Friday, 23 July 2010

A Taste of Shropshire: English Music from Ludlow

Oliphant CHUCKERBUTTY (1884-1960) Paean – a Song of Triumph; Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) arr. Sinclair Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 in G Op. 39 (1907); Sir Edward GERMAN (1862-1936) arr. Lemare Three dances from Henry VIII: Morris Dance, Shepherds’ Dance & Torch Dance; Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900) arr. Rawsthorne The Lost Chord; Paul SPICER (b. 1952) The Land of Lost Content (2006?); Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) arr. Setchell Two dances from Capriol Suite: Basse-danse & Pieds-en-l’air (1926); Sir Edward GERMAN (1862-1936) arr. Brown/Setchell Coronation March and Hymn (1911); Sir Charles BURNEY (1726-1814) Introduction and Voluntary for the Cornet stop(1751); Robert PRIZEMAN (b. 1952) Songs of Praise Toccata; John GARDNER (b.1917) Jig (No. 3 of Five Dances) (1988); Sir Henry WALFORD DAVIES (1869-1941) arr. Setchell RAF March Past; Richard FRANCIS (b. 1946) Introduction and Grand Concert Variations on a Hymn Tune by Sir Arthur Sullivan (the ‘Not-so-young person’s guide to the organ’) (2003)
Martin Setchell at the organ of St Laurence’s Parish Church, Ludlow

If I had not found a number of references to Mr Soorjo Alexander William Oliphant Chuckerbutty in the Musical Times, I would not have believed that he existed. I would have been convinced that, apart from being a resident of Ken Dodd’s Knotty Ash, he was a pseudonym or perhaps even a ‘committee’ of musicians. Yet seemingly he existed and spent his life both as a church and cinema organist. He supposedly wrote the ‘better sort’ of light music. However the Paean: A Song of Triumph is certainly a good opener for any recital. Perhaps not the one I would have chosen – but not bad at all!
Elgar, as we all know wrote Six Pomp & Circumstance Marches -the last, a realisation, has recently been released on CD. However the Fourth is nearly as well known as Land of H & G and, if I recall correctly, it was played at Prince Charles & Lady Spencer’s wedding. Originally written for orchestra it was transcribed by the dedicatee, George Sinclair, one-time organist at Hereford Cathedral and friend of the composer.
Edward German is one if the forgotten names of British music. Most often remembered for the light opera Merrie England, he has a quantity of fine orchestral pieces to his name, including a number of Symphonies. However the first of the present offerings from this composer derives from the incidental music for Henry VIII. Not great music perhaps, but competent and evocative of an earlier age seen through the eyes of an Edwardian master.
The second German number is the Coronation March and Hymn written for the Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. It remained in the repertoire for a number of years and was used at the 1937 Coronation for the arrival of the dowager Queen. Great stuff!

Preserve me, O Lord, from The Lost Chord! Do not get me wrong- I love the music of Sir Arthur Sullivan. But not this – it is the most sugary piece of Victorian tat in the repertoire. I would rather Mr Setchell had played Buttercup’s Song from HMS Pinafore or “Skipping Hither, Skipping Thither” from Iolanthe. Anything but this wretched tune! But it will be, I suppose, somebody’s cup of tea- my late father used to love it!
Paul Spicer’s The Land of Lost Content is a masterpiece. It was written especially for this recording and I presume dedicated to the Mr Setchell. The composer told me that he completed it in December 2006. It is really a short tone poem that explores both the landscape of the ‘Shropshire Lad’ and “the regret, longing, the unease and the whole issue of loss in war” about which A.E. Housman wrote. It is musically in the tradition of West of England organ music and deserves to be played often – both in Shropshire and the rest of the country.
I am not too sure why Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite is excerpted on this disc. Good as it is, I am not convinced that it needs to be ‘dished up’ for organ. It is seriously good for string orchestra and there is plenty of original music for organ! However, they are well transcribed by Setchell.
Sir Charles Burney was a Shrewsbury man. His fine Introduction and Voluntary for Cornet Stop should be in the repertoire of all organists – assuming that they have a suitable ‘cornet’ stop on the pipe rack!
The well known Toccata by Robert Prizeman that introduces the infuriating [recording the Christmas programme in July type of thing] television programme ‘Songs of Praise’ is a good choice for this semi-popular CD of organ music. The only problem with this work is that it tends to lose interest in itself beyond the opening credits!

John Gardner’s ‘irreverent’ Jig (No.3 of Five Dances) is fun and has a slight touch of ‘blue note’ jazz. No doubt somebody would be traumatised if it was played at Evensong: my Uncle Eric was seriously chastised by the church officer for playing Tiger Rag in Methodist church in Ashton-under-Lyne just before the war! I think it was the glissando ‘roar’ on the pedals rather than the tune that caused the problem- so perhaps Gardner’s piece may only raised the odd eyebrow!

Henry Walford Davies is usually remembered for the Solemn Melody used at the Remembrance Day Parade in Whitehall. However the fine Coates-like RAF March Past is in a totally different, secular vein. But did you know that he wrote a Symphony in 1894?

The last work in this pot-pourri is a pot pourri in its own write (right). Magnificently entitled Introduction & Grand Concert Variations on a Hymn Tune by Sir Arthur Sullivan (the not-so-young-person’s guide to the organ) it lasts a good sixteen minutes. It is a sweeping up of a gross of different styles and a dozen quotes from famous organ and orchestral works. Too many to itemise – but look out for Widor – you cannot really miss him. Just the sort of piece to bring the house – or perhaps the Cathedral or Parish Church - down after a serious [mind numbing?] evening of Reger or Bach or Hindemith!

This is a good CD featuring as number of composers who were born in, live/lived in or had associations with Salop. As a compilation it is very much like the curate’s egg. However the good parts will, I guess, be seen differently by various listeners.
Nice production, good booklet complete with organ specification and historical notes. The playing is superb and the sound quality very good if a little quirky.

Finally, it did interest me to read the Oliphant Chuckerbutty can be anagram-ised to “Pick truly hot Bach tune” – I wonder…
This CD can be bought at Amazon
Review originally published on MusicWeb International 2007

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