Whitlock: Organ Sonata in C Minor / Morris

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Greg Morris is Associate Organist of the Temple Church as well as conductor of the Collegium Musicum of London. In his former position as Assistant Director of Music at Blackburn he made well-received recordings for Lammas and Naxos (the organ music of Kenneth Leighton). His stated favourites include twentieth-century French and English organ music and we have both on this disc, the first recorded since the recent re-ordering of the Temple Church’s Harrison and Harrison instrument. Two of the pieces are litanies and two are chorals.

Dupré’s Cortège et Litanie was originally incidental music and then rearranged for several different media. Morris plays effectively, especially in the Litanie, one of the composer’s most dramatic creations. His performance is well-paced and brings out the contrast between the two main themes. In Alain’s Litanies Morris is on less firm ground - there is not as much contrast between themes as there is in the Dupré and not as much intensity overall. In Franck’s famous Chorale Morris’s conception is well thought out with especially fine playing in the middle section. This is accomplished without descending into the sentimentality that frequently hinders performances of this music. These qualities are also present in the reprise leading to the finale.

In his programme notes Morris tell us that he was anxious to record the Whitlock Organ Sonata for this first recording on the refurbished Temple Church organ, given the emotional contrasts of the piece and full exploitation of the capabilities of the English organ. With these factors and the music’s commanding range of thematic integration it seems more of an organ symphony than many works that bear that title. It is also a work with many lyrical and gentle moments and Morris is very aware of these in his overall approach and in the detail but not at the expense of the overall flow. This is especially true in his treatment of the second subject of the first movement as well as in the coda where he provides an excellent summing-up of the whole movement.

A major pitfall of the second-movement Canzona is its similarity to certain sections of its predecessor. Unfortunately Morris does not escape this trap but eventually recovers in the sections evocative of Whitlock’s admired Delius. The Scherzetto which follows is the Sonata’s supreme example of the afore-mentioned thematic integration, here combined with winning examples of Whitlock’s best popular style. Morris handles this movement expertly but never loses sight of its place in the overall work.

Whitlock’s Choral is immediately notable for its size. However its true importance lies in manipulation of formal structure to support the continuing development of its thematic material and that of the previous movements. Again Morris plays with full cognizance of these factors and is especially notable in the final pages where he conveys the scope of the work without resort to bombast.

All involved in the refurbishment of the Temple Church organ are to be congratulated, although there is the interesting fact, at least on this disc, that the organ now sounds better suited to English music than to French. Also praiseworthy is the recording quality of this disc which is clear and bright. Most of those who purchase this recording will do so for the Whitlock sonata, of which there are several other versions available including that of Philip Rushworth which I reviewed in 2012 (review) and John Scott (review). There is also one by Colm Carey and Volume 3 of Graham Barber’s set of the complete organ music (review). While I am still enthusiastic about Philip Rushworth’s version I happily endorse Greg Morris’ with equal enthusiasm due to the quality of the recording and his overall conception of the sonata.

– MusicWeb International (William Kreindler)

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SIGCD379

  • UPC: 635212037928

  • Label: Signum Classics

  • Composer: César Franck, Jehan-Ariste Alain, Marcel Dupré, Percy Whitlock

  • Performer: Greg Morris