Damin Spritzer (on the organ of Albion Church, Ashton-under-Lyne) 

Raven OAR-177 

In the summer of last year, when I was investigating the possibility of using this T. C. Lewis organ for a CD of music by Alec Rowley, I was informed that it had recently been used to record the CD that I now review. Damin Spritzer – an American organist who is Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma – is particularly fond of romantic organ music and keen to record it on suitable instruments, a factor of great importance. Her CD is only the second in which this instrument was used to make a commercial recording. 

Until last year, I had not heard of Harvey Grace (1874-1944) who, like Alec Rowley, was influential in his lifetime, but is now largely forgotten. This new CD suggests that such neglect is undeserved. His career as an organist began at Romsey Abbey, continued at Southwark Cathedral (which boasts T. C. Lewis’s largest organ), several London churches, and – most notably – Chichester Cathedral (1931-8), where he introduced the regular use of plainsong. He was also the editor of The Musical Times from 1918 until his death. In this capacity he inspired both affection and respect.

Ten of the fifteen works included here are from two volumes published in 1922: Vol 1: Laus Deo, Cradle Song, Toccatina, In-voluntary [sic], Scherzo; Vol 2: Ostinato, Meditation, Reverie on the hymn tune UNIVERSITY, Plaint, Resurgam.  The other works are Legend and Epilogue (1914) Fantasia alla Marcia (1912), and two Monologues: Meditation and Caprice (1915).   The Cradle Song employs a mix of modal and chromatic elements, making for a quirky, colourful middle section.  

Interestingly, the hymn tune King’s Lynn [No. 562 in the English Hymnal (1906)] on which the Toccatina is based, was also used by Percy Whitlock as the basis for one of his compositions.  This tune is also known as Van Diemen’s Land, the name used in Vaughan Williams’s Six Studies in English Folk Song (1926).

The music is played with authority and commitment and the recording is excellent. As intimated earlier, this organ serves the music admirably. The booklet is attractive, with notes on the composer, the music played, the organ builder, the organ and the church. There are twenty colour photographs, including shots taken within the organ chamber of the pipework not enclosed in expression boxes.

I hope that people keen to see a revival of this neglected repertoire will share my gratitude to Damin Spritzer and those who helped her in making this highly commendable CD. The Raven label is based in Richmond, Virginia and does not have distribution in the UK. I am to acquire a small stock of this CD to satisfy local demand. Anyone interested in buying it, should contact me at martin@ismeron.co.uk

Review by J. Martin Stafford