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The cavernous acoustics of St Paul’s Cathedral provide a perfect arena for Simon Johnson’s barnstorming performance of Peter Sykes’s transcription of Holst’s The Planets. The mighty, muscular V/108 Grand Organ (which boasts a 300-plus-year lineage) comes into its own in a reading full of vivid drama, nuanced atmospheres and a luminous poetry fully in keeping with the celestial subject. There’s beauty and brawn aplenty to be found here in Johnson’s now subtle, now stirring account of the set-piece movements, the addition of the ethereal-sounding St Paul’s choristers in ‘Neptune’ full of mellifluous mystery. Johnson’s own arrangement of the St Paul’s Suite offers a brisk, bright palette-cleanser set down with pleasing elegance.

Sharing the spotlight in Timothy Wakerell’s more than agreeable border-crossing, centuries-spanning recital is the 2012 William Drake organ in the Cathedral’s OBE Chapel. Wakerell plays an eclectic programme that spans the stately sobriety of [John] Bull’s Goodnight and Georg Böhm to the robust sincerity of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in F (BWV 540) and the dancing brio of C.P.E. Bach’s Sonata in F (Wq 70/3, 1184). Bringing things more up-to-date are Saint-Saëns’s delectable ‘Allegro giocoso’ from the Seven Improvisations and Niels Gade’s luxurious Mendelssohn-indebted Moderato in F.

Both discs benefit from Priory’s characteristically well-framed sound and informative booklet notes.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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