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An organ has been heard in London’s Westminster Abbey since 1304 when two instruments were housed in the Lady Chapel. Today, the historic building, where British monarchs have been crowned since 1066, is home to a venerable Harrison & Harrison, installed for the coronation of George VI in 1937 and incorporating pipework from the earlier William Hill instrument built in 1848.

Much has changed in the intervening years, with new stops, a new unenclosed choir division, relocation of various elements, a fifth manual and new pipes installed, the most recent additions occurring in 2008. But, as this latest release in Priory’s estimable series of filmed portraits of great British organs demonstrates, the formidable V/84 machine is very much in a league of its own.

Certainly, Daniel Cook’s advocacy of what he succinctly describes as ‘a real glory’ is persuasively argued in his substantial bonus feature ‘tour’ of the organ, and eloquently illustrated by the adroitly wide-ranging programme he has chosen. His thorough traversal of the organ’s separate elements and analysis of particular stops, pipes and the spatial arrangement of its constituent parts – all with musical illustrations – is conducted with tremendous erudition. So, too, the performance of Howells’s Psalm Prelude Set 1 no.3, simultaneously seen from four split-screen perspectives, in which Cook explains the thinking behind his interpretation.

The musical offering – from the Rondo in former Abbey organist Purcell’s Abdelazar to the finale of Vierne’s Sixth Symphony via Widor, Prokofiev, Parry, Walton and others – is as much a thoughtful reflection on the spiritual and secular themes of royalty, power, war and death that are a constant of the Abbey’s as a showcase for the instrument itself.

The package includes three discs: Blu-ray, DVD and standard CD (albeit with a truncated programme). Louise Berridge’s informative booklet notes add greatly to the appreciation of the music and its relationship with the Abbey.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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