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Like many, I suspect, my knowledge of Giles Swayne’s organ output was limited to the well-known Riff-Raff. Writing more than 20 years later, this set of Stations of the Cross, inspired by Eric Gill’s reliefs at Westminster Cathedral, has little in common with that earlier work, save perhaps a brief ostinato in the movement depicting ‘The Women of Jerusalem’. In its visceral rawness, Swayne is (too?) keen to impress on his listener his own atheistic position and to stress the purely human narrative. In terms of evocative gesture and the way in which Swayne devises his own modes, the music of his teacher Messiaen, stripped of its deeply imbued Catholic mystery, hovers in the background. But drama and violent contrast aside, this music leaves quite a different impression. It seems to me at its best when at its most organ- centric; the trio in ‘Simon of Cyrene’, and the concluding Prelude & Fugue (‘Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb’). As one would expect, Simon Niemiński plays this hugely difficult score brilliantly. The organ at Edinburgh’s RC Cathedral – here portrayed as a new instrument, ignoring the large quantities of recycled pipework from Wilkinson’s 1882 magnum opus at Preston Public Hall – is often harsh, unattractive and brutal in its modest space. In a sense, then, not entirely inappropriate to this challenging score: the listener isn’t meant to get comfortable.

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica


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