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Kevin Bowyer has long championed the organ works of former Mátyás Seiber pupil Alan Gibbs (b.1932), many of which were composed for him. This huge set of recordings covers fully 60 years of Gibbs’s prodigious output. Undoubtedly there is a lot of clever music here and some really lovely things too: the atmospheric Five Hymn Preludes of 1989 provide an obvious parallel with Kenneth Leighton’s hymn tune Fantasies, with some of the latter’s brooding, volcanic tension very much present. The curious Oxford May Music, mixing secular and profane melodies associated with May Day in Oxford, is original and fun. Kevin Bowyer’s playing is typically impeccable, not to say remarkable (some of this music is very virtuosic indeed); however, with so much of the music being polyphonic, pointing firmly at a mid-century modernist aesthetic, why record on an essentially late-romantic organ? I’m also not sure that all of this music deserved such lavish attention; I suspect many would struggle to warm to the collision of jazz and serialism in Jazzogram, for example. A single CD with extended programme notes (given the scale of the project and the complexity of so much of the music, these are inadequately brief) would have served Gibbs more graciously. And if one is going to record the bleak, if contrapuntally brilliant, ten-minute long 1955 composition exercise Introspection, it would be helpful for the two highly angular themes to be printed so that the listener has a visual point of orientation.

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica

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