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Tom Bell presents a collection of largely modernist compositions with links to the north-west of England. If Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s vast but arguably inscrutable Fantasia on ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ and Alexander Goehr’s atonal 20-minute Chaconne have entered the canon of iconic British organ literature of a previous generation, the music on the second CD feels fresher and less hidebound by the rigours of 1960s and 70s modernism. Martin Bussey’s music in particular finds strength in contrast, both harmonic and in mood. And an Old White Horse is a tone poem with a virtuosic central section and a rewarding return to its initial hushed material. His studies on the ruined abbeys of the Scottish Borders include a luscious meditation and an exciting, tension-filled development of the Scottish psalm tune ‘York’. Sasha Johnson Manning’s off-colour scherzo Puck and Emma Nielsen’s Elevated Echoes (of a lost past), which elevates a simple Northumbrian folk song to something strikingly substantial and sure-footed, are engaging additions to the repertoire. Tom Bell’s playing is impressively commanding and his choice of the Blackburn organ, all steel and skyscrapers, is a good one. There is, however, an abstract nature to much of this music’s relationship with the organ as an instrument (the vast changes of colour often seem almost ironically late-romantic, as if conceived orchestrally). Has the best new organ music, though, not moved beyond the conceptual abstractness of the sequencer to grow instead from the deep cultural roots and specific idiosyncrasies of the great patri- mony of historic instruments?

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica

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