Jane Watts

Richard Popplewell: Organ Concertos Nos. 1 and 2

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Richard Popplewell is an English organist and teacher of long-standing; among his favorite students is Jane Watts, who is featured on Priory's Richard Popplewell: Organ Concertos Nos. 1 and 2. Watts is supported by the Ulster Orchestra under the direction of octogenarian conductor David Willcocks in an energetic performance that belies his age. Both concerti are cinematic in sound and smack of the tincture of British light music, with some of it reminiscent of television scoring, though both works are undeniably listenable and the second concerto is striking and substantive. Popplewell's Organ Concerto No. 1 in D major is very bright and cheery, though spiked with pungent dissonances in a neo-classical vein. Organ Concerto No. 2 in F major is longer, being cast in four movements rather than the standard three; it is also more ambitious than the first concerto and achieves more of a sense of variety and adherence to Popplewell's stated preference for an "Elgar meets William Walton" blend.

The balance of the disc is filled out with Popplewell's music for organ solo, his Elegy (1980) and a Suite (1974). The solo recordings, also featuring Watts, were recorded in 1993 and are in much brighter sound than the concerti from 2007; be prepared to adjust your listening situation for this rather drastic change in ambience. The solo pieces are a bit more immediate and compelling than the concerti; the Suite in particular betrays a French influence rather different from the auld English milieu of the concerti. Nevertheless, Popplewell's music is proficient, audience-friendly, and makes for a pleasant hour of listening as long as one is looking for something none too demanding in a stylistic sense.

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