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Francis Pott Christus (Passion Symphony for organ)
Jeremy Filsell (organ)
Signum Classics SIGCD062 Live recording 1997
[TT 71+56 mins]

Described fairly in The Times as 'a stupendous achievement', this massive two hour work by Francis Pott (b.1957) is as complex a through-composed organ symphony as you will find. It is tonal and highly chromatic, not coming across as old-fashioned.

The admitted influences are Bach, inevitably, with an unusually rigorous use of motivic counterpoint, allied to the symphonic methods of Carl Nielsen.

I found this performance by Jeremy Filsell invigorating and overwhelmingly exciting, heard live at St Peter's Church, Eaton Square in 1997, so I was delighted that it has belatedly appeared in Signum's list.

A CD of a major work for organ is bound to be a compromise and should be regarded as a study document, and one of several possibilities. Dauntingly demanding, and featured by Jeremy Filsell internationally (he also helped get the score throught the press), it has more recently been played also by David Leigh in Dublin. Critics nowadays tend usually not to have the convenience of scores to follow, and I am indebted to Universal Music Publishers (UMP) for supplying theirs of Christus, three reasonably priced volumes elegantly printed.

Well used to reading and following orchestral and piano scores, I was disconcerted by becoming lost in the larger movements of Christus - we are not helped to keep our bearings in following the composer's detailed liner notes and numbered music examples by the lack of links to track numbers (13 in the first movement), or to page references in the score (there are no bar numbers).

No question about Jeremy Filsell's dedication and endurance. St Peter's is an important London church which boasts a visually exciting modern instrument that makes a grand noise full blast. The CD is however problematic for an outsider from the organ world. I found the reverberation as recorded hampered hearing as much detail as I should prefer; if that was what the composer wanted, why is there such complexity of notes and rhythms.

The clue if perhaps to be found in Francis Pott's CV; an accomplished pianist and composer for piano, he is best known for his organ and sacred works. Others will opine whether he is actually a good composer for organ? Repeatedly I found myself imagining how a pianist might sort out the part-writing and voice the chords in ways unavailable to organists; heretical to suggest, but it could sound well on piano-three-hands and is a fair candidate for orchestration.

A clear recommendation for organists and a worth-while investment for organ fanciers, this CD should help to keep Francis Pott's name before the public, and I anticipate reading with interest reviews by organ experts.

Peter Grahame Woolf