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Anthony Hammond, organist of Cirencester Parish Church and author of the excellent recent biography of Pierre Cochereau, sets himself an onerous task by juxtaposing his own improvisations with two staples of the French romantic repertoire: Franck’s Trois Chorals and Widor’s Fifth Symphony. Interestingly, although the larger of his improvisations explicitly pay tribute, in terms of genre, to Franck and Widor, the musical language never ventures far from Anglicana and the tension isn’t sustained for long enough to prevent them from becoming a little predictable after an hour’s listening. The dramatic and mystical Francis Bacon-inspired studies fare much better in this regard. All that said, the second disc serves as an excellent demonstration of the Coventry organ, recorded here magnificently, as is often the case on Raven’s CDs. I’m not enamoured with the instrument as a vehicle for Franck and Widor, missing the treble ascendency and integration of reed and fluework which characterises the Cavaillé-Coll style. Beyond Hammond’s mannered addition of beats between phrases in the exposition of the First Choral, the Franck interpretations are strongly conceived but the Widor Toccata, like so many other interpretations, abandons the meticulous left hand accents early on. Though everything here is well done, for me it would not be a ‘go-to’ release in the face of so much competition.

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica

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