Elgar’s Organ Sonata(s) – David Titterington

Organ Sonata No.2 in B flat, Op.87a [A transcription by Ivor Atkins of Elgar’s Severn Suite]
MacDowell, arr. Peter Dickinson
Woodland Sketches – No.1: To a Wild Rose
Blue Rose Variations
Organ Sonata (No.1) in G, Op.25

David Titterington (organ)

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 25 July, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Royal Albert Hall organ. Photograph: Chris ChristodoulouIt seemed a bit odd to begin this weekend focussing on the year 1934 – in which occurred the deaths of Elgar, Delius and Holst – with a decidedly second-rate opus of Elgar; or, more accurately, his Severn Suite (originally for brass band) as transcribed for organ by Ivor Atkins, a friend of the composerand organist at Worcester Cathedral between 1897 and 1950.

The thematic substance is not, frankly, terribly distinguished, thoughAtkins’s transcription makes the best of it – even if his own cadenza inthe third movement is not entirely convincing. David Titterington did his level best to make a case for the piece(‘sonata’ is surely too weighty a title given the material), though his ‘pulling around’ of the pulse in the opening pages was a questionabledecision and there were some rather abrupt changes of registration.

Peter Dickinson – born in 1934 – might be best described as a musicaleclectic, with a striking variety of stylistic approaches beingevident in his output. Blue Rose Variations was written in 1985 forJennifer Bate. Taking its theme from Edward MacDowell’s evergreen piano miniature – here played rather restlessly in Dickinson’s transcription – its sixvariations are flecked with jazz and blue moments and characterised by increasing virtuosity. Indeed the final variation presents some veryformidable technical challenges – a toccata in all but name notuninfluenced by the 20th-century French school of organ-writing.Yet for all its undeniable moments of interest, the work as a whole is rather dull, and its treatment of MacDowell’s lovely theme somewhat perfunctory. It is, however, difficult to imagine it being better played.

Elgar’s only original composition for organ solo (he wrote magnificentlyfor the instrument in his orchestral and choral works) dates from 1895,when he was on the cusp of his maturity as a composer.It is symphonic in scale and conception, though not always sympatheticor idiomatic in its writing for the organ; there are some decidedlyawkward moments for the player to negotiate.

David Titterington was strong on both panache and expressive playing,with balances largely effective – no mean feat on the Royal Albert Hallinstrument. Just occasionally I wished he would have ‘played out’ more – some quiet passages were at times a little reticent, but he undeniablyconveyed the sweep of the majestic opening and the adrenaline-rush ofthe stringendo at the end, embracing the varying moods and textures enroute.

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