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Leighton: Organ Music,
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This review is from: Leighton: Missa De Gloria (Audio CD)
Kenneth Leighton (1929-88) was a significant twentieth century English composer who wrote in most genres (symphonies, concertos, chamber music, choral music and solo piano music) and held several university posts, most notably Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University. Yet his music was never dry and academic, but was imbued with a certain lyrical romanticism without, however, losing its technical precision. This Naxos recording presents us with three important works for organ. "Et Resurrexit" explores the struggle for belief in Christ's resurrection, and is a suitably restless, stormy piece in three parts: Theme, Fantasy and Fugue. The power of invention, based on a simple four-note motif announced at the outset, is impressive, and the music proceeds inexorably through a series of climaxes to a breath-taking conclusion.
The Hymn-Tune Fantasies, as the title suggests, comprise a series of improvisations on well-known hymn tunes - St. Columba, Veni Emmanuel, and Hanover (O Worship the King). As with the previous work, the tunes are subjected to a wide range of moods and musical ideas, although in each case the hymn tune is never far from the surface. The tendency in all these pieces is for an increase in dynamics and texture as the music moves to its climax, although Veni Emmanuel ends on a reflective note.
The most ambitious and longest work on the programme (at 40 minutes) is the Missa de Gloria, written for the Dublin International Organ Festival, and first performed there (in St. Patrick's Cathedral) in 1980. Based on an Easter Day plainchant from the twelfth-century Sarum rite, the work's six movements follow the conventions of the Mass in ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus/ Benedictus, and Agnus Dei) with the addition of a concluding "Ite missa est", but the solo organ represents the text, which is not set here. The Kyrie is a slow, austere movement, full of dissonance, while, by contrast, the Gloria is an angry, stormy piece that builds to a huge climax with the organ in full-throated splendour. The character of the Credo is accurately described by Leighton himself as "fairly soft throughout, but with frequent changes in colour", although there are one or two more agitated moments. Both the Sanctus/ Benedictus and Agnus Dei are subject to a surprisingly stormy treatment, given the nature of the implied text, although the music becomes more restrained in the Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei ends serenely, as the underlying words "dona nobis pacem" direct. The "Ita missa est" is suitably celebratory in nature, and takes the form of a vigorous toccata, with plenty of pyrotechnics for the organist to negotiate.
On this recording Greg Morris, Associate Organist of the Temple Church in London, performs on the organ of Blackburn Cathedral, a comparatively modern instrument built by J. W. Walker & Sons in 1969, and rebuilt by Wood of Huddersfield (just down the road from Leighton's native Wakefield) in 2002. It is certainly a formidable instrument, the capacities of which Leighton's music exploits to the full.