The Dominion Post
“This highly accomplished keyboard player was trained in England and now lives in New Zealand and, as this superb disc demonstrates, he is at home both in the music of Schubert and at the keyboard of a beautiful copy of an 1826 fortepiano by Conrad Graf made by Paul Downie. The instrument is a beauty, capturing the sounds of Schubert’s time like an exquisite time capsule. Forget, while listening, all those Schubert recordings on a modern grand, and revel in the superb musicianship and wonderful technical control of English. It is the equal, in my view, of Schubert recordings by Andreas Staier on a similar Graf instrument, and I can think of no higher praise.”
“For collectors of musical trivia, Schwammerl (little mushroom) was Schubert’s nickname. It’s also the title for Kemp English’s superbly atmospheric recording of piano works played on an instrument familiar to his audiences. Recorded in Christchurch’s St John of God Chapel, it’s an absorbing performance. Playing a replica of an 1826 Viennese fortepiano made by instrument maker Paul Downie and owned by the University of Canterbury, Kemp doesn’t miss a beat. Once the modern ear is accustomed to the sound, Schubert has rarely sounded so passionate and lyrical. A lovely disc and one to treasure.”
The New Zealand Herald
“Some months ago, I extolled Andreas Staier’s excursions into Schubert on fortepiano. Now, our own Kemp English delivers the B flat Sonata and Moments Musicaux on the intriguingly titled Schwammerl album. English is a top-notch musician and Paul Downie’s 8-foot fortepiano is an instrument of many and varied colours.”
- Stormin' Norma 3
Kemp English, Solo Organ
Dunedin Town Hall, New Zealand
- Release date November 2008
- CD details CD MANU 5053 - Ode Records
The American Guild of Organists
“The distinguished, well-preserved organ of Dunedin Town Hall has a peculiar history. Combining the early 20th-century symphonic tonal aesthetic with a smorgasbord of percussions and theatrical sounds, it began as a touring instrument, dubbed the “Bathurst Mammoth Cathedral Organ.” The 23-ton monster, set up on pantechnicons (vans), visited various halls and theatres in England as part of a vaudeville show. When this enterprise failed, the organ was acquired by Hill, Norman & Beard, who leased it to impresarios before installing it in Wembley Stadium for the 1924 Exhibition, where it accompanied singing and collaborated with brass bands and orchestras. A temporary residence in the Opera House in Tunbridge Wells preceded its final destination at Dunedin’s Town Hall. Its sobriquet “Norma” belonging to one of its original builders. The sound of this instrument is impressive indeed. Thoroughly English in character, it boasts power, delicacy, plentiful color, and versatility. Kemp English performs a wide-ranging program in this third disc of a series that displays Norma’s multifaceted personality. (Stormin’ Norma and Stormin’ Norma 2 comprise the first two discs of the series). Standard repertoire (Crown Imperial, Walton; Suite Gothique, Boellmann; Fantasia on B.A.C.H [1855 version], Liszt; “Andante’ from Trumpet Concerto, Haydn) are complemented by less familiar, well-written works (Tuba Tune in E flat by Dunedin- based composer Richard Madden and Suite for Organ, dedicated to Kemp English by Gordon Lawson). Fun fare includes Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, delightfully demonstrating the percussions in an arrangement by Thomas Trotter, March in F by Lefebure-Wely (also using the percussions), Lemare’s theatrical Berceuse in D, and Sousa’s The Washington Post. Mr. English rounds out the program on a perky organ of Knox College in Dunedin with Haydn’s Six Pieces for Musical Clock and J .S. Bach’s Schubler chorale, Wachet auf. English is a thoroughly rounded keyboard artist, active as a chamber musician, pianist, fortepianist and harpsichordist, as well as concert organist. A graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Music, where he was on the teaching staff, he now freelances as a concert and recording artist. His surefire technique yields musical excitement sheathed by rhythmic vitality and control. The exceptionally wide dynamic range of the instrument in its gracious setting is expertly captured in this fine production. Here is an irresistible combination of delightful music making on a heroic instrument.”
“There’s a line from an old Frank Sinatra song which goes “The best is yet to come”. Well – it’s here! Volume Three of “Stormin’ Norma” and a worthy successor to the previous two it assuredly is, with the redoubtable Kemp English in command of this incredible instrument, and a varied and imaginative selection of favourites old and new.”
- Stormin' Norma 2
Kemp English, Solo Organ
Dunedin Town Hall, New Zealand
- Release date December 2005
- CD details CD MANU 5009 - Ode Records
NZ Organ News
“If you enjoyed Stormin’ Norma 1 you’ll want to crawl over broken glass to secure your copy of SN 2.
Once again the mighty “Norma”, under the masterful hands and feet of Kemp English peals forth its glorious sounds to delight your ear and put a smile on your face – and to test the limits of your stereo system! What an organ – what a player – what a sound – and what inspired choice of repertoire.
Every track brings forth new delights in registrations, ensemble and solo tone colours from this remarkable instrument. The opening track is a stirring Festive March in D by the great 19th century composer/arranger Henry Smart – a long, 8 minute work full of wonderfully contrasting tone colours and themes Oh so typically English (pun unintentional – but appropriate!). By way of contrast this is followed by Kemp’s arrangement of the Scott Joplin ragtime classic Maple Leaf Rag – in a word “Norma” rocks!
The ubiquitous Monsieur Lefebure-Wely of course is represented by two tracks on this CD – both gems, and rarely heard. Herr Bach also appears, represented by a fine Noel Rawsthorne transcription of the Sinfonia from Cantata BWV29. We’ve heard this many times before, and it’s interesting to compare different transcriptions – from Carlo Curly to Marcel Dupre – but this one is a winner.
I am still amazed at how well Norma handles repertoire from this period, and with English’s fine playing, the piece really sparkles. I must also mention a 20th century gem which particularly attracted – Eccho Ring by John Wesley Barker – incidentally, the son of the present Director of Music at the Nelson Cathedral. J.W.B jnr is domiciled in the UK and active as a composer and performer. Word of warning – make sure the bass boost control on your stereo system is on the “off” position.
Another fresh treatment of the typically British “Trumpet Tune” format is a delightful piece, so named, by a contemporary Canadian composer, Richard C.Baker, written in memory of the Queen Mother. The doyen of all transcriber-performers, Edwin Lemare is represented on this disc, no – not by the “Moonlight and Roses” melody, but a lovely, rarely heard Romance in Db.
There are just so many remarkable tracks on this CD – I mustn’t fill up this review with a complete track list – you’ll have to buy the CD and discover the treasures for yourself. But listen out for Largo al Factotum from Rossini’s Barber of Seville – Grand Opera on a Grand organ indeed! The range of tone colours, contrasting registrations, and sheer power of this heritage organ – so wonderfully restored and in perfect tuning – is something to be marvelled at. To think it began life as a touring vaudeville show organ!
If you are familiar with (and who isn’t) A.F. Lithgow’s famous Invercargill March – try to imagine a slightly inebriated Invercargill Brass Band tottering along Dee Street, with a demented Drum major frantically trying to keep them all in step. I won’t tell you whose transcription this is – you’ll just have to buy the CD to find out!!”
UK Organists Review
“Stormin’ Norma is no relation to US Gulf War commander, Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf. Rather, she is a venerable 23-tonne English Symphonic concert touring organ – complete with cinematic extras and a 32ft contra trumpet on the swell, born (1919) in an age of transcriptional evangelism as part of a vaudeville show, and affectionately dubbed Norma by one of the builders.
The “Stormin” prefix is once more provided on a second CD from Kemp English, whose concertising career has taken him from Yorkshire (via the Royal Academy of Music) just about as far as one can go: in this case, to Dunedin, on New Zealand’s south island, where Norma has resided at the town hall, within a specially designed, if austere, case, for nigh on 70 years.
The 64-stop instrument, plus percussive contraptions (various drums, plus cymbals and triangle), began life with cathedral pretensions, before being eventually enlarged and installed at Wembley Stadium for the 1924 Exhibition, and ending up – after much former gallivanting by truck – in the opera house at Sadler’s Wells.
Such a transglobal musical journey compels purchase of Kemp’s CDs as collector curios in their own right. But the bonus is much fascinating listening beyond the realms of tired repertoire. Indeed, the inclusion of the Final from Boellmann’s Second Suite removes the ‘one work’ sobriquet engendered by his ubiquitous Suite Gothique. The same can be claimed by incorporating the lovely C major Pastorale of Lefebure-Wely (plus march in the same key), thereby diverting from the omnipresent hurdy-gurdy of the E flat Sortie. Even so, there’s clearly an abundance of church and cathedral musicians who would find manifold challenges on the cinema organ, or based on a mobile in an orchestral pit.
Kemp English’s arrangements of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag and Alex Lithgow’s Invercargill March bear ample witness to this cross-over culture, as does the Blues-Toccata by the contemporary Norwegian Mons Takle, even if the latter suffers from a dearth of development and seems a close cousin to the increasingly recorded Toccata all rumba by Peter Planyavsky, the former organist of St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna. There are two transcriptions (Bach and Strauss) plus an original (Line Dance) from Noel Rawsthorne, the former Liverpool Cathedral virtuoso, whose 80th birthday is being celebrated in a lunchtime concert by Gordon Stewart at Huddersfield Town Hall on 30th November.
The Bach Sinfonia is more stately than arrangements by one of Rawsthorne’s teachers, Marcel Dupre; while the capricious item from Rawsthorne’s five movement Dance Suite unashamedly runs the gamut from the Shaker Hymn which became Lord of the Dance to that old Yorkshire pud, On Ilkley Moor Ba’ Tat.
Perhaps it’s some sort of justice that the longest item – virtually eight minutes – is given to a rumbustious march, half suggested hymn, half bluster, but memorable for all that, by the neglected Henry Smart (1832-79) one of the founding fathers of the English symphonic school. Ditto the younger William Faulkes, represented by a pleasing Pastorale. Norma has the chorus work and sufficient convincing solo voices to carry such a musical mix, while Kemp English has the tenacity and verve to carry it off, even curtain-raising a contemplative minature by his brother-in-law, John Wesley Barker.
But if we are calling in the bets, the track workaday organists will seize on as a recital opener or encore, or even as a service voluntary, will be the Canadian Richard C. Baker’s Trumpet Tune, written in memory of the Queen Mother. As traditional, yet new, an example of its genre as one could wish for, with a delightfully tripping melody. Which means that even for decibel-bashers under temptation, it is not suitable for fattening up into a tuba tune.”
- Stormin' Norma
Kemp English, Solo Organ
Dunedin Town Hall, New Zealand
- Release date March 2004
- CD details CD MANU 5005 - Ode Records
UK Choir and Organ
“More lollipops than you could shake a stick at! ‘Norma’ (the nickname of the instrument, not the performer) will make purists shudder, but both she and Kemp English have a crispness of delivery and panache in performance that recall a day at the seaside – alternately bracing and sugary. Bach (and Buxtehude), Dubois, Noel Rawsthorne, Lefebure-Wely and Widor; all are dispatched impeccably, and the tuning and articulation in particular put many more ‘serious’ recordings to shame.”
NZ Organ News
This is the ‘Big One’ – the one we’ve been waiting for – arguably the finest (I don’t mind an argument!) - Town Hall organ in New Zealand, certainly a national treasure, magnificently restored, in the hands of an inspired performer, who is obviously having fun with the instrument. Kemp English plays with an impeccable keyboard technique, doubtless honed from his skills at the fortepiano, with a clarity of phrasing, attention to detail, and expressiveness at times having me wonder whether Dunedin T.H. had been retro-fitted with mechanical action!
The Buxtehude Preludium, Fuga and Ciacona was exemplary in this respect, quite a surprise from an early 20th century English romantic organ. Yes folks, Dunedin Town Hall is a mighty concert organ in the finest English romantic tradition we all love, and the like of which we will never see again.
There are many musical gems in the programme, and among my personal favourites are the opening Bolereo de Concert (Lefebure-Wely) with imaginative use of castanets(!!). The lovely Prelude on Londonderry Air by Noel Rawsthorne (a solo Clarinet to die for). The Buxtehude already mentioned, another piece by Rawsthorne – Aria highlighting the delicious solo flute, with strings, celeste etc.
Some more from mischievous Frenchman – Sortie in Bb with imaginative and jaunty use of marimba and glockenspiel (real Wurlitzer stuff!), and the wonderful and rarely heard March in Eb – a future organ “hit” everyone will want to rush out and buy (Published by OUP, edited David Sanger).
The Toccata in G by Dubois is always a joy to hear – here played with rhythmic verve and clarity. The album concludes with the glorious spoof on just about everything, which is Rawsthorne’s Hornpipe Humoresque.
Sydney Organ Journal
If the title and liner box caricature of these CDs makes one suspect that Kemp English is sharing a joke with us, then the castanet-enhanced opening Bolero of the Lefebure-Wely removes any doubt. A footnote on the discs rightly describes them as “a rip-roaring romp with Norma” (the nickname of this 72 stop 4 manual Hill Norma and Beard instrument, famously restored by the South Island Organ Company some years ago).
Despite a slight over-abundance of musical jocularity, Kemp English boasts some very serious academic and musical credentials, and by way of contrast has also released a CD of fortepiano pieces. At the time of the recording he was on the staff of the University of Otago and Organist of St Joseph’s Cathedral Dunedin.
“Norma’s” credentials are similarly impressive, starting life as the famous touring “Bathurst Mammoth Cathedral Organ”, until finally landing in Dunedin in 1930. Stylistically it stands somewhere between a “serious” instrument and a cinema organ – not unlike the original 1929 Hill Norman and Beard at Melbourne Town Hall, though perhaps even more of a “concert” organ. This is my first aural experience of the instrument and it makes some very distinguished sounds, in a not-unfriendly acoustic.
The playing is uniformly good on both discs, with registrations obviously chosen to show off the organ. The choice of repertoire on both discs is excellent, with pot-boilers new and old, as one would expect, and some pleasant surprises along the way. Kemp English’s manifesto declares that “Organ recitals can be, and should be fun”. There is no doubt that these CDs are.
The New Zealand Listener
"English’s recital of Haydn, Dussek, Mozart and Beethoven makes you a fly on the wall, hearing Mozart in his salon or the dishevelled Beethoven in his dog’s breakfast flat when he ‘played his Pathetique Sonata in a stormy and excited way’, to quote Czerny. That describes English’s playing, too. Rather than a scholar’s bloodless tinkling on an ancient instrument, his Mozart Fantasia in C minor and Beethoven Pathetique are full-on confrontational playing.”
Sunday Star Times
“If you ever learnt the piano, you probably played, and undoubtedly loved, Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. But how true to Beethoven was your performance? This new disc will give anyone interested in the keyboard music of the 18th century a few shocks, and a lot to think about.
The fortepiano was a forerunner of the modern piano; it has a wooden frame rather than iron, fewer strings and they’re at a lower tension, and has leather-covered hammers hitting the strings. The resulting tone is very different from the modern piano; it’s sweeter and clearer, and the bass notes are thinner but more incisive. The result is that those chunky chords that Beethoven so loved, as in the opening of the Pathetique, are much clearer than we are used to, and because the fortepiano’s tone dies away more quickly, the many repeated note patterns that composers of the period used relentlessly make more sense.
But there’s no escaping the fact that it’s very different. If you like what you’re used to then this will take a few listens before you get it, and English’s performances are uncompromisingly true to the instrument – he emphasises all the differences. He relishes the innovations of the music and his interpretive insights into the period capture the feeling of excitement that the then new instruments gave to the composers. Forget any thoughts you may have that the modern piano is just an improvement on the fortepiano. The modern piano may be good at playing loud and soft but it has lost the ability to produce startling dramatic contrasts. The fortepiano has two knee levers, a “damper” and a “moderator” that make it sound as though English is playing a group of instruments rather than just one. From a massive sound, like a whole army of guitars, it suddenly drops back and sounds as sweet as a lute. And English takes almost fiendish delight in flying through the passage work at virtuoso speed.
As well as the Pathetique, English plays other well-known pieces such as Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor and the Sonata in C major K330. But he never lets us think that we are just hearing old favourites played on a more appropriate instrument; he completely rethinks them, purging them of the pianistic conventions we have come to accept. Prepare to be surprised and even shocked, but keep listening and if you have the music then follow it with English and you will probably start to see it with his eyes and ears.
He also introduces two lesser known works in his recital; a delightful sonata in G major by Haydn and a Sonata in B flat by Dussek that is both quirky and captivating.
- Melodie - Violin Favourites
Robin Wilson, Kemp English
- Release date 2005
- CD details DECCA #4767587 (Universal)
Otago Daily Times
“Wilson has the gift of being able to vocalize through the violin, realizing the most subtle of meanings from the serenity of Debussy’s Beau Soir to the fire and passion of Nigun by Bloch and the skittish abandon of Kreisler’s Caprice Viennois ... Kemp English at the piano, is right there at the heart of the music with just as much feeling. The recording balance is excellent. Melodie is a distinguished debut album.”