11 July 2016

Brexit for Organs

Having been in the UK in the weeks leading up to and following the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, and having cast my vote (which, I am pleased to report, was exactly the same as I cast in 1975 – I was on the winning side in one referendum and the losing one in the other), I feel it incumbent on me to make mention of Brexit.  That said, its impact on music, from my point-of-view, seems beneficial, hopefully opening the doors to non-European musicians who,  overwhelmed by EU regulations, often gave up the attempts to procure performing visas to the UK.  Beyond that, I doubt whether, in the long term, Brexit will have any tangible effect at all on music life in the UK.   But Brexit did feature in one of the first reviews I wrote for MusicWeb International back in May.

Priory, the UK-based label concentrating on organ and church music, started up a series in 1987 called “Great European Organs”.  Releasing its CDs as a numbered series was a sensible marketing ploy, assuming that the kind of people who like organ CDs tend to be the same kind of people who like to collect things (ie train numbers, cigarette cards and fridge magnets) and that by having a numbered series of discs, the enthusiasts would be morel likely to buy one to complete their collection, even if organ, player and repertory did not offer a significant pull.  So, beyond the “Organ Master Series” (highlighting great players – although only one – Gillian Weir – ever featured), the “Concert Hall Series” (again exclusively starring GW) the “Great Australasian Organs” series (no GW here despite her antipodean credentials) and the “Complete Organ Works” series (devoted to every note of a particular composer’s organ output) the “Great European Organs” series served as a kind of mopping up exercise, picking up recordings of a wide variety of repertory, players and instruments (many of them far from being really “great”) the only thing connecting them being that they were either in the UK or somewhere on the continent of Europe (just over half the 100 discs in the series ventured beyond the UK to such exotic locations as the Balearic Islands, Finland, Latvia, Iceland and even beyond the strict borders of the EU into Switzerland). 

Yet it became a compelling series, not least because of the inclusion on many of the discs of music which had some resonance with the locale.  And, of course, like every Priory release, they were produced with love and enthusiasm, if not always the polished professionalism of larger labels.  I was sorry when I learnt that the100th was also the final disc in the series, and wonder whether this decision to break with the European Project was a deliberate act to coincide with Brexit. 

(I post my reviews of the last two discs in the series, reprinted with kind permission from MusicWeb International, in subsequent blog posts.)

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