Organ music from England? Why not? During the Victorian era English organ building and organ music experienced a flourishing in every way equal to that on the Continent. After all, even the famous Edward Elgar was an organist before he became an independent composer during the 1940s. Ben van Oosten, a proven expert in the field of late romantic organ artistry, now turns to this music. Performing on the magnificent Willis organ in the Salisbury Cathedral, he offers us a fascinating introduction to a long-forgotten epoch and its organ music.
Ben van Oosten’s program covers a broad listening spectrum. Things begin with Alfred Hollins’s second Concert Overture, a work of exuberant character, great melodic richness, and high virtuosity posing enormous challenges in playing technique. Sir George Thomas Thalben-Ball’s Elegy, originally intended as an improvised filler for a radio transmission, is borne by a moving melody. Percy William Whitlock and William Thomas Best (during his lifetime regarded as England’s greatest concert organist) were more inclined to small-format works. And in Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s Fantasy and Toccata the grand old Bach impishly peers around the corner in Victorian guise.
Elgar’s mighty Sonata op. 28 combines Victorian pomp and melodic noblesse with the fine orchestral color familiar to us from his well-known orchestral works. In its proportions and virtuosity the sonata points far into the future – so far that the organist did not live to premiere it.
Ben van Oosten found the ideal instrument for his festival of English organ music in the Salisbury Cathedral. Built by Henry Willis in 1876-77, this magnificent organ drawing on open 32’ stops ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful instruments even when it was first built. Today it continues to exist in its original substance. Ben van Oosten is doubtless one of the leading organists of our time. Distinguished on many occasions, this Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres received the title of Knight of the Order of the Dutch Lion from the Queen of the Netherlands. Now that’s something!