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Hot off the press following recording dates in January this year comes this impressive introduction to Merton College, Oxford’s new Dobson Organ [see gallery, March/April issue], courtesy of resident music director and organist Benjamin Nicholas and the ever-enterprising Delphian.

Commissioned from the Lake City, Iowa-based Dobson Pipe Organ Builders to celebrate Merton’s 750th anniversary this year (an event to be marked by a five-concert festival between april and november), the iii/43 instrument – Dobson’s 91st and only the third American-built organ to be sent to the UK in the last seven decades – has already been heard on a Radio 3 broadcast of Evensong late last year, but this recital marks its debut on disc.

In a note, Dobson’s vice president and tonal director John Panning says the instrument’s tonal design ‘combines a classical framework with a 19th-century love of colour and dynamic variety.’ happily, Benjamin Nicholas provides ample evidence of how successful that blend has been in lithe, supple and pleasingly nuanced performances of a varied programme.

A brace of Bach arrangements – Dupré’s of the Sinfonia from Wir danken dir, Gott (BWV 29) and Duruflé’s of ‘Ertodt durch dein’ güte’ from BWV 22 – glow with colours of stained glass splendour, while the gothic riches of the D minor Toccata & Fugue (BWV 565) are voiced with suitably sonorous solemnity. as is Dupré’s Cortège et Litanie, with the Dobson’s lustrous Corno di Bassetto ringing out with a crystalline beauty in a hypnotic counter-melody interlude amid its mantra-like reiterations.

Just as boldly realised is Franck’s Pièce héroïque, which finds a pleasing chocolatey-richness in the Dobson pipes, and the crisp, French baroque clarity of Messiaen’s ‘Prière après la Communion’ from Livre du Saint Sacrement. Langlais’s Dialogue sur les mixtures makes much of the higher harmonics and tonal brilliance afforded by Merton’s three composite stops.

Vierne’s Claire de lune, foregrounding a lucidly beautiful harmonic Flute stop, and Carillon de Westminster – nimbly stepping through stoplist registers towards a remarkable climax topped by an exquisite Zimbelstern – complete an entertaining recital on a splendid new organ.

Delphian’s characteristically clear, focused and framed recording and the finely delineated playing of Benjamin Nicholas offer their own recommendations.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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