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Stephen Cleobury’s prowess as an organist was apparent not only to those who attended St John’s College Chapel in Cambridge during his tenure as organ scholar (1967-70), but to a wider public who got to know the name when he accompanied the peerless 1973 Decca recording of Duruflé’s Requiem conducted by George Guest, to which he also contributed a Prelude and Fugue on the name of Alain rarely if ever surpassed in style and eloquence. Following his move to King’s College as director of music in 1982, his solo recordings have documented an instrument which, though by no means perfect in specification, is as much part of the legendary King’s sound as the Chapel Choir itself. Fortunately for those who love the instrument, such changes as have been made since the major Harrison & Harrison work of 1934 have been pragmatic and conservative in the best sense.

The present recording (made in 2013) is the first to capture the instrument in surround-sound, and also the last to be issued prior to Harrisons’ 2015-16 complete rebuild of the organ, which will provide new soundboards and layout but which will confine tonal revisions to the Pedal Fifteenth and Mixture IV, with the addition of a new Pedal Principal 8. It’s fitting, therefore, not to say typical, that Cleobury should ‘sign off’ the old instrument with two of the most tonally wide-ranging and technically demanding pieces in the repertoire – Liszt’s ‘Ad nos’ Fantasia & Fugue, and Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm – and the Sonata no.6 in D minor by Mendelssohn, whom Conor Farrington in his extensive liner notes credits with revitalising the ‘then-moribund European organ tradition and spurring English organ builders to new heights’.

Notwithstanding the brilliance of execution and the well-rehearsed and insightful registration planning of the big outer works, in many ways it’s Cleobury’s Mendelssohn – the filling in the cake – which shows offthe rich, deep-mahogany colours of this most noble of English organs to best advantage. Fans of the organ and its devoted custodian will not want to be without this splendid recording.

GRAEME KAY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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