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Writing in his introduction to the late Kenneth Johnstone’s 1977 monograph on the Armley organ, Ralph Downes noted the negative effects on the speech of Edmund Schulze’s 1869 pipework caused by the pneumaticising of the key action by Binns in 1905, and promoted the notion of restoring the original tracker and Barker action at a future restoration. A subsequent and thorough restoration of the organ in 2004 failed to address this critical aspect of the organ’s DNA, and a visit to play it is something of a bittersweet experience: an extraordinary organ in a special space, but played via a mechanism which leaves the musician so obviously one step removed from the ‘Urtext’. The complex initial speech characteristics of the ‘Cello und Violine’ on the Choir division speak volumes, and the heart misses a beat when viewing the fragments of the original, monumental console in its peculiar mausoleum downstairs. This disc illustrates well the (subconscious?) influence on a fine player such incongruities can cause. The opening of Brahms’s G minor Prelude is played so fast that it would have been entirely impossible on the original instrument. In his programme note, Tom Bell suggests an orchestral approach to the Schoenberg Variations is appropriate. He’s right, but such an approach is only possible at Armley because of the electric combination action with sequencer. This organ is not orchestral, at least not in the sense Bell implies. Bell’s playing, nevertheless, is excellent and he finds precisely the objectivity in the Brahms op.122 chorale preludes that eludes Loreto Aramendi (see above). His attention to Brahms’s detailed phrasing is also admirable, although the use of the upperwork in the forte passages of the chorale preludes perhaps works against an organic relationship between the implied terraced dynamics.

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Choir & Organ, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing