Thomas Corns organ


This is a most engaging recording, pairing organ music by two composers who, at least superficially, might not appear to have very much in common, other than the fact that their output for the organ in both cases represents only a fragment of their activities.

In his excellent programme notes, the late Francis O’Gorman points out that both Dove and Weir have a similar approach to the instrument – namely its suitability for the dramatic and the pictorial. In this instance, the common elements seem to be water and trees with even Jonathan Dove’s contribution being pressed into service given that it is a setting of Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, where Bach’s version includes writing for the left hand which would seem to evoke the motion of the river. 

The other common element in both composers’ music for the instrument is that the players need to be of virtuoso calibre. This repertoire requires complete mastery of both the instrument and the composers’ idioms. O’Gorman sees the connection with the music of the 19th century, which often embraced the pictorial; Berlioz and Liszt spring most readily to mind, and for the organ, Mulet’s Tu es Petra and Messiaen’s Apparition de’Eglise éternelle. This leads to an identification of additional common ground which is theological.

Weir’s St Alban, her competition piece for the 2023 St Alban International Organ Festival, illustrates the story of the saint who wrapped himself in the cloak of a priest who was attempting to escape persecution. St Alban, wearing his garment, was slain in his stead. The composer uses a plainsong theme to ‘cloak’ her composition; the texture thickens, mirroring how the saint’s disguise becomes more important to the unfolding drama. It is interesting to compare this with Dove’s approach to the chorale mentioned above.

Thomas Corns demonstrates a sure grasp of the formidable technical demands that this repertoire makes. The Marcussen organ of Tonbridge School chapel (1995) is clear and characterful, and the player’s command of colour is noteworthy. As with many recordings of contemporary music, these pieces reveal themselves most fully when experienced singly, although as a complete ‘programme’ there is sufficient variety of timbre and texture to keep the listener engaged, and the recorded sound is full without stridency. This is most definitely a recording to which I will want to return.

Review by Martyn Strachan