A recording devoted entirely to Australian organ music is a great rarity, and I can only recall a few other examples... Therefore, the initiative taken by the highly-regarded Melba Recordings to make such a recording is entirely to be commended. And they have a worthy ally in Calvin Bowman who performs these works with insight, taste and style.
Many of the works are premiere recordings and indeed some may rarely, if ever, have been previously heard in performances. The composers include contemporary names such as Richard Mills, Andrew Schultz, Graeme Koehne, Ross Edwards (specially commissioned by Calvin Bowman) and Colin Brumby. There are also works by the deceased composers George Thalben-Ball, Alfred Hill, Phyllis Batchelor, Fritz Hart and Percy Grainger. So we receive a valuable perspective of works from the past and present.
The new works are composed in a variety of styles, some imbued with a sense of minimalism and repitition, some with discordant harmonies, others in a more free manner. The opening work by Richard Mills is readily approachable, with its declamatory flourishes, but I must say that the three works by Andrew Scholtz are very intellectual in their structure and require repeat listenings to comprehend fully. The two Koehne works have been recorded frequently before... The Edwards work Organmaninya has an appealing, almost fairground organ-like repeated motif while Brumby's Assemblages has toccata-like sections interspersed by chordal sections in minor keys: it also has dexterous pedal work.
Of the older works, I was especially taken with Phyllis Batchelor's lovely When I was one-and-twenty, arranged for organ. But the key work of the CD is surely Fritz Hart's epic Fantasia in G minor, first performed by A.E.H. Nickson at the opening of the Norman & Beard organ at St Peter's Eastern Hill in 1912. This merits our stong attention - the theme Vixella Regis appears early on and is well developed. It shows outstanding craftsmanship, with deft counterpoint and finely worked out individual sections. It is sad that this is probably its first performance in 85 years.
Calvin Bowman handles the 2001 Schantz organ in Melbourne Town Hall with great discernment using a wide range of colours... We are never subjected to any sense of aural overload, nor is the dreaded TV stop used - mercifully. The recording engineers have presented the instrument in excellent balance with ample reverberation and have utilised Direct Stream Digital technology to produce excellent results.
Attractively produced sleeve notes give useful details of the works, composers, performer and the organ...
This is an admirable production and deserves to be widely digested.