When I reviewed the first volume of this important series, I conceded that I was not familiar with the ‘organ’ section of Charles Villiers Stanford’s catalogue. Since then, I have had the pleasure of exploring three further instalments of Daniel Cook’s survey of the composer’s ‘complete organ works.’ The more I hear, the more I appreciate and enjoy this music. The present volume has not disappointed me.
The opening number on the CD, ‘By the sea shore’ was the first of Three Idylls, op.194 written around 1923. It is a little tone-poem for organ that quite clearly portrays a scene dear to the composer. This is real sea-music, complete with rolling waves and a surging tide. The other two Idylls are entitled ‘In the Country’ and ‘The Angelus’. Presumably they will be included on the next (final) volume.
In 1924, H.F.W. Deane & Sons published A Little Organ Book in Memory of Hubert Parry which contained specially composed pieces by a dozen of his contemporaries. Stanford’s chorale prelude is both moving and consoling in its gentle rhetoric. It is based on ‘Why does azure deck the sky?’ which was Parry’s very first published song.
The composer’s earliest published organ work is the Prelude and Fugue in E minor dating from around 1874. It was written whilst the 23-year-old composer was studying at Leipzig with Carl Reinecke. The listener will notice the inspiration of J.S. Bach as well as the influence of the more romantically-minded Joseph Rheinberger. The opening prelude is impressive in its sometimes powerful, occasionally wistful, mood of fantasy. Jeremy Dibble, in the liner notes, points out that Stanford has produced a text-book fugue making use of a variety of formal procedures ‘as if [he] had something to prove in terms of his technique.’ For a ‘prentice work it is simply stunning.
The principal work on this CD is the Organ Sonata No.5 in A major, op.159 (1918). It is subtitled ‘Quasi una Fantasia.’ This was the last of a cycle of remarkable examples in this form. The sonata is conceived in three movements; they are played without a break. Stanford has made considerable use of his own hymn-tune ‘Engelberg’ which was composed for William Walsham How’s ‘For all the Saints’. This tune appears in various guises in the first and last movements. The middle section is a delightful intermezzo, which I think is one of the most magical things Stanford composed. There is something of the ‘horns of Elfland, faintly blowing’ about it.
The listener is never in doubt about skilfully tailored passage work for the organ and the obvious technical difficulty for the soloist. Some critics (e.g. Fuller-Maitland) have noted that sometimes the invention seems to ‘flag a little’ and that there are ‘occasional dull passages,’ Peter Hardwick has suggested that it ‘shows much industry, but little inspiration.’ In all honesty, I do not feel that this sentiment applies to this sonata.
The Four Intermezzos, op.189 were composed after Stanford had retired from his position at the Royal College of Music. By this time, he was short of money. Jeremy Dibble reminds the listener that, at this date, there was little demand for Stanford’s large-scale works, which were deemed ‘old-fashioned.’ He therefore turned to writing miniatures for organ, piano, violin and vocalists. These Intermezzi are to certain extent pot-boilers for the organ loft. They display a considerable range of moods: from the gentle ‘pastorale’ setting of the first, by way of a dramatic and powerful ‘heroic’ march, a sentimental (but quite delightful) lullaby and concluding with a short and thoughtful intermezzo built on the ubiquitous ‘Londonderry Air’. These pieces were designed be used at recitals, church and cathedral services and for teaching purposes: they could well take on that role today.
The last work on this disc is the Installation March, op.108 which was composed in 1908. It was originally written for military band and played at the Installation of Lord Rayleigh as Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University. It was subsequently arranged for organ solo. The march makes use of the Cambridge Chimes (G-E flat-F-B flat) as well as material derived from the composer’s incidental music to Aeschylus’ play The Eumenides (1885). It is an impressive, long (at over 10 minutes) march with a hugely contrasting trio section.
Daniel Cook is presently Sub Organist at Westminster Abbey. Prior to this appointment he was Organist and Choir Master at St David’s Cathedral in Wales. He is artistic director of the Mousai Singers. In recent years, Cook has issued a wide variety of CDs including notable and acclaimed surveys of organ music by Herbert Brewer, Herbert Sumsion, Walter Alcock and George Dyson.
The liner notes are written by the Stanford (and many other subjects) authority Jeremy Dibble and gives all the information required for enjoyment and understanding of this music. The insert also includes a specification of the superb four manual Harrison and Harrison organ installed in 1937 at the Abbey.
As with all the discs in this Stanford cycle the sound quality is ideal. The listener can shut their eyes and imagine being present in the great Westminster Abbey, hearing this fine music played on a splendid instrument. No better compliment can be paid.
I understand that there will be one further volume in this series of ‘Stanford’s Complete Organ Music’: I look forward to this with considerable impatience.
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Three Idylls, op.194: No.1 By the sea shore (c.1923)
Chorale Prelude (Little Organ Book) (pub.1924)
Prelude and Fugue in E minor (c.1874)
Sonata No.5 in A major, op.159 (1918)
Four Intermezzi, op.189 No.1 Pastorale, No.2 Marcia Eroica, No.3 Hush Song, No.4 Intermezzo on an Irish Air (1923)
Installation March, op.108 (1908)
Daniel Cook (organ)
PRIORY PRCD 1161
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.