Stephen Farr organ
Indira Grier cello


Francis Grier may be considered fortunate in that this is the second very fine recording of his works for organ to appear, with only one instance of duplication. This is the short Chorale Prelude on Wir haben schwerlich. The earlier release by Tom Winpenny at St Alban’s Abbey also included the Te Deum with the lay clerks, Deo Gracias and the Organ Sonata (Willowhayne Records WHR051 CD).

Stephen Farr is a most committed advocate for this music, apparently making light of the formidable technical difficulties. Perhaps because Grier is also a virtuoso keyboard player, he feels no necessity to make any concessions to human frailty.

In addition to the chorale prelude mentioned above, which was Grier’s contribution to the Orgelbüchlein Project, this endeavoured to ‘complete’ Bach’s unfinished collection of chorale preludes by providing contemporary settings of those chorales Bach did not set.

The main work is also the most recent, A Celebration of All Saints (2022), commissioned by Stephen Farr. In six movements, and lasting over 35 minutes, this is music of real substance on a large scale. The idiom is contemporary, but approachable and with an immediacy which is surprising in music so recent. Often it is only after repeated listening does the music begin to yield its secrets (and this not a characteristic confined to contemporary music).

Grier is a distinguished chamber musician and the inclusion of De Profundis for cello, here played by his daughter Indira, and organ, a combination he has used in other works, would appear to reflect this. Written for Martin and Alice Neary in 1996, it draws inspiration from Psalm 130, ‘Out of the depths I have called to Thee, O Lord’. The structure would seem to be arch-like, with a central climax reached after a slow increase in volume and intensity, subsiding into an epilogue for the cello based on earlier material, accompanied by the organ.

This is a most enjoyable disc. The music is played with real authority, and it says a great deal for the Dobson organ in Merton College Chapel that is encompasses all the varied tonal demands that music requires. At no time does one wish for the greater resources of the organ in St Alban’s Abbey, which Tom Winpenny had at his disposal.

It must also be said that Stephen Farr provides a vast range in colour from an organ of some 44 stops. The other shorter works such as the Flourish and Reverie (1990) and Meditation (2012) provide an excellent contrast to the intensity of the music elsewhere. The recorded sound is excellent, both immediate and with sufficient space to encompass the wide dynamic contrasts. 

Review by Martyn Strachan