Anna Lapwood is one of today’s great champions of the organ, as well as being a conductor and broadcaster. She is currently Director of Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and in 2022 she was appointed Associate Artist of the Royal Albert Hall, where she enjoys late night sessions on the 9,999-pipe Henry Willis organ and regular performances in the iconic venue. You will most probably have encountered Anna through her upbeat social media presence, which she has used to encourage young women to take up the instrument with her #playlikeagirl hashtag. We invited Anna to guest-curate a Bachtrack top ten playlist of works for her instrument, which she has selected below, with the disclaimer that “this is my current list of top 10 pieces, but it changes on a weekly basis!”

Anna Lapwood
© Tom Arber

1Poulenc: Organ Concerto in G minor

Poulenc’s Organ Concerto is a piece I think everyone should know. It illustrates so many different sides of the instrument, from fiery passion through cheeky humour to heartbreaking beauty. It is performed in this video by one of my favourite organists, Iveta Apkalna, playing alongside the Frankfurt Radio Symphony orchestra, who do a particularly brilliant job of finding the lush string sound called for throughout the piece. Don’t be fooled by the slow moving introduction – things get rather heated from the 4-minute mark onwards! 

2JS Bach: Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, “St Anne”, BWV552

It wouldn’t be a list of organ pieces without a piece of Bach. There are so many to choose from and almost all of them are worth including for different reasons, but this is my current favourite: his Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, BWV 552. The Prelude and Fugue bookend his Clavier-Übung III, and the Prelude reflects the Christian numerology found throughout the collection. The tripartite structure of the prelude is seen to reflect the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, whilst the Fugue continues trinitarian references with three subjects presented in three different metres and in three different combinations. The Fugue has been nicknamed the “St Anne” because the theme shares many similarities with the English hymn tune of the same name. This is organ writing at its finest. 

3Vierne - Finale from Organ Symphony no. 1 in D minor, Op.14

This is an absolute classic for organists. The sound quality isn’t great on this recording but Diane Bish is a total legend in the organ world and always performs with great panache. She plays it here on the iconic organ of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

4Messiaen: Transport de Joie

People are quite quick to associate Messiaen with music that is difficult to listen to, but he writes incredibly for the organ and this, the third movement of his early work L’Ascension, is an example of one of his compositions where his harmony is filled with real joy. The full title of the movement is Transports de joie d'une âme devant La Gloire du Christ, qui est la sienna, which translates as “Outburst of Joy from a Soul before the glory of Christ which is its own glory”. 

5Zimmer: Interstellar 

Anyone with a vague interest in the organ will probably have already come across Hans Zimmer’s score to Interstellar, arguably the most significant use of an organ in a film score. Nearly ten years since its release, this score is still proving to be immensely popular, and I would argue that this one score has probably done more to bring the organ into popular culture than most of the rest of us put together! This recording is the concert suite version, but gives you a chance to see the organ in action. 

There is also a wonderful behind the scenes video detailing the recording of the soundtrack with Roger Sayer at Temple Church, London!

6Florence Price: Suite no. 1 for Organ 

This might seem like a slightly left-field choice, but I’ve recently fallen in love with the organ music of Florence Price. I think many of us knew of her little piece Adoration, but didn’t realise she had written more organ music. Well, she has, and not just a little bit more, but five volumes more! She has written everything from little miniatures through to a monumental Passacaligia and Fugue, a Sonata, a set of Variations on a Folksong and this virtuosic Suite. I particularly love the first movement, an extrovert fantasy. 

If you enjoyed that then it’s worth checking out some of her other organ music – I love this video of Nathaniel Gumbs playing the Finale from her Organ Sonata no. 1

7Saint-Saëns: Danse macabre (arr. Lemare)

This is a fun one – I often say that the organ is a little bit like a toy box of sounds, and it’s pretty extraordinary how the organ can replicate so many of the different instruments of the orchestra. This transcription of Saint-Saens’ Danse macabre gives you an idea of some of the very different sounds it can create that aren’t ‘typical’ organ sounds. Olivier Latry is an incredible player and also a fabulous improvisor. 

Click here to view on YouTube 

Olivier Latry playing the Rieger Orgelbau in the Philharmonie de Paris
© Philharmonie de Paris

Latry is the Organiste titulaire at Notre Dame and you can watch him improvising here.

8Demessieux: Te Deum 

Jeanne Demessieux was a French organist and composer who enjoyed a career as a virtuosic recitalist, and was the first female organist to sign a recording contract. Many of her compositions for the organ, including her famous Te Deum, were based on plainsong themes. The Te Deum takes the form of a symphonic poem based on fragments of the Te Deum, and was apparently inspired by the State Trumpet on the organ of St John the Divine, New York. We have many photographs of Demessieux which show that she often played the organ in rather extraordinary stilettos – the organist Katelyn Emerson has paid tribute to Demessieux’s footwear in this astonishing recording. 

9Fauré: Sicilienne from Pélleas et Mélisande (arr. Ospital) 

Another offering from a French organist, this time from Thomas Ospital, organist of Saint-Eustache. I love this recording of Fauré’s Sicilienne because it demonstrates the organ’s capacity for sheer beauty of sound. Yes, we all love hearing organ music so loud it can shake a room, but it is an instrument which is capable of so much more! 

10Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (arr. Scott) 

Lastly, this is just phenomenal. Jonathan Scott played this at the BBC Proms a couple of years ago, and I’ve found myself coming back to it so many times – it’s another fantastic example of how versatile the organ is. Jonathan is a staggering virtuoso and has written countless organ arrangements of orchestral masterworks. One of the things I love most is how he manages to inject his playing with real humour and drama. This is one where you really benefit from watching as well as listening, as you can see how involved the process of managing the registrations (different sounds) is! Oh, and he plays lots of different manuals (keyboards) at the same time. It’s just epic!