This is the final instalment of one of the great recording projects of British organ music. I have assiduously collected successive issues over the past four years and had the privilege of reviewing the first and fourth volumes for MusicWeb International. John Quinn has written about Volume 2 in these pages. For some reason, the third instalment seems to lack a review.
I guess that there is always a danger with a ‘complete works’ cycle that the ‘sweepings up’ get left to the final release. I can categorically state that this is not the case with Daniel Cook’s latest CD. True, there are a few works that I have not heard of, including five arrangements of music originally composed for other forces, but nearly all the works presented on this CD are important additions to the organist’s repertoire.
The listener must understand that Charles Villiers Stanford is no Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne or Léon Boëllmann: there are no ‘warhorses’ such as ‘Toccatas’ or ‘Finales’ suitable for a Duchess. Flamboyance is not a valid description his work. On the other hand, there is nothing insipid about Stanford’s organ music. Conservative (with a large and a small ‘C’) much of it may be, it never lacks interest, technical fluency, structure or depth of thought. It often appeals to the intellect rather than the emotion. That said there are many moments where sheer beauty and delight are the watchwords. And there are passages of great power and vibrancy.
The CD opens with Stanford’s Fantasia (In festo omnium sanctorum) – The Feast of All Saints. It is based on the composer’s own setting of William Walsham How’s great hymn ‘For All the Saints’. I guess it is a pity that the tune ‘Engelberg’ is not as well-known as Vaughan Williams timeless tune, ‘Sine Nomine’ which is invariably used with this hymn. Stanford makes great use of his tune in the Fantasia, structuring the work around phrases extracted from the melody and creating a paradigm of styles including ‘Buxtehudian improvisation, Alla Breve and Pastorale.’ It builds to an imposing climax.
The three arrangements are all enchanting miniatures. ‘The Roundel’ was written ‘In Memoriam R [obert Sch[mann] and originally appeared in the collection ‘Six Characteristic Pieces for Piano’, op.132 which was completed in 1912. It has been arranged here by A.G. Matthew. This is a thoughtful little piece that is intimate, but never descends into a parody of the elder composer. In 1917 Stanford published his ‘Sketches for violin and piano’, op.155. Stanley Roper, former sub-organist at Westminster Abbey, selected two and arranged them for organ solo. They are not masterpieces, but fill a charming role as pleasant voluntaries for village evensong. Although the two pieces are entitled ‘Minuet’ and ‘Gavotte’ they owe little to musical history, save the time signatures.
The supposedly ‘secular’ Three Idylls, op.194 were composed around 1922, but were not published until 1930. The first Idyll ‘By the sea shore’ was included in Volume 4 of this series. This was a miniature tone poem, ‘complete with rolling waves and a surging tide.’ The second, presented here, ‘In the Country’ is hardly worldly in its meditative mood, whilst the ‘Angelus’ is once again thoughtful and musically restrained.
Ten or so years previously, Stanford completed another Idyll, op.121. This is a lovely piece which despite the use of a chorale-like melody, has nothing of ‘choirs and places where they sing.’ In fact, this significant work explores a wide-range of moods including a considerable climax. The shade of Theocritus rather than Trollope (Barchester) watches over this work.
The Fantasia upon the tune ‘Intercessor’ by C.H.H. Parry, op.187 is an impressive piece of organ music by any standards. It was composed for the 1922 Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester and was first performed at a ceremony unveiling a memorial tablet to Parry at the west end of the cathedral. It is a big, noisy piece that is a fitting tribute to Stanford’s friend and colleague at the Royal College of Music. It would make moving recessional voluntary at any special service.
In 1893 Stanford composed the incidental music for Tennyson’s play Becket. The leading role was taken by the legendary Henry Irving. Stanford’s score contained seven numbers, concluding with the present Funeral March ‘Martyrdom’. This was originally scored for orchestra and was recorded in this version by Lyrita (SRCD.219). In 1925, it was given this superlative arrangement for organ by Sydney Nicolson. It is one of the great Marches in British musical literature and had been used at several significant national events.
The ‘Six Occasional Pieces for Organ’, op.182 were published in 1930 after the composer’s death. Jeremy Dibble suggests that they were most likely composed around 1921, when Stanford was on the lookout for royalties. They are ‘Gebrauchsmusik’ in the sense that they provide effective material for organists who play at a high standard (but not virtuosi) needing suitable voluntaries for ‘important’ services. I felt that there was a certain, almost inevitable lack of consistency amongst these pieces. One or two are superb, whereas the others are average. For example, I felt that No.4 ‘Requiem’ and No.6 ‘Evensong’ tended to meander a bit and maybe overstayed their welcome. On the other hand, the penultimate piece, No.5 ‘Epithalamium’ was a sturdy alternative to Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March’, albeit a wee bit too brief. No.2 ‘Occasional’ is rightly described as being like a Brahms ‘Intermezzo’, but none the worse for that. The two seasonal pieces No.1 ‘At Christmas-tide’ and No.3 ‘At Easter-tide’, are powerful and ultimately successful.
The final work on this CD is the ‘Processional March’ from the incidental music to Louis Napoleon Parker’s play Drake. The play opened in 1912 and was revived at the start of the First World War. It received many performances. Stanford’s score has seven numbers, of which this commanding processional march was heard after Drake’s victory. It was arranged for organ by Walter Alcock. Although no sea-shanties are used, there is a breeziness about this music that is staunchly nautical in mood.
Daniel Cook combines a busy freelance career with that of Sub Organist at Westminster Abbey, to which he was appointed in 2013. He is also artistic director of the Mousai Singers, based at St David’s in Wales.
Prior to Westminster, Cook was Organist and Master of the Choristers at St David’s Cathedral. He had a considerable involvement in the Cathedral Festival. A glance at the Priory CD catalogue reveals that Cook has been busy in the recording studios. Over the past few years he has produced definitive series of organ music by Herbert Brewer, Herbert Sumsion, George Dyson and Walter Alcock. I addition he has released exciting recitals from St Bees Priory, St George’s Church Cullercoats and St David’s Cathedral in Wales.
The essential and illuminating liner notes are by the Stanford (and many other things) specialist, Jeremy Dibble. All enthusiasts will know the value of Dibble’s indispensable biography of Charles Villiers Stanford published by OUP in 2002. I am glad I bought my copy at the time: Amazon are asking £90+ for a second-hand copy: a bookseller in the USA is offering (currently) a ‘new’ copy for £210.35 plus postage!
The liner notes include the all-essential specification of the excellent four manual Harrison and Harrison organ, which was installed in Westminster Abbey in 1937 to coincide with the Coronation of King George VI.
All this is very appropriate, as Charles Villiers Stanford was buried in the north choir aisle of the Abbey in 1924. His funeral procession was accompanied by the present March from Beckett.
The sound quality of this CD is brilliant. It is the next best thing to being in the Abbey itself. If this present, final disc in the cycle is the first one the listener buys, it will impel them to go purchase the other four. It is a monumental achievement, of which Priory Records, Westminster Abbey, Daniel Cook and Charles Villiers Stanford can be immensely proud of.
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Fantasia (In Festo Omnium Sanctorum) (1910)
Idyll op.121 (1910)
Funeral March from ‘Beckett’ arranged by Sydney NICHOLSON (1874-1947) (1893/1925)
Three Idylls op.194 (pub.1930); No.2 In the country; No.3 The Angelus
Roundel op.132 arranged A. G. MATTHEWS (?) (1912)
Fantasia upon the tune 'Intercessor' by C.H.H. Parry, op. 187 (1922)
Sketches for Piano and Violin op. 155 arranged by E. S. ROPER (1878-1953) (1917) No.1 Minuet; No.5 Gavotte]
Six Occasional Preludes op. 182 (c.1921; pub 1930): No.1 At Christmas-tide; No.2 Occasional; No.3 At Easter-tide; No.4 Requiem; No.5 Epithalamium; No.6 At Even-tide
Procession Music from Drake op. 130 arranged by W. G. ALCOCK (1861-1947) (1912/1925)
Daniel Cook (organist)
Rec. 16, 18 and 19 February 2016 Westminster Abbey.
PRIORY PRCD 1174 [79:53]
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.