Alexander Ffinch: Transformations

review ffinch x1 cong

This CD sees Ffinch play Cheltenham College Chapel’s organ; he is college organist so he knows it well.

The opener is Joseph Jongen’s Sonata Eroica. This was commissioned by Belgium Radio in 1930 for the inaugural concert at the art-deco concert hall and arts centre at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.

We like Belgium, the home of Rene Magritte, Mr Sax and Tintin’s Georges Remi; they always seem a bit mad. This piece opens formally and imposingly but two and a half minutes in, pedals back — the sleeve notes say it is a set of symphonic variations based on an Ardennes folksong, so the opening loudness was perhaps meant to shake up that opening night’s audience after their glasses of Mandarine Napoleon.

You’d be struggling to say “Ardennes folksong” but it’s not formal organ music either. There’s something pleasingly ethereal about it, the music for fairies scampering about in a wood in a children’s ballet, particularly around the eight minute mark, after which it gets more dramatic. Say the sleeve notes: “One of the great masterpieces of late-romantic organ literature.”

Jonathan Dove’s The Dancing Pipes is next. This was commissioned by St Lawrence’s Church in Ludlow, and dedicated to organist Thomas Trotter. It was written to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the church’s Snetzler organ.

We imagine Mr T is a popular man and a lively character as “dancing” is the key word in the title, and the piece sparkles. The sleeve notes say the work was inspired by “a little dancing figure” that occurred to Dove as he tried to compose a more hefty work, and instead went with his muse. Dove is known for his work with children and community choirs, which means this is an accessible piece.

Franz Liszt’s “monumental” organ Fantasia and Fugue on the chorale follow, and at 32 minutes is just over half the playing time. This was part of Lizst’s “revolutionary milestones in the history of music, revealing new horizons of form, technique and imagination,” say the sleeve notes. It is orchestral and theatrical in sound, and played tightly. Rather like the Dove it is accessible with little of the formal and off-putting sound an organ can have. The sound is constantly changing.

The sleeve notes include extensive organ specs at the back for organ buffs.

Out now on Divine Art, DDA 25193.

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