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Outside London, few British cities can boast the centuries-spanning volume and variety of organs that Nottingham can lay claim to. Having spent a significant part of his career playing and replenishing the city’s organ stock, David Butterworth is well placed to act as tour guide and put five very different instruments through their paces.

Perhaps ‘tour guide’ is over-stating what Butterworth actually does in a package that includes a 101-minute DVD and a CD with more than an hour’s worth of music. The emphasis on both is strictly on performance, and almost exclusively on the soloist rather than the instruments, with producer Will Fraser concentrating on virtually fixed, medium-close-up shots of Butterworth’s hands and feet in action throughout 84 minutes. Disappointingly, images of setting and architectural context are all but absent in this 21-piece recital, robbing the viewer of any sense of detail or scale for both organs and locations.

Such material is left to an introductory, 16-minute film in which Butterworth discusses the three major instruments under consideration, each of which, he argues, demonstrate the pinnacle of modernism in their own age: a 1967 Marcussen in St Mary’s Parish Church; a ‘solid, heavy and built to last’ 4-manual 1909 organ by J.J. ‘Battleship’ Binns in the Albert Hall; and a late 17th-century machine attributed to Gerald Smith in Wollaton Hall. (Bonus DVD tracks also feature a 1950s Beckerath organ in the German Lutheran Church, and a 1975 Grant, Degens & Bradbeer in Hallam Court.)

Musical choices range from Gibbons and Tomkins to premieres on disc by Jesper Madsen and Lasse Toft Eriksen via Bach, Bruhns, Parry and others. For some, the visual concentration on Butterworth’s hands and feet may well prove the central attraction; others may be left feeling somewhat confined and curiously voyeuristic.

Butterworth’s own booklet notes are vastly more informative than the DVD they accompany.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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