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This timely publication, coming ten years after the death of Felix Aprahamian, is likely to be the closest thing to the autobiography that he never wrote, despite many attempts by friends to persuade him. Felix – as he was ever known – was deputy music critic at The Sunday Times (1948- 89), as well as a war-time concert manager for the London Philharmonic Orchestra; yet he was also so much more.

The book is divided into four sections: an Introduction by Lewis Foreman, providing an essential and knowing biography; the Musical Diaries (1933-35 and later); Articles and Reminiscences about Friends and Contemporaries; and Remembering the Great Organists. There are 44 plates, 29 illustrations and some musical examples.

There is much material specific to choral and organ music, Felix being a life-long organ enthusiast, as well as a competent player in his youth. He took lessons, at Park Chapel in Crouch End, with the organist and composer Eric Thiman, ‘Dr T’, for whom his respect is clear. In April 1933, he hears Virgil Fox at Kingsway Hall, technique and musicianship ‘in very high order’. Also recounted is practice for a recital at St Mary Abbots, Kensington; finding no Nazard available, Fox and a friend shift a rank of pipes up the soundboard to produce the required pitch – causing consternation to the incumbent organist and a bill for £120 to rectify things.

With his friend Ernest Chapman (assistant to publisher Ralph Hawkes), a ‘great adventure’ was undertaken in 1933. A tour of Parisian churches (unfortunately made in August when many a titulaire was en vacance) still fascinates – he got to stand at Widor’s elbow as he played. Following is a vivid account of seeing his life-long idol Frederick Delius, now an invalid, in his home at Grez-sur-Loing. The composer died the following summer.

Notes from the 1934 recital by Alcock, Thalben-Ball and Cunningham on the newly rebuilt Royal Albert Hall organ allude to a 15-minute cipher, widely reported. ‘Sheer bad luck on Harrison! It was painful to see [Willis] giggling in a box, and “Batty” Verne, Aubrey Allen and Bonavia-Hunt splitting their sides in the arena. Distinctly bad taste to vent such professional jealousy in public!’

The articles and reminiscences encompass writings for journals (including C&O), newspapers, broadcast and lecture scripts, plus unpublished writing. Concise, personal and wide-ranging, perhaps the most valuable insights concern the French composers he promoted at United Music Publishers.

Remembering the Great Organists collates content from audio-cassettes of a USA lecture tour in the spring of 1988. Marchal (whose chamber organ Felix inherited), Bonnet, Tournemire, Dupré, Thalben-Ball, Nadia Boulanger, Lynwood Farnham and Jeanne Demessieux form a roll-call of acquaintances and firm friends who enriched Felix’s life and fill these pages.

I was fortunate to know Felix in the late 1990s and to visit him often in Muswell Hill. Sitting in his library (with sherry and biscuits) I heard first-hand stories told here, and many others. One such featured Francis Poulenc, who attended a post-war performance of Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis. ‘Halfway through … a folded scrap of paper was passed to me down a row of stalls. It read in a familiar hand: “Dieu sauvez-nous des fugues. Amen! Fr. Poulenc.”’ Imagine my surprise when Felix reached into a desk drawer and handed me the envelope with Poulenc’s writing on it! Like all the music and friends that he collected, although its contents were lucidly remembered, this is a book he would have loved to own.

MATTHEW POWER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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