A few weeks ago, I reviewed the final (fifth) volume of ‘The Complete Organ Works’ of Charles Villiers Stanford. I am fortunate to have previously explored the first and fourth volumes for MusicWeb International. John Quinn examined Volume 2 in these pages. On publication of my latest review, it was realised that no-one had contributed their thoughts on the third volume of this major cycle. So, here I make amends, and present my opinion on what to me, is the most enjoyable of all five discs.
A great place to start exploring this disc is with a piece not originally composed for the organ: the ‘Scherzino’ which is the third of Six Sketches for piano and violin, op.155 (pub. 1918). The original can be heard on Alberto Bologni and Christopher Howell’s exploration of the complete works for violin and piano (Sheva SH100). The present ‘Scherzino’ was arranged in 1934 by Stanley Roper, former sub-organist at Westminster Abbey. It is a vibrant little piece that trips along quite unconcernedly. Roper also arranged the ‘Minuet’ and the ‘Gavotte’ from these Sketches for organ solo: they appear on Volume 5 of this cycle.
There is a wee discrepancy here in the work’s title. The track listings on the CD cover refers to ‘Three Pieces for piano and violin, op.155 whereas the liner notes correctly identify Six Sketches for piano and violin, op.155. They were originally printed as two volumes of three sketches (I understand: there is a wee bit of doubt). Their numbering was, Book 1: 1. Minuet, 2. Morris-Dance and 3. Scherzino; Book 2: 4. Arietta con variazioni, 5. Gavotte and 6. Bourrée.
Frederic Hudson and Paul Rodmell in their respective catalogues, possibly following John F Porte’s Charles Villiers Stanford (London, 1921), cites them as 6 Easy Pieces.
The other fugitive piece on this CD is the Canzona, op.116, no.2 which was published in 1910. Its companion piece, ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ was included in Volume 2 of this series. Jeremy Dibble explains that this Canzona is conceived as ‘an operatic scena’ which begins with a cavatina-like melody, before developing into a dramatic central section. For the record, a ‘cavatina’ was a song in an opera which was typically less-complex or ornate than an aria. Soon the opening theme is reprised, but now presented in a more sophisticated guise. The title, ‘Canzona’ implies an instrumental work that is largely (but not necessarily entirely) polyphonic in character.
The Three Preludes and Fugues, op. 193, are the opening works on this CD. They were composed by the end of 1922 and dedicated to Dr Henry William Richards (1865-1956) the then organist at Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, London. The three Preludes and Fugues are in C major, C minor and B minor respectively.
I wonder at Jeremy Dibble’s use of the word ‘pedagogical’ to describe these three works. Usually, that term implies that they have technical competency, but lack emotion or interest. This, in my opinion, is not the case with these Preludes and Fugues. I have not had an opportunity to study the score, however, listening to them a couple of times, reveals music that is full of life and not inconsiderable depth for small-scale pieces. The formal background, is based on Bach 48’ Preludes and Fugues ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’, rather than his extended works for the organ. Mendelssohn’s Three Preludes and Fugues, op.37 (1837) are also possible exemplars. Dibble quotes Harvey Grace’s comments that Stanford’s Preludes are ‘well-contained monothematic’ pieces and the Fugues are well-constructed and imaginative.’ They are models of ‘compactness’ and can never be described as outstaying their welcome. My favourite section of Stanford’s op.193 is the gigue-like fugue from the C Minor P&F.
John Porte (op.cit.) declared that Stanford’s Sonata No.4 ‘Celtica’ in C minor, op.153 (1918) is probably ‘the grandest’ of the five examples of the genre. He cites its ‘stirring…strength’ and the ‘beauty and [elemental] feeling, full of the romanticism of the Celt…’ On the other hand, this Sonata is not a tone-poem about Ireland conceived for organ. I wonder if Porte has over-stated the Irish connection?
The ‘allegro moderato’ nods to the opening movement of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.1, op.15, especially with the powerful passages of trills. This ‘austere’ sound is balanced by a Mendelssonian ‘Song without Words’, which Dibble suggests may remind the listener of a melody used in the slow movement of the Irish Symphony.
There is a wistful feel to second movement, a Thema con variazioni: I do not think that Stanford is quoting any Irish (or Celtic) tune here: it is just something it in the air. The first three variations build up in complexity, with the third having a vibrant, almost cinema organ bounce to it. The final variation restores the sense of calm of what is a masterly set of variations.
The ‘finale’ is based on the well-known tune, ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’ (I bind unto myself this day: English Hymnal 1906 Hymn 212) which is presented in the opening pages. As the movement develops, Stanford uses a derived tune, ‘Gartan’, to create a passacaglia. After considerable development, the main hymn-tune re-establishes and brings the work to a triumphant peroration.
The ‘Celtica’ Sonata was completed in January 1918 and was dedicated to Stanford’s ‘old friend’ and former pupil, the composer and organist Harold Darke (1888-1976).
The venerable (and oft quoted) Porte (op. cit.) sums up the Six Preludes and Postludes, Set 2, op.105 (1908) in one short sentence: ‘These are a further convenient little set of short organ pieces.’ Very true and succinct, but I think it needs a little more comment. The first set, op.101 was completed in 1907: they are recorded in Volume 2 of this series. The present volume was published in 1908. Thy are printed as alternative Preludes and Postludes. The first is based on Orlando Gibbons’ Song 34 ‘The Angels’ Song’ which Stanford uses in the pedal part. The second, a ‘Postlude’, makes use of fragments of Gibbon’s Song 22. This is a short, powerful voluntary. The following ‘Lento’ is (I understand) an original tune, which appears in various guises: it is the loveliest of the set. Postlude 4, an ‘allegro moderato’, features Gibbon’s Song 24, with intricate parts on the manuals and considerable vivacity. The Trio, (No.5) is the most chromatic of these pieces and involves regular changes of manual. The final number, which is the best known of both sets of Preludes and Postludes is a vigorous piece in 6/4 time opening in D minor. The middle section is thoughtful, with running quavers throughout, before the work concludes with a triumphant restatement of the opening themes, now in the relative major.
Daniel Cook’s playing of all these pieces is quite simply marvellous. I need say no more on that score. He is a tremendous advocate for Stanford (and many other composers). I enjoyed the vibrant sound of this CD: it has a presence and immediacy that gives the listener the impression that they are sitting in the cathedral.
The organ at Salisbury Cathedral is basically a splendid ‘Father’ Willis instrument, which was originally installed in 1876-7. Henry Willis considered that it was his most significant instrument: Sir John Stainer stated that it was a more impressive organ than that installed in St Paul’s Cathedral. Since then, it has been rebuilt, restored and cleaned several times. The most recent restoration was by Harrison and Harrison in 2006.
As with the entire cycle of Stanford’s organ music, the essential liner notes are by Jeremy Dibble. They include detailed information about the music and the organ. The specification for this superb instrument is (naturally) included, as well as biographical notes on the organist.
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. In addition, he has released exciting recitals from St Bees Priory, St George’s Church Cullercoats and St David’s Cathedral in Wales.
I have been delighted to have reviewed four of the five volumes (I have listened to them all) of Daniel Cook’s cycle of organ music by Charles Villiers Stanford. For the first time, the listener/enthusiast can explore every single work that CVS composed for the ‘King of Instruments’ as well as a few transcriptions by other hands. All five discs are essential for ‘Stanfordians.’ It is surely an undervalued and hugely important contribution to British/World organ literature in general and Stanford in particular.
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Three Preludes and Fugues, op.193 (1922)
Canzona, op.116, no.2 (1910)
Sonata No.4 ‘Celtica’ in C minor, op.153 (1918)
Six Sketches for piano and violin, op.155, no.3 Scherzino (arr. E S Roper) (1917/34)
Six Preludes and Postludes, Set 2, op.105 (1908)
Daniel Cook (organ)
Rec. The Organ of Salisbury Cathedral, 7-9 January 2015
PRIORY PRCD 1146