I have known John Kitchen for some 45 years. In that time, he has introduced me to a wide range of music on his many CDs, at his recitals and personally. I count my love of Vaughan Williams Oxford Elegy as being entirely his doing. Tristan and Isolde, Gotterdammerung and The Trojans, I owe to his enthusiasm. He introduced me to Bach’s organ music in the early 1970s, especially the Toccata and Fugue in D minor (Dorian).
Recent years have seen a number of important CD releases of harpsichord and organ works by John Kitchen including the six-volume ‘Complete Organ Music of Johann Ludwig Krebs’, the keyboard music of William Kinloch, an exploration of a number of Victorian organ sonatas and music from the reign of Louis XIV and XV of France. There have been many discs featuring important organs in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling.
The McEwan Hall, Edinburgh, was designed by the ecclesiastical architect, Sir Rowand Anderson and was financed by Sir William McEwan of Scottish brewing fame (McEwan’s Export). The hall was built between 1888 and 1897 and was mainly intended for use as the University of Edinburgh’s graduation hall, however it also functioned as the main concert venue in Edinburgh until the Usher Hall was opened in 1914. Unusually, the original design of the McEwan Hall did not feature a location for an organ, although this deficiency was soon remedied.
The organ was built by the Wirral-based firm Robert Hope-Jones (1859-1914) in 1897. It was restored with several additions by Henry Willis III in 1953. Further work was carried out by Rushworth and Dreaper in 1980 and Forth Pipe Organs in 2014. It is a large four-manual instrument with a considerable pedal department. Interestingly, Hope-Jones is deemed to be the inventor of the theatre organ, and worked at the ‘cutting edge’ of electric action and detached consoles.
The present CD ‘celebrates the organ’s  restoration’: it seeks to include music that has been played at graduation ceremonies in the McEwan Hall, Edinburgh.
The recital can be satisfactorily listened to in the order presented on the CD. I was impressed by the variety of music that John Kitchen has given. There are a number of pieces that are new to me, as well as a few of old favourites.
The recital opens with the eponymous track, ‘Gaudeamus Igitur’ (So let us rejoice) which has often been sung in European university graduation ceremonies. It is an anonymous arrangement.
Cecilia McDowall’s ‘Celebration’ (2014) for organ was specifically composed for degree ceremonies: in this case at the University of Portsmouth. The work is dynamic and positive and ‘captures the joy and excitement of such occasions…’ McDowall has included a quotation from a round by the 17th century composer Thomas Ravenscroft (c.1599-1635), entitled ‘To Portsmouth.’
True to form, John Kitchen has come up with a little gem from Johan Helmich Roman who has been dubbed the ‘Swedish Handel.’ Certainly, the Sinfonia di Chiesa (Church Sonata) has all the hallmarks of the German/English master. Henry Purcell’s ‘Trumpet Tunes’ from King Arthur and The Indian Queen are suitably ceremonial in their mood. The little ‘Rigaudon’ by the French composer André Campra is taken from his opera Idoménée which was first performed in 1712. It is a lively dance written in common time, but having a robust main theme which is repeated a number of times, as well as a contrasting middle section.
The major event on this CD is Kenneth Leighton’s massive ‘Et Resurrexit’ which was composed half a century ago in 1966. It has three movements: Theme, Fantasy and Fugue. The composer wrote that it is ‘…purely abstract in design, [however] the work attempts to give musical expression to the individual’s struggle for belief in the miracle of the resurrection…’ Although in three distinct movements, the form of the piece could be described as continuous variation. It is a deeply thought out work that is typically profound, moving and ecstatic. It is certainly a piece to show the colours of the organ as well as the virtuosity of the organist.
Kenneth Leighton was born in Wakefield, West Riding, but spent much of his career in Scotland as the Reid Professor of Music in the Faculty of Music in Edinburgh University.
Alfred Hollins wrote three Concert Overtures. The first, in C major was published in 1889 and was apparently his earliest published work. The Overture is written in standard ‘sonata form’, but does not have an academic feel. As the liner notes suggest, ‘the piece sets out to entertain and divert’ and offers ‘attractive melodies, infectious rhythms and well-planned structures.’ It is an outstanding example of Victorian organ music at its best, displaying self-assurance and vigour as well as a featuring a reflective ‘second subject’.
I was delighted that John Kitchen chose to perform one of Widor’s less well known Symphonies (at least to the average organ enthusiast). The Symphony No.3 op.13 was composed in 1872 [the track listings wrongly quote op.69, which is the Symphony No.3 for organ and orchestra (1894)] The Marcia is stoutly played here.
I have not come across the composer Theodore Salomé before. His Grand Choeur in G major is fairly and squarely in the French ‘sortie’ style. The work was written around 1875 and was part of ‘Ten Organ Pieces: Volume 1. It is certainly not ‘op.68, no.2’ as quoted in the track listing, which also happens to be a ‘Grand Choeur’.
The French title of Alexandre Guilmant’s contribution to this CD is Marche religieuse: sur un motif du chœur «Lift Up Your Heads» du «Messie» de Händel, op.15 no.2 or in the Jules Bonnet and A Eaglefield Hull edition ‘March upon Handel’s “Lift up your heads”’ with a dedication ‘Hommage à Thalberg’. The work opens with a solemn march and is followed by a lively fugue and then a little bit of development using both melodies, before a powerful restatement of the march theme.
The final piece on this CD is by Handel himself: The Overture and March from the Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, HWV 76. This choral work was composed in 1739 and is a setting of a poem by John Dryden. The liner notes explain that the ‘March’ is a favourite graduation day piece at the McEwen Hall. It provides a vivacious and upbeat conclusion to this imaginative CD.
The booklet notes are good and feature a discussion about ceremonial music, a short history of the building and the organ and a brief consideration of the music. I would have preferred more detail about the repertoire especially those pieces that are less well known. The dates of composition for all pieces (where known) ought to be included in the track listing and/or the liner notes. The listener should not need to trawl the internet to find this information.
This is an excellent CD with interesting and inspired repertoire as recital-goers and listeners have come to expect from John Kitchen. All the music is superbly played and brilliantly recorded. It is a CD to savour and to enjoy.
Gaudeamus Igitur: John Kitchen plays the organ of the McEwan Hall
ANON Student Song, Gaudeamus Igitur (18th century)
Cecilia MCDOWALL (b.1951) Celebration (2014)
Johan Helmich ROMAN (1694-1758) arr. Patrik VRETBLAD (1876-1953) Sinfonia di chiesa (?/1931)
Henry PURCELL (1659-95) Two Trumpet Tunes from King Arthur z.628 (1691); Trumpet Tune from The Indian Queen z.630 (1695)
André CAMPRA (1660-1744) Rigaudon from Idoménée (1712)
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988) Et resurrexit (Theme, Fantasy and Fugue), op.49 (1966)
Alfred HOLLINS (1865-1942) Concert Overture [No.1] in C major (1889)
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937) Marcia from Symphony No.3, op.13 (1872 rev.1918)
Théodore SALOMÉ (1834-1896) Grand Choeur in G, from 10 Pieces for Organ, Volume 1 (1875)
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911) March religieuse (March on a Theme of Handel), op.15. no.2 (c.1881)
Georg Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759) Overture and March from Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, HWV 76 (1739)
John Kitchen (organ)
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.