feet, make effective interludes until we reach the same key as in the opening piece for Stanford's well-known Postlude in D minor for the conclusion of this rewarding cross-section of his work.  Born in Dublin in a different Ireland from the one we know today, Stanford continued to be inspired by his home country for the whole of his life, and this, happily, touched on his organ music, too.  Intermezzo founded upon an Irish Air is just one such piece, charming, light, and easily written-off by some as light fluff.

The organ at Queen's College, Cambridge (James J. Binns) is an instrument which Stanford may well have known. Constructed in 1892, it has survived unaltered, a fine example of late-Victorian organ building.  Happily, too, it has been recorded here in very fine sound by Adam Binks for his relatively recently founded label, Resonus Classics.  This is the first download-only, that is, solely digital label and it has eschewed the physical medium from the start.  While mp3 and 16 bit flac files can be downloaded from its website, I opted for the high resolution 24 bit (24/96) flacs.  Stereo only, the sound quality is wonderfully open and wide-ranging, and will disappoint only those who see the lack of using a certain sort of digital converter or pure DSD recording made under the current thoughts of what constitutes the best temperature and humidity readings.

Digital only, the accompanying booklet is of such high quality, and yet one can download it free of charge from Resonus' website. It has a very fine essay by Giles Brightwell about Stanford and the works recorded, as well as the organ specification and a selection of excellent photographs. There are also samples of each track for audition.  A review may well be superfluous! Well worth investigating!

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