"An inspired work on a grand scale that gradually reveals its greatness
The English composer Francis Pott (b1957) describes his Christus - a Passion symphony for organ - as a ’once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon’. Composed between 1986 and 1990, this monumental treatment of a monumental topic is (to quote Pott) ’concerned with motivic unity and evolving tonality arising from deep interest in Nielsen’s dramatic methods’.
Lasting just over two hours, the five movements trace the Coming of Christ; Gethsemane; the Tomb; and the Resurrection. Signum’s handsomely produced booklet helpfully contains six pages of closely detailed notes and music incipits to guide the listener but it will take several hearings to grasp the scale and complexity of the piece. I have heard it through five times now and find it growing on me more and more. What of the idiom? Challenging, certainly, clinging to a vestigial sense of tonality, with glimpses of gritty radiance, moments of languor, all supported by a tremendous feeling of solidity. In addition to Scandinavian influences, Dupré, Alain and a little Messiaen also creep in (particularly in the faster moments). My main complaint is that Pott simply ’goes on’ too long. There were a couple of instances when the musical flow had - to my mind - reached its natural conclusion, only to be followed by an unnecessary codicil. Without a score it is difficult to judge how much detail is being swamped by the acoustic, the heavy registrations and the force and passion of Jeremy Filsell’s inspired advocacy. There would appear, however, to be few (if any) slips. The Jones organ copes wonderfully with the demands of the piece and recording engineer Andrew Post has managed almost completely to avoid any ’noises off’. This authoritative account will surely be a benchmark for years to come."
Gramophone - December 2005
"Christus is a very impressive five-movement work, whose fundamentally tonal language is influenced by Carl Nielsen, with English and French accents. The motifs and ideas are eloquently argued in “cyclical integration”, narrating important events in Christ’s life. Always at full throttle, this piece is unrelenting, from its overall length of two hours and five minutes; through endlessly lush, thick textures; to the ubiquitous 16 ft held Pedal notes. It creates a longing for some thin, pithy, succinct music. Here one cannot help feeling that less would actually result in more. In this live recording there are a few squeaks and extraneous noises, and the instrument itself seems too large for the building. The whole effect is not altogether attractive, yet Pott’s undertaking, Filsell’s playing and Signum’s project of recording it deserve great praise."
David Aprahamian Liddle
"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 through 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
Musical Pointers - May 2005
"Pott’s Christus, completed in 1990, is a five-movement solo organ work, the very concept of which on the face of it seems preposterously ambitious. But it’s not to be dismissed as readily as I dismissed it at its first performance. In his liner notes, Pott sets out his intentions with the same polished eloquence with which he composes; the work is a deeply thoughtful consideration of the Resurrection and the relevance of its symbolism in today’s world. The tonal-based language is vivid an the determination Pott shows in getting to the root of what he wants to say is impressive. Filsell, playing the organ of St Peter’s Raton Square, displays all the flair a composer could wish for in making the case for what is a remarkable work." ***
The Sunday Times
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