I was unable to find much information about [John] Gordon Cameron (1900-89). The liner notes explain that he was onetime organist at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow, as well as being a lecturer at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
Despite his Scottish name, I understand that Cameron was born in Cardiff in 1900. He studied at Ellesmere College, Christ’s College Cambridge and Edinburgh University. Whilst at Cambridge, Cameron was one of Charles Villiers Stanford’s last pupils at that institution. Before his appointment to Glasgow, St Mary’s he was organist at St John’s Episcopal Church in Dumfries. Gordon Cameron died in 1989.
He published two sets of hymn tune preludes. The first was Six Preludes on hymn-tunes for organ (Novello, 1942): Rockingham, Tune by Orlando Gibbons [Song 13], Windsor, Martyrdom, Cape Town and Bristol, followed by Four Preludes on Hymn Tunes (Novello, 1948): St Columba, Strathcaro, Franconia and Quam dilecta.
The present Fantasia on St Denis (Immortal, Invisible God only Wise) was published by Novello in 1945.
The liner notes point out that the Fantasia was dedicated to Lieut. Colonel George Dixon (1870-1950) – possibly of the Border Regiment (1914) - who had considerable influence on the design of the organ at St Bees Priory and several other Cumberland instruments. This Fantasia is an accomplished work that explores the tune of ‘St Deniol’, with considerable subtlety. The tune, somewhat varied, is usually heard on a reed stop although it is often subsumed by the figuration of the accompaniment. This is a piece that would make a good recessional at a wedding or ‘big service.’
Here the Fantasia is played on the fine three-manual instrument in St Peter’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Lancaster. This instrument was originally by Henry Ainscough of Preston in 1889. After additional work by Ainscough in 1956, and a new console by Pendelbury of Cleveleys in 1976 it was rebuilt by Willis in 2008-9.
The other piece from Lancaster Cathedral is Dr J[ames] H[ugh] Reginald Dixon’s Baroque Suite. The first time I came across this Yorkshire-born composer, I certainly did confuse him with the infinitely better remembered occupant of the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool – Reginald Dixon (1904-1985).
The Baroque Suite was composed in 1957. It is presented in four attractive movements and is ‘a modern organ composition, written in the ancient modes…to illustrate some of the possibilities of the Baroque style of registration.’ The opening Toccata is presented in the Aeolian mode (scale represented by the white notes on the piano A to A):it balances chords and rapid figuration in its exposition. There is a gentle ‘Pastorale’ which is more 20th century than 17th in its sound: this is lovely music conjuring a long-forgotten landscape. The ‘Verset’ is particularly beautiful with its evocation of night time: it is a perfect voluntary for Evensong. The Baroque Suite closes with the vibrant and rhythmic ‘In Modo Festivo’. In fact, the whole work is a little bit of a con: this is a modern work that owes precious little to Handel or Bach in its sound or mood. A wonderful piece that demands to be in the organists’ repertoire.
The Overture to the Occasional Oratorio by George Frederic Handel was composed (some say cobbled together from various sources) in 1745-6 to celebrate the end of the Jacobite Rebellion. Bonnie Prince Charlie had led an army as far south as Derby, before being made to retreat into Scotland. This long journey passed through the eastern boundaries of the Lake District. Eventually, the Jacobite army was routed at Culloden (16 April 1746) and the rebellion was finally over.
The present work is effectively a French overture conceived in four parts. The opening ‘andante maestoso’ has the predictable dotted rhythm, before the vibrant ‘allegro’ which is written as a fugal movement takes over. The ‘adagio’ is particularly interesting with a lovely melody played on a solo stop. The final movement which is sometimes known as ‘The Duke of Cumberland’s March’, ‘celebrates’ William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland’s role in the Young Pretender’s nemesis. He was also known was Butcher Cumberland due to his enthusiastic and brutal crackdown on the Jacobite survivors.
The Overture was arranged by W.T. Best for organ and became one of his warhorses at St George’s Hall, Liverpool. Ian Hare has noted that he has ‘toned down’ Best’s arrangement a little, so that it retains a more authentic baroque mood.
This work is played on lovely two-manual instrument in St Patrick’s Church, Patterdale. This organ was built in 1866 by William Hill and Son and subsequently rebuilt by Wilkinson and Son of Kendal in 1906. In 2012/3, it was completely renovated by Andrew Carter.
Two Postludes by Dr F.W. Wadely (1882-1970) are also heard on the Patterdale organ. Wadely is not a composer that I have come across before. His main appointment as an organist was between 1910 and 1960 at Carlisle Cathedral. He was a pupil of Sir Walter Parratt and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, so had perfect credentials. The library catalogue includes several organ works, part songs, services and anthems.
The Two Postludes on this CD were taken from the first of two sets of Short and Easy Postludes published by Novello in 1917. They are straightforward and enjoyable.
Cartmel is in one of the loveliest parts of Lancashire (detached) [since the 1974 rehash of the ancient county boundaries, it is now in somewhere called Cumbria]. The beautiful medieval town is dominated by the 12th century Priory, which has been declared the finest priory church in the county. Arthur Mee has written (1936) about the village: ‘The many grey stone houses and many bridges give Cartmel the charm of quaintness. All around is lovely country rising from quiet streams and farmland to wild moor and waterfalls, with views of the se and mountain, heather and sand [Morecambe Bay], delights for every traveller’s heart.’ Despite a few modern developments in the area, this holds true today. Racegoers will always be enchanted by the picturesque racecourse. And then there is the world famous ‘sticky toffee pudding’.
Adrian Self has captured much of this magic in his Cartmel Priory Suite. The work was composed in 2011 as a ‘thank-you’ to Father Robert Bailey and his wife, Sue, on their retirement from ministry at the Priory.
There are three contrasting movements. The opening is an intimate set of variations based on a short theme. This is followed by a gentle ‘Berceuse’. The finale is a vibrant, angular dance. Self has introduced a reminiscence of the opening movement in the final bars. This gives the suite a satisfying sense of unity. The work was originally designed to ‘exploit the full resources’ the organ at Cartmel.
Here, the Suite is played on the three-manual organ in Crosthwaite Church in Keswick. This instrument was originally by Bishop of London and dates from 1837. It has been rebuilt and restored by several organ-builders over the years. Currently it is under the care of Andrew Carter.
The Triptych by the present recitalist Ian Hare is a grand work. The liner notes tell that it was completed in the 1980s during a sabbatical term from Lancaster University. At this time, Hare was the organist at Cartmel Priory. The work is dedicated to the composer’s wife, Pauline and was duly published by Banks Music in 1993.
The music is an effective balance between traditional organ forms spiced with slightly more modern astringency. As the title implies, there are three contrasting movements. In a programme notes for a concert at the Great Hall of Lancaster University, Hare adds that the work was inspired by ‘a possibly fictional account which I remember, relating to the Mediaeval craft guilds, who required the completion of such a tri-partite form to achieve full membership.’
The opening ‘Prelude’ is written in a loose sonata form with an angular first subject and a flowing second. After a short development, this second subject reappears in the pedals bringing the piece to a convincing conclusion. Parts of this movement have been likened to Paul Hindemith: it is a fair comparison. The Intermezzo is lovely. If there are exemplars here, it is Vierne, especially in the middle section of this ternary piece. Here, a light reed stop is supported by the string ‘voix celeste’ stop, creating a mood of hushed contemplation. The Toccata is impressive: there is the usual semiquaver figuration, which propels the music forward. This is followed by a short fugal section, which references the theme from the Prelude. The busyness returns before the cyclic tune is reprised on the pedals.
Arthur Somervell was born in Windermere, Westmorland on 5 June 1863. He is a rough contemporary of Edward Elgar and Fred Delius. After study with Charles Villiers Stanford at Cambridge, Hubert Parry in London and Frederick Kiel in Berlin, he divided his time between musical education and composition. Important appointments included a professorship at the Royal College of Music, an inspector of music in schools and finally Inspector of Music to the Board of Schools. Arthur Somervell died in London on 2 May 1937.
His works include several choral works, a Symphony ‘Thalassa’, a well-wrought piano concerto and an equally enjoyable violin concerto. He was one of the earliest enthusiasts for the work of A. E. Housman and made an enduring setting of several poems from A Shropshire Lad. His music is largely conservative in its sound, but always well-constructed and maintains the listener’s interest. There are obvious echoes of his contemporaries and teachers, although the main influences are Mendelssohn and Brahms.
The present Air in C major is an arrangement made by A.G. Matthews in 1960 of an original string sextet published around 1930. The listener will be impressed by this twentieth-century take on Bach’s Air on a G string. The melody is beautiful and is underpinned by a ‘pizzicato’ pedal part. It is played on the organ of St. Oswald’s Church Grasmere.
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960) is usually associated with Essex, and the village of Danbury. During the Second World War, CAG’s house was requisitioned as a hospital, resulting in a five year stay in Windemere. This is the justification for the inclusion of his Six Sketches for organ on this CD. In fact, they were composed eight years after he returned to his home in Danbury.
Although I have heard a few of these Sketches over the years at recitals and services, I have never heard them all ‘back to back’. They were issued by Oxford University Press as two volumes of three pieces. Volume 1 contained, ‘Lyric Melody’, ‘Elegy’ and ‘Jubilate Deo’; Volume 2 ‘Quiet Thoughts’, ‘Folk-song’ and ‘Processional March’. To be honest, I feel that most organists would select a piece from these Sketches and play it at an appropriate point in the service. I do not think they were ever intended as recital pieces played one after the other. That said, I am extremely grateful to Ian Hare for featuring them here: as far as I am aware, this is the only available recording of all six pieces.
My favourite is the first. The lovely ‘Lyric Melody’ with it off-beat accompaniment, subtle harmony and charming tune is everything a voluntary should be. The listener may feel that this piece owes something to Fauré. The ‘Elegy’ is reflective and includes some wayward modulation and mild chromaticism as the piece progresses. The first ‘fast and loud’ piece is the ‘Jubilate Deo’, which bounces along without overdoing the ‘shouting for joy.’ I am not quite sure when this piece would be used, as it is only one and a half minutes long: it is hardly suitable for a recessional.
Book 2 opens with an appropriately meditative ‘Quiet Thoughts’. These are secular rather than religious thoughts that suggest a summer garden rather than a chapel. The string stops on the organ are fully utilised. The ‘Folk-Song’ is a confection: lots of flattened sevenths in its largely modal main theme. The Six Sketches conclude with an impressive ‘Processional March’ which once again is just a wee bitty short.
These Sketches are ideal for a relatively small two or three manual (with pedals) organ. St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere (I have had a shot on this one, many years ago) is the perfect instrument for these pieces (and the Somervell). It was built by J.J. Binns in 1923 and modified by Wilkinson in 1953 and Walker in 1964. Recent attention has been provided by Victor Saville.
Ian Hare is currently organist at Crosthwaite Church, Keswick. Full details of his career can be found in the liner notes and at his personal webpage.
I thoroughly enjoyed this CD: Hare has chosen an imaginative programme of works that are rarely heard. I have only come across the Handel and the Cecil Armstrong Gibb before. Each work is convincingly played. The sound quality of this disc excellent, as expected from Priory.
The liner notes are good: a little more detail on these relatively rare pieces of music would have been of interest. The usual organ specifications are included, along with evocative pictures of the churches and their ‘pipe-racks.’ The listener needs to be warned that the recording details on the CD cover have been subject to Gremlins. I have [I hope] cited the correct information above.
I look forward to further recordings from Ian Hare and the stable of splendid organs in the English Lake District.
Gordon CAMERON (1900-89) Fantasia on St.Denio ("Immortal Invisible") (1945)
Dr J.H. REGINALD DIXON (1886-1975) Baroque Suite (1957)
St Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Overture to the Occasional Overture (arr: W.T. BEST (1826-97) (1745/?)
Dr F.WADELY (1882 -1970) Two Postludes (1917)
St Patrick’s Church, Patterdale
Adrian SELF (b.1952) Cartmel Priory Suite (2011)
Ian HARE (b.1949) Triptych (pub.1993)
Crosthwaite Church, Keswick
Sir Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937) Air in C major arr. A.G. MATTHEW (?) (1930/?)
Cecil Armstrong GIBBS (1889-1960) Six Sketches (1954)
St Oswald’s Church Grasmere
Ian Hare (organ)
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.