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The centrality of Ludlow’s St Laurence Church to England’s realpolitik has conspicuously dimin- ished since its leading role during the later years of the Wars of the Roses and throughout the Tudor and early Stuart periods. But it retains an abiding allure through its associations with the poet A.E. Housman (whose ashes are interred there) and to a long history dominated by its organ.

Elements of the current instrument date back to a three-manual 1764 Snetzler whose 250th anniversary prompts this rich and relishable recital by the ever-reliable Thomas Trotter. Added to by Joseph Walker and Gray & Davidson, and subsequently rebuilt in 1911 by John Hill and in 1981 by Nicholson of Malvern (who also refurbished it in 2007), the organ is certainly resourceful and characterful enough to make light and lyrical work of a wide-ranging, centuries-spanning programme.

Getting things off to a splendid start is Trotter’s own adroit arrangement of Handel’s early B flat major Concerto op.4 no.2, a vivacious theatrical diversion dispatched with nimble lightness of touch. The anonymous 16th-century dance Brande champanje makes delightful use of the organ’s Swell vox humana and solo orchestral oboe, with William Boyce’s Trumpet Voluntary in D showcasing the open and stopped diapason of the Swell and trumpet stop on two manuals to highly pleasing effect.

Heard first on the church’s carillon and delightfully mimicked (accompanied by rippling semiquavers) by the organ, the tolling variations of Wesley’s Holsworthy Church Bells are eloquently dashed off by Trotter. The orchestral inclinations and constantly varied dynamics and contrasted tonal range of Elgar’s challenging Sonata in G are negotiated with equally compelling aplomb. Walton’s Crown Imperial (in Herbert Murrill’s arrangement) is no less imposing, its big central tune sung and savoured by both soloist and instrument.

A word, too, for Michael Nyman’s deliciously quixotic Fourths, Mostly, a dexterous, demanding work with virtuosic pedal work superbly captured by director Gary Cole, whose framing of Trotter’s hands and feet throughout the recital is exemplary. There’s much to enjoy elsewhere in judiciously chosen shots of the church’s interior and exterior.

Adding valuable context and insight are excellent booklet notes on the music, organ and A.E. Housman’s connections to Elgar and with Ludlow, as well as filmed introductions by Trotter (discussing the featured music) and Shaun Ward, the church’s director of music, who provides a fascinating but all too brief ‘tour’ of the organ itself.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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