Percy Whitlock: Organ Sonata is a new recording of Organ Works composed by Lynnwood Farnam, Percy Whitlock, Fela Sowande, and Percy Grainger. They are performed by organist Darius Battiwalla on the JJ Binns Organ at Rochdale Town Hall from 1913, rebuilt by J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd. in 1979. The album is from Base2 Music, a music label specializing in fine recordings of Organ Music.
This new release was recorded in 384kHz PCM using Sennheiser MKH8020 Omni Microphones, a Yamaha 12 Channel Analog to Digital Converter and a monitoring and mixing system featuring Vivid Audio Giya G1 and B1 Oval loudspeakers with a custom Vivid subwoofer system.
Album Producer and Recording Engineer Jake Purches from Base2 Music says “The album is superb. It is a wonderful 40-minute musical odyssey. The Fela Sowande Kyrie is fantastic. I used a pentangle layout for capturing 5.1 Surround and Stereo sound. Three omnidirectional microphones are at the front capturing the organ on a large high reach mast with the two rear Omni microphones about 16 meters behind the main mast capturing the acoustics of the hall. The Yamaha 12 channel analogue to digital converter was running at 384 kHz 24-bit PCM.”
Darius Battiwalla – Organ
Total time: 01:05:54
|Analog to Digital Converter|
Yamaha 12 Channel Analog to Digital Converter running at 384 kHz PCM
Sennheiser MKH8020 Omni Microphones
|Mix & Monitor Loudspeakers|
Vivid Audio Giya G1 and B1 Oval loudspeakers with custom Vivid subwoofer system
The Organ of Rochdale Town Hall, J. J. Binns, 1913. Rebuilt by J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd. in 1979.
|Original Recording Format|
I used a pentangle layout for capturing 5.1 Surround and Stereo sound. Three omnidirectional microphones are at the front capturing the organ on a large high reach mast with the two rear Omni microphones about 16 meters behind the main mast capturing the acoustics of the hall. The Yamaha 12 channel analogue to digital converter was running at 384 kHz 24-bit PCM.
Rochdale Town Hall in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, England on September 3-4, 2020
|Release Date||May 13, 2021|
I must admit I wasn’t familiar with Whitlock’s Organ Sonata. The headline act in this recital by Darius Battiwalla on the 1913 JJ Binns organ in Rochdale Town Hall. It was no surprise to discover that the label on which it’s released specializes in organ recordings. So well has engineer Jake Purches captured the essence of a large, impressive instrument in a generous space.
The air, ambience and resonance are so palpable even in stereo that one could hardly hanker for the optional surround sound version also available. For the audiophile trainspotters, Purches explains that he used ‘a pentangle layout for capturing 5.1 surround and stereo sound. Three omnidirectional microphones are at the front capturing the organ on a large high reach mast with the two rear omnimicrophones about 16 meters behind the main mast capturing the acoustics.’ From the microphones, the sound was processed by a 12-channel Yamaha ADC, and captured in 384kHz/24bit PCM, and very glorious it sounds, too.
But it’s not just on a technical level that this set delivers the goods; right from the opening ‘Toccata’ by Lynnwood Farnam, who wrote this less than two-minute piece as a rapid test for getting the measure when trying out new instruments on tour, this recording is a tour de force from the organist. It’s full of discoveries, both musical and audio, not least the absolute presence and majesty of the instrument. And the booklet, both detailed and beautifully illustrated, is as appealing to this occasional organ listener as I am sure it will be to true enthusiasts.
In the Handbuch Orgelmusik – Komponisten, Werke, Interpretation (Bärenreiter-Metzler, 2002), one can read the following about the large organ sonata in C Minor from 1936 by Percy Whitlock (1903-1946), which lasts about 45 minutes: “The sonata is by far Whitlock’s most ambitious organ work. It is dedicated to the crime writer Dorothy L. Sayers and her heroine Harriet Vane (…). The Greek cryptogram that precedes the Sonata (…) means: ‘On hearing the second Rachmaninoff in spring’. Thus, with Delius (implicitly: the cryptogram alludes to Delius’ title ‘On hearing the first cuckoo in spring’) and Rachmaninoff (explicitly), two composers are named as ‘godfathers’ of the Sonata – indeed, some passages are reminiscent of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony, by which Whitlock had shown himself impressed shortly before.”
Whitlock’s Sonata comprises four movements, with the last, entitled Choral, taking up the most space at 20 minutes. It has often been assumed that the composer planned this as an independent fantasy chorale. The Handbuch Orgelmusik (Handbook of Organ Music) comes to the following conclusion, which must be vehemently contradicted – this should be said in advance of the citation: « As imaginatively as the final movement is designed, its length and the independence of the material from what precedes it explode the framework of this sonata, which it cannot connect to form a cycle ». The only correct thing about this judgement is that the movement is imaginative. All other assertions prove to be false, especially – and this brings us to the present album – when one hears the highly transparent, chamber music-intimate and dramaturgically as cleverly as correctly disposed reading that organist Darius Battiwalla gives to this gentle giant of English organ literature. The fine acoustics of Rochdale Town Hall (Greater Manchester, England) and the slender, yet voluminous and very warm sound play into his hands.
The way Battiwalla places and stages the sonata, naturally the main work of the album, in the ‘concert’ of the other works is also strong: The Toccata on On filii et filia by Lynnwood Farnam (1885-1930) is heard as an overture, as it were, and after the Whitlock Sonata, which Battiwalla never presents in a long but literally entertaining manner, there is still enough room for the contrapuntally dense Kyrie by the Nigerian composer, organist and music teacher Fela Sowande (1905-1987). With the composition Blithe Bells by Percy Grainger (1882-1961), based on Johann Sebastian Bach, this outstanding organ album ends in the most beautiful way.
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