What the critics say...
Kenneth Leighton: Complete Organ Works (Resonus Classics)
'This is a major achievement. Stephen Farr triumphs in his massive survey of the output of Kenneth Leighton, a towering figure in British 20th-century liturgical music [...] Highlights are too numerous to mention.'
The Observer (5 stars)
- 'Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988) wrote with consummate skill for the organ. His thrillingly communicative 1970 Concerto for the instrument with string orchestra and timpani is a bona fide masterpiece, and there are a healthy sprinkling of offerings on this hugely nourishing 3-CD set that likewise operate on the highest plane of inspiration. Both the Prelude, Scherzo and Passacaglia (1963) and Et Resurrexit (Theme, Fantasy & Fugue) from 1966 generate a formidable organic power and cumulative thrust in Stephen Farr's deeply understanding renderings, while the magnificent, large-scale Missa de Gloria (Dublin Festival Mass), Veni Redemptor (A Celebration) and Veni Creator Spiritus (composed in 1980, 1985 and 1987 respectively) show Leighton at the peak of his powers during the period leading up to his cruelly early death. Elsewhere, Farr partners John Butt in a simply stunning performance of the exhilarating, four-hand Martyrs: Dialogues on a Scottish Psalm-tune (1976), and there are also stylish appearances from tenor Nicky Spence in These are Thy Wonders (A Song of Renewal) from 1981 and violinist Chloë Hanslip in the Fantasy on a Chorale ('Es ist genug') from 1979. A special mention, too, for the exemplary contribution of Adam Binks in his multiple roles of producer, sound engineer, editor and annotator. In a word: essential.
Classical Ear website
- 'The first volume (of three) surveying [Leighton's] organ works is a magnificent beginning [...] Stephen Farr is a committed advocate. Nimble and nuanced in the multi-faceted Six Fantasies on Hymn Tunes, [...] and unabashedly muscular in Leighton's magnum opus, the dramatically variegated Missa de Gloria. [...] Recorded sound is exemplary'
Choir and Organ (5 stars)
- 'There is so much to appreciate here, including [...] the late (1980) Missa de Gloria, in which one may detect not just the further evolution of Leighton's harmonic language, but also a confidence and tautness of writing [...] With unimpeachable performances and sound, do explore this rewarding, and surely award-winning, release.'
Classical Ear (Five Stars)
- 'Lovers of Leighton’s choral music and those who enjoy British organ music need have no hesitation in buying this recording, preferably in the very fine 24/96 version.'
MusicWeb International (Brian Wilson)
- 'The audio quality is excellent [...] Leighton enthusiasts will be delighted with this release, organ aficionados will be most interested to hear the organ of St Giles' Cathedral in all its glory, and the general listener who takes the trouble to track this down will be pleasantly surprised at what is on offer.'
- '[Leighton] is a composer that I have always been able to do business with: his balance of modernism and tradition is ideal. I thoroughly enjoyed this new download from Resonus and look forward to reviewing the second volume in this projected series.'
MusicWeb International (John France)
- 'Stephen Farr conjures a huge variety of timbres from the Rieger organ and appears equally at home in this music – whether reflective or demonstrative. I particularly enjoyed the opening set of Hymn tune fantasies, all based on very familiar melodies including Veni Emmanuel, St Columba and Jesus bids us shine!'
J.S. Bach: Clavier-Übung III disc (Resonus Classics)
- Recordings of these pieces over the past sixty years chart the changing fashions of performance practice, but Farr's playing needs no musicological justification; it sparkles and seduces in equal measure, and the choice of instrument (the 1975 Metzler at Trinity College, Cambridge) seems completely wedded to the score. Registrations (fully listed) are often subtly piquant, and sometimes darker and deeper than one might expect.... I'll be listening to this collection for a long time.
Chris Achenbach (Classical Ear)
- 'It's a courageous first foray into the german master's music [...] Farr rises to the occasion, turning in performances that are as varied and vital as the music demands, intricate details inked with telling clarity and the elongated arc of the whole negotiated with nimble and nuanced aplomb. Superb recorded sound'
Choir and Organ (5 stars)
- '[...] one can simply enjoy Farr's rock steady rhythmic playing, crisp articulation and commanding overview. His approach is refreshingly unfussy and quirk free, and he draws on an unfailingly interesting palette of tonal colours [...] In a strong field this performance must be in the top three.'
- '[...] Farr's playing needs no musicological justification; it sparkles and seduces in equal measure, and the choice of instrument (the 1975 Metzler at Trinity College, Cambridge) seems completely wedded to the score'
- 'It is an exciting listen and Farr copes admirably with all the challenges that Bach throws at him. As an enjoyable recital it is an easy recommendation'
- 'All lovers of Bach's music should be prepared to order this new Resonus recording [...] I was so completely sold on this new recording I have no real reservations'
MusicWeb International (Brian Wilson - 'Recording of the Month')
- 'The recording is a very fine achievement, combining technical skill with a naturalness of playing, allied to the fine mechanical action Metzler organ so that this is a collection I would happily come back to again and again'
- 'This is the most enjoyable performance of Bach's Clavier-Ubung I can ever remember hearing. It is magnificently recorded and Stephen Farr makes full use of the colours available from the Metzler Organ of Trinity College, Cambridge. All in all this is a must-buy recording and one I shall return to again and again.'
MusicWeb International (Geoffrey Molyneux - 'Strongly recommended')
- 'The twenty-seven sections are finely characterised and the liner-notes include complete registrations so that we can follow the nuances of choice in the tone colour as the works progress. We look forward to the next release with keen anticipation.'
Judith Bingham The Everlasting Crown - recorded for Resonus Classics
- "....this is a simply unmissable proposition...an involved reading that adroitly interrogates Bingham's multi-faceted and intricately designed studies to characterful effect...It's a fine performance of a fine piece certain to gain traction in the contemporry organ repertoire. *****"
Choir & Organ
- "Resonus previously released a superb compilation of chamber music by English composer Judith Bingham and has now followed it up with this recording of her largest solo organ piece to date, a work commissioned by the BBC Proms in 2011 and premiered by organist Stephen Farr... Farr performs the work beautifully; it is well recorded and sounds terrific."
- "Clearly The Everlasting Crown calls on the player to grasp what is, for an organist, an unusually grandiose architectural scheme, and in this Farr is utterly outstanding, tracing the music across the seven movements with a kind of inexorable inevitability which reinforces the overall unity of the work. The St Albans Abbey instrument offers a chance to experience the inner detail of the music at close quarters, and a great deal of subtle colour emerges. I particularly like the little passages of glitter lighting up 'The Orlov Diamond', while the decidedly Chinese qualities in the incessantly repeating figures in 'The Russian Spinal' (the stone presented to the Russian Tsar by the Chinese) combine to make this a work which reveals more and more with every listening. Given such an attractive package as Resonus has issued, repeated listening of this is an absolute pleasure."
Marc Rochester, International Record Review
- "This remarkable audiophile download marks the world premiere recording of Judith Bingham’s epic solo organ work, The Everlasting Crown. Renowned organist Stephen Farr performs this sensual seven movement composition with exquisite virtuosity and unworldly fluidity. This tremendous work, based on a fictitious crown finds Bingham drawing on precious stones like Orlov Diamond, King Edward’s Sapphire, and The Russian Spinel. Simply stunning in performance and sound quality, this album is a must-have for any music lover’s library"
Jacquet's Ghost: Stephen Farr at Trinity College Cambridge
- '[...] an organ recital played and recorded very well on a fine instrument. Those with an interest in contemporary organ music are advised to investigate further.'
- '[...] an excellent program of mostly short contemporary works on the 1975 Metzler organ of Trinity College, Cambridge. [...] Farr's playing and the recorded sound are both superb.'
Opening recital for Westminster Abbey's Summer Organ Festival 2012
- "The navigation of the fugal passages was particularly impressive....Farr allowed every movement to teeter on the edge, brimming with excitement while never feeling unsafe – the difficult balance of anticipation with assurance and security was masterfully handled.. " Bachtrack.com
BBC Proms - premiere of Judith Bingham's The Everlasting Crown, Royal Albert Hall, 17th July 2011
- '...Subtitled a melodrama, The Everlasting Crown was packed with grand gestures and heightened seriousness...Stephen Farr is no stranger to [Bingham's] music ...he brought an inventive flair to his choice of registers, offering a reading of notable light and shade.....' Tempo
- "But the piece that stands out from the premieres I heard this year is Judith Bingham's The Everlasting Crown, a 35-minute work for solo organ performed with extraordinary virtuosity by Stephen Farr in his BBC Proms recital on 17 July. Inspired by the stories behind seven famous stones, representing aspects of monarchy and power, it skilfully exploited the resources of the RAH's enormous instrument, and I found it spell-binding."
Clare Stevens, Classical Music Magazine, 17 December 2011
- "In a superb and serious organ-recital matinee by Stephen Farr, the chief work was the world premiere of The Everlasting Crown by Judith Bingham (b 1952). Her sensuous seven-movement composition explored notions of monarchy and was inspired by famous gemstones such as the Orlov diamond, the Russian spinel and St Edward's sapphire. Farr talked about needing "to have a stiff drink" before choosing which registrations to use for a sonically varied piece such as this. It is true to say that some of us need a stiff drink before attending any organ recital, though not on this occasion. The audience was small but warmly appreciative. Still, 35 minutes of organ music by a woman? Only the yeti is so rarely encountered."
Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian, Sunday 24 July
- "Before lending its considerable weight to the already overloaded textures of Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony, the Albert Hall organ got its own moment in the spotlight in an afternoon recital by Stephen Farr. The main work in his programme was the first performance of a substantial commission from Judith Bingham. The Everlasting Crown may sound like a title that a master of the queen's music might have come up with, but in fact Bingham's starting point for the seven movements of her work was a book about famous precious stones and the stories behind them, from Atahualpa's emerald, stolen by Pizarro, to the Koh-i-Noor diamond that is part of the crown jewels.
- "Bingham's music is as picturesquely virtuoso as the subject matter might suggest, with just occasional moments, like the mysterious opening of the last movement in the very lowest register of the Albert Hall instrument, that create a genuinely original sound world. Before it Farr paid his respects to a couple of this year's musical anniversaries, with an arrangement of Liszt's piano prelude Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, and a performance of Litanies, by Jehan Alain, who was born 100 years ago, died at the age of 29 and was one of the most tantalising might-have-beens of 20th-century music. Farr made Litanies a wonderfully unprayerful prayer - muscular, angry almost."
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, Monday 18 July
Sounds Thrilling - Stephen Farr plays the organ in Blackburn Cathedral
David Briggs Missa Pro Defunctis / Duruflé Suite Op. 5
- "Missa Pro Defunctis was commissioned and premiered by Stephen Farr in 2004... thrilling it certainly is. If you enjoy the sonorities of Langlais and Durufle then you will enjoy this. The work is paired with an outstanding performance of Duruflé's splendid Suite Op.5. Farr explores the full tonal range of the Blackburn organ in this excellent recording. Sounds Thrilling is an accurate title."
Church Music Quarterly
- "Most organ enthusiasts know David Briggs as one of today's finest organ virtuosos and improvisers, but this release proves beyond a doubt that he's also a great composer for that instrument as well. The symphony presented here was commissioned by the soloist on this disc, Stephen Farr...[Briggs'] seven movement Missa Pro Defunctis symphony is a masterpiece.
Very appropriately the disc is filled out with a magnificent rendition of Duruflé's ever popular "Suite, Op. 5." This release is entitled Sounds Thrilling and, if anything, that's an understatement, because, quite frankly, organ CDs don't get any better than this. The instrument is superb, the performances, exemplary and the sound, to die for!
Bob McQuiston (Tower Washington, DC)
- This CD features the first recording of Briggs's new Symphony for Organ, commissioned by the performer Stephen Farr. The work is a hommage to Maurice Duruflé, inspired by the organ work begun by Duruflé as a Missa pro defunctis, the sketches for which later became the famous Requiem. Just as in the Requiem, Briggs's new work is built upon the plainsong for the Mass for the Dead. The result is a forty minute, seven movement work.
David Briggs's symphony is atmospheric and dramatic....Stephen Farr plays extremely well on the disc; the technical challenges of Briggs's work are brilliantly handled and he gives an astoundingly well controlled reading of the Duruflé. The Sicilienne is beautifully modest and atmospheric....This is worth buying, both for Farr's playing, and because you should judge David Briggs's new symphony for yourself. I am sure it will find many admirers.
Chris Bragg. The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians
- Once again, recordings reviewed this month have a personal connection. I was with Lance Andrews (who is Lammas Records) in York during the preparation of this disc, to which the adjective thrilling applies accurately, and 1 have been eagerly awaiting its release. Here we have two large works, one by Duruflé and one inspired by his work.
The Symphony "Missa pro defunctis "was commissioned from the brilliant young British composer David Briggs by Stephen Farr... I find the style consistently compelling, even as it shifts from understated to pleno and from rich tone clusters to engaging cantabile. This 2003 composition should become one of the major virtuoso vehicles of our concert programs.
The companion work is the deservedly familiar Suite, Op.5, of Duruflé Here, as in the Symphony, Farr demonstrates not only a transcendental technique, but an extraordinary affinity for the French style of the period.
The liner includes Farr's own notes, a biography, and extended details about the organ (including the role in its history played by our AAM colleague John Bertalot). Lance Andrews has done an exceptional job of managing the enormous dynamic range with consummate clarity. This recording is simply not to be missed by anyone who loves the idiom.
Victor Hill, Ph.D.
- The organ at Blackburn Cathedral was restored and enlarged at the start of the new millennium and the Lammas team obviously like what they hear as this is the fourth recording they have made that uses the instrument. Sound quality is excellent, the organ seems to be a splendid beast and organ buffs may want to hear this recording to judge for themselves. As for content Stephen Farr chose two associated works. The longer of the two is a "Missa Pro Defunctis" commissioned by him from David Briggs. The work is inspired by the composer's conception of a lost work by Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986), an organ suite he was working on when commissioned to write his Requiem. In form and style it is more homage than pastiche. This new piece is accompanied by a work by Duruflé himself: a "Suite" (Opus 5). If you like Duruflé then I need say little more. The playing is excellent...
John Stainer Crucifixion with choir of Clare College Cambridge, directed by Timothy Brown
Langlais Organ Works
"Stephen Farr ... is one of the brightest and most active English recitalists, and he plays with immaculate finish and buoyancy, as well as with a relish for this organ's many colours" (5 stars) (Classic CD)
"Farr's playing is always alert to the textural nuances and timing in Langlais's scores, and his reading of the Cinq meditations sur l'apocalypse is thoroughly enthralling" (5 stars) (BBC Music Magazine)
"The finale (La Cinquième Trompette) is wide ranging emotionally and is given a brilliantly judged performance, of stunning virtuosity, vivid colour, and quite exceptional clarity. This is a disc which every organist should hear...The recording is superb" (Organists Review)
Jehan Alain Organ Works, Meridian CDE84282
- "The combination of organ, Stephen Farr's playing and Alain's imaginative music proves to be irresistible. Alain's rhythmic patterns sometimes equal or even exceed Messiaen's in complexity, but Stephen Farr seems equal to any and every demand that the music makes upon him...Definitely a disc to treasure" (Organists Review)
Organ concertos (Stanley, Bach, Hayes, Hook) with London Bach Consort
- "beautifully played by Mr Farr and the London Bach Consort...do add this CD to your collection" (The American Organist)
- "This is a delight...The performances are uniformly excellent and can be warmly commended" (Organists Review)
Walther Organ Works, Meridian CDE84213
"These superbly crafted, invigorating performances, combining youthful vigour and enthusiasm with profound musical insight and technical fluency, offer a persuasive and compelling case for Johann Gottfried Walther's music...Farr displays an intelligent awareness of style, shaping the chorale lines naturally and depending on touch rather than intricacies of registration to portray the musical strands...With Stephen Farr's impressive articulation and obvious sense of fun, these concertos come vibrantly alive" (Gramophone)