International Record Review

This is a rather good CD. Surprisingly so, because it is not every day that one listens to a whole recital disc devoted to a “humble” village church organ, and – to be utterly frank – the thought of listening to the music of Bach, Froberger, Fischer and Sweelinck on such an instrument filled me with some trepidation. Indeed, Dubois and Franck seemed a rather too hopeful choice of repertoire. But the surprise was the more pleasant because the Walker organ at St. Mungo’s, Simonburn, Northumberland has some exquisitely charming sounds and the playing on this disc is at all times skilful and accurate.

The church in Simonburn is a modestly sized building and as a result the recording lacks the benefit of any appreciable acoustic. In fact it would be no exaggeration to say that there is none, at least to judge from the leaden silence after each final chord. That Henry Wallace makes his performances come alive at all in such an environment is some achievement. Unexpectedly, the Bach choral preludes work well; they are sensitively played, and the registration of each is chosen with care. Most characterful is the delightful solo reed – presumably the swell horn – used in Wachet auf. Another strikingly enchanting registration is the flutes which Wallace uses in the Sweelinck. Of the Baroque pieces, the Bach C minor Prelude is the least convincing. Although Wallace takes it no slower than many performers, the complete lack of grandeur in the sound makes the music seem rather ponderous, despite the technical fluency of the performance,

As for the Romantic pieces, both the Mendelssohn and Rheinberger succeed within their own terms. Perhaps more interestingly, so do the works by Franck and Dubois. Even with the limited resources at his disposal, Wallace manages to give the impression of a well-contrived crescendo; somehow, one does not miss the tonal palette of a larger instrument. The Dubois Toccata trundles along merrily, due not in part to Wallace’s rhythmic poise. Nevertheless, here one senses the limitations of the instrument: the clatter from the action and the relatively indistinct articulation in the semiquaver writing suggests music that is beyond the cope of this venerable but ultimately limited instrument.

Listening to this recital is an enjoyable experience and one can readily appreciate the enthusiasm of those who were involved in this recording. And, in the final analysis, it is undoubtedly one of the more “easy-listening” organ CDs that I have come across for a while.

—Warwick Cole