Scott Montgomery plays the Mander Organ of St Peter’s Church, Saint Louis, Missouri.
The inspirations come not only from this first recording of the very fine 44-stop, 57-rank, Mander organ (plus its five-stop chamber sibling by the same London builder), but also directly, or by association, from many of the musical choices. But there is another inspiration: the playing of Scott Montgomery, winner of the 2006 American Guild of Organists’ Young Artists Competition.
The considerable challenges of installing the instrument have been splendidly overcome: these included eschewing a rear gallery position as the roof was too low; hidden problems with heating ducts, and the eventual squeeze of fitting the three-manual specification into two chancel bays, which required placing the top two notes of the pedal trackers, running beneath the floor, next to the lowest ones. And the tonal results are exemplary, aided by a decree (which would delight many players) banning carpets. Large openings were also made in the chamber walls to project sound into the nave.
At the epicenter of the programme, more in homage to core repertoire, is the admirably defined and executed Bach G minor Fantasia and Fugue, spaciously grand, without the contrapuntal scrabble that nowadays passes as virtuosity. This is joined by a crunch, opulent, and intelligently registered account of Mendelssohn’s first Sonata, the contrasting dynamics and pedal line being crystal clear.
Two tracks are given to the chamber organ – a clinical account of a William Byrd Fancy, and a more considered set of Sweelinck variations sourced from John Dowland.
But back to the big machine, and an enjoyable hybrid opener – shades of Mathias and Leighton – written for the inauguration of the instrument by Manchester-based Sasha Johnson Manning, a regular singer for the BBC daily service.
William Walond’s signature piece, the Cornet Voluntary in G, contrasts well with the treacle-fingered harmonies of Bridge’s Adagio. The Guilmant chiffs along beautifully, and sounds more like an English scherzo. Finally, anyone who can, as here, make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that Veirne’s (incorrectly) notated Carillon de Westminster, deserves a medal.
Scott Montgomery should be booked for a UK tour. His musicality, with due regard to the spaces between the notes, would be a master-class for many of his contemporaries.