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:Towards a Modernist Organ

Towards a Modernist Organ - Reviews

Organists' Review, April 2012

Nottingham boasts a fine collection of organs of richly diverse character. The title 'modernist' reflects the understanding that each instrument, in its time, was the last word in modernism. This dvd and cd showcase five of the city's best instruments. David Butterworth performs a compelling programme of fine music expertly chosen to demonstrate the individual character of each.

Music by Gibbons, Tomkins and Stanley displays the delicacy (rather distantly recorded?) of the historic instrument in Wollaton Hall by Gerard Smith (?) of c1690, rebuilt by John Casterton (?) in 1799. Major works by Parry, Ireland and Hakim suit the magnificent , firm-toned, J J Binns of 1909 in the Albert Hall. Pieces by Bach, Buxtehude and Walther show off one of Rudolph von Beckerath's earliest instruments of c1950 now in the German Lutheran Church, and a 'model' organ of 1975 by Grant, Degens and Bradbeer currently in a private residence. Modern Danish repertoire by Madsen, Eriksen and Hartmann works perfectly idiomatically on the splendid, silvery neo-classical Marcussen (sounding surprisingly English - no doubt that renders it more versatile for Anglican liturgical use) of 1973 in St Mary's Parish Church.

Butterworth plays fluently and intelligently, although there is some unfashionable slurring across the beat in Baroque pieces which tends to detract from clarity. However, a steady, natural, lively, musicianship is most reassuring, revealing composers' styles well.

The accompanying booklet is full of historical information, exploration of the different styles of organ-building, and full-colour photographs. The cd sounds very well. In my view the dvd adds very little to this: visually it lacks variety and interest. There are no aerial shots, and only minimal views of each venue. The dvd is in full 5.1 surround sound and includes, in addition to the filmed performances, a highly informative 15-minute documentary in which Butterworth, who was personally involved in the building or refurbishment of all the instruments, presents a history of the five organs articulately and with an obvious lifetime's understanding. Thus the dvd is redeemed.


Nottingham Post , January 13th, 2012

When David Butterworth became organist of St Mary's Church in the Lace Market in 1967, the organ was in need of major repairs or a replacement. With the support of the parochial church council, he went for the latter option. By the early 1970s St Mary's had a brand-new instrument designed by Butterworth, and built by the Danish firm of Marcussen. Controversial at the time, the organ proved surprisingly versatile when it was put through its paces by celebrity recitalists like Gillian Weir, Lionel Rogg and Daniel Chorzempa.

The neo-classical Marcussen is the most recent of three Nottingham instruments showcased in David Butterworth's DVD, Towards A Modernist Organ. It provides an engaging vehicle for JS Bach's timeless Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, a sonata movement by a Danish Romantic composer and three chorale preludes by Jesper Madsen, a 20th-century Dane.

The other main city organs seen and heard in the DVD are in striking contrast. Still relying on a manually operated bellows, the instrument in the gallery of the Great Hall at Wollaton Hall has been there for over three centuries. Butterworth uses it to perform early English repertoire, including John Stanley's Voluntary in G. He has also had an important say in the restoration of the Nottingham Albert Hall organ – the largest and loudest in the area. This typical town-hall instrument is featured in Naji Hakim's Fanfare, dedicated to Butterworth, and in music by John Ireland and Hubert Parry.

Among seven bonus tracks, two are recordings of a small modern Beckerath organ in Nottingham's German Lutheran Church. The instrument was brought from Hamburg in a dormobile, with the rear doors half open and tied together with rope. Butterworth also plays baroque pieces on a pioneering British organ installed at his home in Halam, near Southwell.

To supplement accomplished performances, he narrates the history of each organ in a 15-minute documentary film. A separate CD with more than an hour's music and a detailed booklet complete an outstanding package.


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