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Organ labels have been curiously reticent about releasing recitals on Blu-ray, the hi-audio, high definition-picture format now securely established as the first choice for opera releases on video. Pro Organo announced a Blu-ray audio release featuring an Anglo-American recital by Bruce Neswick on the Aeolian-Skinner/Quimby organ of New York’s Cathedral of St John the Divine, but it has yet to be released. Although Naxos issues Blu-ray audio discs, other labels are conspicuous by their refusal to commit to the video format. Which makes Priory Records’ decision to begin releasing Blu-ray DVDs both pioneering and praiseworthy.

Three Blu-ray DVD titles have been announced, with the first two – recitals from Norwich Cathedral and Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral by David Dunnett and Richard Lea respectively – now available. While both include a conventional DVD disc and an audio CD, it’s the Blu-ray component that sets these issues apart in programmes that are as much a feast for the eye as for the ear. Apparent on both from the very first frames is the fabulously enhanced quality of images that boast a clarity and immediacy that DVD simply can’t compete with. Indeed, the high-resolution images call to mind Mercury’s claim for their agenda-setting 1950s Living Presence LP series: ‘You are there!’

Both discs feature performances in stereo and richer, more detailed and wholly involving 5.1 Surround. Add in the crystal-clear, diamond-sharp images and the result is an audio-visual treat. Informative additional features include an ‘organ tour’ – Lea’s a revealing 40-minute illustration of the impressive dexterity of Liverpool’s 1967 J.W. Walker & Sons instrument, Dunnett’s a 25-minute history lesson in the traumatic history of Norwich’s many organs over the past 350 years – and both soloists narrating a featured work in a split-screen format that allows you to simultaneously see the hands-and-feet coordination of the performances. Musically, both recitals are despatched with impeccable eloquence. Lea’s wide-ranging programme is suitably laced with Liverpudlian associations – works by Paul McCartney, Beatles producer George Martin and Stephen Adam’s A Holy City sitting comfortably alongside music by Purcell, Ronald Mason, Jon Kristian Fjellestad and Liszt’s mighty Fantasia & Fugue on ‘Ad Nos ad Salutarem Undam’. If Dunnett’s choices are more conventional – Iain Farrington’s fizzy, virtuosic 1977 miniature Live Wire the exception to a programme largely dominated by Bach and seminal English names from the 19th and last centuries – it’s not any the less enjoyable for that.

So, vivid first forays into previously unchartered territory, the results of which glowingly vindicate what is to be hoped is more than a one-off experiment.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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