Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Barry Ferguson: South and West Suite for organ

I recently acquired a copy of Roger Sayer playing the magnificent Klais organ in the Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland.  This CD was issued in 1996 as Volume 45 of the Guild Great European Organs. Works include Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D major, Jean Langlais’ Triptyque, and Marcel Dupré’s ‘Allegro Deciso’ from Evocation, op.27. However the work that caught my imagination was Barry Ferguson’s South and West Suite. I guess that I felt a work which implied the English landscape was an odd choice for an Icelandic organ recital. However further investigation reveals that the composer preceded Roger Sayer as organist at Rochester Cathedral. So it is a fine tribute.
There is precious little written about this work, however my first impression was of a well-crafted piece that looks to the French school with some nods to Percy Whitlock.
The title of the work comes from the second stanza of Thomas Hardy’s delightful poem ‘Weathers’ which was first published in Good Housekeeping (May 1921). It was later included on Late Lyrics and Earlier which appeared in the following year.

This is the weather the cuckoo likes, 
And so do I; 
When showers betumble the chestnut spikes, 
And nestlings fly; 
And the little brown nightingale bills his best, 
And they sit outside at 'The Traveller's Rest,' 
And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest, 
And citizens dream of the south and west, 
And so do I. 

This is the weather the shepherd shuns, 
And so do I; 
When beeches drip in browns and duns, 
And thresh and ply; 
And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe, 
And meadow rivulets overflow, 
And drops on gate bars hang in a row, 
And rooks in families homeward go, 
And so do I. 

The South and West Suite is composed in four well-balanced movements, each dedicated to people or places in the landscape.
The first is ‘Bideford Pastorale’ This is gentle reflective music which presents a fine musical impression of the painting ‘A view of Bideford from Upcott Hill.’ This was by an unknown artist and was painted around 1845. It is currently in Burton Art Gallery.  Bideford, in Cornwall, is where the composer spent part of his childhood years, so it is inherently nostalgic in tone.
The liner notes point out that the second movement, ‘Pavana Chromatica ‘was inspired by a visit to Saltram House in Plympton Plymouth.  This is a George II period house based on a Tudor original largely restored by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The mood of this piece is stately, as the title implies. There is a classical poise to this music that is satisfying. Here and there a hint of something Scottish makes itself felt.
The Toccata, which does not have an obvious topographical location, is dedicated to Joy Finzi, the widow of the composer Gerald. Ferguson wrote this piece in memory of her and recognises her encouragement. It is very much a big, Gallic sounding piece that is lively, rhythmical and virtuosic.
The final movement is entitled ‘Sunset at West Loatmead.’  I could not find a West Loatmead on the map, however I guess the composer’s intention was to create an image of the North Devon Landscape. It is the most serious and introverted of the pieces.
The Gramophone magazine notes that the Suite is ‘a remarkably French-sounding Suite, ostensibly reflecting aspects of the very English county of Devon…’  It is a god description of the piece. 
Interestingly the Hardy’s poem has been set by a number of composers including John Ireland, Michael Head, Phyllis Tate and Eric Thiman. 

Barry Ferguson was born in 1942 and was an organ scholar at Peterhouse, Cambridge. He was Assistant Organist at Peterborough Cathedral and the Organist at Wimbourne Minster and Rochester Cathedral. At present he is a freelance composer, lecturer and recitalist.

Barry Ferguson’s South and West Suite can be heard on PRCD495. It has been loaded onto YouTube. (Search under work’s title). 

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