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That Stephen Farr should expend such energy in producing this handsome new recording of Kenneth Leighton’s organ works reflects the entirely happy revival of interest by the UK’s best players in our native music. It’s now more than a quarter of a century since Dennis Townhill’s Priory recording of these works; Farr’s approach is altogether more muscular and dynamic. I was especially impressed by his empathy with Leighton’s gradual turning of the dramatic screw while unfolding his larger canvasses (the Fantasy from Et Resurrexit, the Passacaglia) and his performance of the Dublin Festival Mass suggests the composer’s organ magnum opus is significantly more important than has, until now, been perceived. The choice of organs implies a clear association in Farr’s mind between Leighton’s music and the modernist central European organ building of his era. The visceral and O So Loud Rieger in Edinburgh (1992) as well as the Klais in Birmingham (2001) date from after the composer’s passing but, if we’re honest, were already looking backward to the artistic values of his generation at the time of their construction. Leighton had the late English romantic organ sound in his ear throughout his life, whether in Wakefield as a child or later in Edinburgh, and the indications for large solo reeds (implied, for example by the marking ‘IV’ in the midst of the Passacaglia) were probably intended to suggest something quite different than Klais’s perky chamades. To turn this train of thought on its head, however, Leighton’s gritty ostinati and implied bitonality provide exactly the kind of uncompromising music which makes these organs come into their own; the marriage is apt. In Martyrs, Farr is joined by John Butt in an electrifying, heroic performance of almost primeval energy. There are excellent contributions too from the terrific Scottish tenor Nicky Spence in These are Thy Wonders, while violinist Chloë Hanslip convincingly finds the spirit of the cragged Fantasy on ‘Es ist genug’. The inclusion of the composer’s Improvisations on ‘De Profundis’ for harpsichord may help fill a third disc, but Leighton’s tortuous rhetoric is a poor match for the subtleties of the instrument.

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica

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