Saturday 30 September 2017

Arnold Cooke: Concerto in D for String Orchestra (1948)

Arnold Cooke’s Concerto in D for String Orchestra was commissioned by the South American division of the BBC and was played on that radio service in 1948. The first concert performance was at Malvern some three years later. The programme notes suggest that it has little in common with contemporary essays – for example John Ireland’s Concertino Pastorale and Michael Tippett’s Double Concerto. There is certainly little here that suggests the English landscape or the musings of rustics on a summer’s day. However, this misses the point. Malcolm MacDonald suggests Bartok and Stravinsky as possible models, and I can see his point. Yet, I was forcibly reminded of Lennox Berkeley. But maybe we can both agree on the writer’s allusion to RVW’s Concerto Accademico?  
The title of ‘concerto’ is a little misleading. It is not a solo concerto and neither is it really a ‘concerto grosso’. The solo instruments emerge “briefly for textural and colouristic effect.”  The opening movement is full of energy and movement. The second, an ‘Andante sostenuto’ is the heart of the work. This is described as an elegy and is worthy of the title: deep music that tugs at the heart strings. Yet it is never sentimental. How this treasure can have lain hidden all these years is a mystery to me. This, to my ear is one of the great utterances of English music.  The last movement once again reminds me of Sir Lennox. It is a cheerful counterbalance to the profound thoughts of the ‘Andante.’ Here, if anywhere, with the ‘jig’ and the ‘pastoral lyricism’ we feel that perhaps Cooke approaches an ‘Englishness’ that is somewhat removed from Paul Hindemith.
Arnold Cooke’s Concerto in D for String Orchestra can be heard on Lyrita SRCD 203. 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where these notes first appeared.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Geoffrey Bush: Songs on Lyrita

I do not have a full list of Geoffrey Bush’s music so I cannot be sure what proportion of his songs have been recorded on this superb new CD from Lyrita. However, a glance at Grove and the list printed in the composer’s autobiography (An Unsentimental Education, Thames Publishing, 1990) suggest that this represents a considerable portion of the extant works for voice and piano.  The present programme ranges from the early Five Spring Songs composed in 1944 to the Chaucer setting from 1987.

Geoffrey Bush was born in London in 1920. After singing in Salisbury Cathedral as a boy-chorister he entered Lancing College in Sussex. He received the Nettleship Scholarship to Balliol College where he gained his doctorate. A pacifist during the Second World War, he was employed as a warden at a hostel in Monmouth for ‘difficult’ evacuees. After the war, Bush studied with John Ireland in London. Later appointments included Chairman of the Composers Guild of Great Britain, and for 35 years he was Staff Tutor in music at London University. Beside composition, he was a prolific writer on musical topics and was a contributor to the BBC’s Third Programme/Radio 3. He edited the music of other composers including the songs of Stanford and Parry.  Geoffrey Bush’s catalogue of compositions is extensive and included two symphonies, a number of operas, incidental music for stage, a large amount of chamber music, choral and vocal works. He is best recalled for his Overture: Yorick and his Christmas Cantata.
Record companies have not been over generous to him. Lyrita has issued the symphonies and ‘Music for Orchestra’; Chandos released an album of Bush’s chamber music and another of songs with Ian Partridge with the composer playing piano. There are a few other pieces scattered here and there in the catalogues.

The liner notes outline Bush’s approach to song-writing presented in a lecture to an adult day-learning class. He would begin by selecting the text from a number of possibilities and then immerse himself in the words by constant rereading. This enabled him to ‘…absorb every nuance of the poetry from the surface meaning to all the subtle ways the poet had clothed the content by the use of verse-structure, verbal inflection, pace and colour.’ And finally his stated aim was not to just ‘set’ the text, but to find ‘a way that enriched the original poem through music.’ It is clear from the works presented on this CD that he practised what he preached.
I do not intend to comment on each individual song or song cycle: the excellent liner notes give a detailed analysis of this music. I want to make three general comments. Firstly, I was impressed with the broad range of poetical material that Bush has explored to make his settings. The present disc has writers as diverse as Robert Herrick, Geoffrey Chaucer and Stevie Smith: his range of interest embraces the Greek poet Meleager, the English Renaissance poet Ben Jonson and medieval lyrics by John Skelton and Charles of Orleans.
Secondly, the listener will be conscious of two fundamentally different stylistic features in these songs. There is music that is clearly influenced by Parry, Stanford, Ireland and other composers of the English musical revival. Beside this, there is a strong element of Bush’s work that is more ‘modernist’ sounding with nods to Prokofiev and possibly even Stravinsky. For example, in the Kathleen Raine settings, The End of Love he responded to the text with music that was ‘infused with a new archness, even sardonic bitterness.’ Some of this music borders on the brutal: it is certainly shrouded in dark shadows. In the Seven Greek Songs there is an operatic feel to the progress of each text. The Ben Johnson songs are typical of the general run of twentieth century English song, but are not without individuality. Interestingly, he has not fallen under the spell of Benjamin Britten.
And finally, Bush’s entire vocal output is characterized by an economy of material. There is wit and humour in much of this music that reflects his interest in French music. However, I believe that melody is primary in virtually every one of these songs. This is accompanied by a colourful, but typically economical piano part.

As with all CDs of songs and song cycles, I suggest that the listener explore slowly. I worked through chronologically. The liner notes by Roderick Swanston are helpful and informative. After a brief biographical sketch of the composer he gives a detailed study of each work. Unfortunately, Lyrita have chosen not to give the texts of these songs. I concede that some of them will still be bound by copyright such as Stevie Smith and Kathleen Raine. Clearly, Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker and Robert Herrick are not.
I was impressed by the clear, confident singing of Simon Wallfisch. Every word is defined; every nuance of the melody is presented with confidence and understanding. He has mastered the sentiment and literary detail and adapts perfectly his vocal style to the various moods of each song. His voice is controlled and never strained. Wallfisch makes an ideal artist for English song recitals.  Edward Rushton provides a consistently sympathetic accompaniment to all these songs.
The ambience of the recording is faultless and reflects the quality of the singing and playing. It is what one expects from Lyrita.
This is an excellent exploration of Geoffrey Bush’s songs. It probably needs to have a ‘Volume 2’ to catch those other fascinating settings such as the remaining three of the Four Chaucer Songs, and ‘Farewell Earth’s Bliss’. And then there are the songs composed for ‘high’ voice…

Geoffrey Bush is a composer who demands reassessment. The compositions that I have heard suggest that there is much of value in his catalogue. The present CD is a hugely worthy contribution to this reappraisal and deserves every success.

Track Listing:
Geoffrey BUSH (1920-1998)
Four Songs from Herrick’s ‘Hesperides’ (1949)
Seven Greek Love Songs (Meleager trans. Dudley Fitts) (1964)
Five Spring Songs (1944)
Stevie Smith Songs (1981)
Three Songs of Ben Johnson (1952)
The End of Love (Kathleen Raine) (1954)
Merciless Beauty (1987)
Five Medieval Lyrics (1970)
O, the Month of May (1950)
Simon Wallfisch (baritone) Edward Rushton (piano)
LYRITA SRCD.343 [70:00]
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Sunday 24 September 2017

Kenneth Leighton: Burlesque for orchestra, op.19

Kenneth Leighton’s enjoyable Burlesque for orchestra, op.19 was composed during the spring and summer 1957. Other important works around this time included the magisterial Passacaglia, Choral and Fugue, op.18 for orchestra and the String Quartet No.2, op.33. The first performance was during a radio broadcast by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Colin Davis.  I have been unable to identify the date of this broadcast.
Burlesque was first publicly performed at the Promenade Concerts on 3 September 1959. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was conducted by the composer.

The programme notes, written by the composer states: ‘The work has no programme, but sets out simply to express feelings of exuberance and sometimes playfulness rather in the manner of a concert overture. There are two main ideas; the first is a fast, rhythmic motive given out at once by the strings. A brass fanfare contributes a subsidiary idea and these two themes are immediately given rhythmic development. The second main theme, entering at the peak of a climax on the horns, is a broader tune marked ‘ardente.’ The piece poses no problems and roughly follows the design of sonata form. But there is an extended coda in which the broad second theme achieves a final transformation on full brass.’

The Times (4 September 1959) critic was impressed. He pointed out that the novelty in the previous evening’s Promenade Concert was ‘home grown and unpretentious…[written] by the 30-year-old Yorkshire composer…’  He felt that the title of the work, ‘Burlesque’ was ‘a bit misleading, for though the piece was energetic and often exuberant it was certainly not tongue-in-cheek or humorous in style.’ The reviewer picked up on the fact that Leighton had used ‘sonata form’ as the basis of this piece – ‘the working out of the material left no doubt whatsoever of his academic background.’ Presumably in this instance, this was a compliment rather than any suggestion of pedantry. The scoring was examined: it placed Leighton in the ‘Brahms camp’ rather than the ‘New Romantic school of Wagner and his associates, had he [Leighton] lived a century earlier.’ In conclusion, the critic felt that the work was ‘a good substantial piece of traditional thinking rather than an ear-tickler [in the] burlesquing tradition.

The Daily Telegraph reviewer (4 September 1959) heads their comments with ‘Jollity with a shallow ring: Prom Tit-Bit.’ The writer insists that Kenneth Leighton ‘is a knowledgeable and efficient composer, and these qualities have stood by him in the new Burlesque which he conducted at last night’s Promenade concert.’  It suggests that the composer’s models included Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and William Walton. The orchestra was ‘put through the hoops with many a deft crack of the whip’. The reviewer stated that ‘no more is required of a prom tit-bit…’ Nevertheless, at ‘jollity without a strong personality behind it has a shallow ring.’ Unfortunately, the piece does not result from ‘an over-brimming of personal high spirits.’

Stephen Plaistow reviewing the score for The Musical Times June 1961 felt that ‘Kenneth Leighton, in his recent orchestral Burlesque, shelves the problem [of advancing his style] and gives the impression of marking time as far as individuality is concerned. Certainly, his piece owes much to the Walton of the Portsmouth Point and [the] Johannesburg Festival overtures, with its strong, bright colours and exhilarating rhythmic variety. But it is little the worse for this, and its solid workmanship and restrained scoring (especially in the kitchen (percussion) department) give it an engaging unpretentiousness. Virtuoso orchestras are going to love it.’ Burlesque was published by Novello and Co. in 1961.  

Kenneth Leighton’s Burlesque has been uploaded to YouTube. It is played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Colin Davis. I wonder if it is the original broadcast?

Thursday 21 September 2017

Organs of the Lake District on Priory Records

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. 

Track Listings:
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. 

Monday 18 September 2017

Novello's International Series of Contemporary Organ Music

Another list. This time for organ music published between 1958 and 1971 by Novello and Co. in their important International Series of Contemporary Organ Music series. These pieces are much more virtuosic than those published in the Novello’s Organ Music Club Series. Unfortunately, very few have gained a secure place in the organists’ repertoire. I note that nearly half of these pieces have been recorded: I have indicated this next to each work. This information was derived from World Cat and it may be the case that there are recordings of the other works lurking on vinyl, CD online.
I have some of these scores in my ‘music library’: these are mainly for reference, as in my wildest dreams I never imagined being able to play any of them, no matter how much practice.
It is good to see that Arthur Wills, Paul Crunden-White, Derek Healey, John Joubert and Peter Naylor are still going strong.
Once again, I owe thanks to the Cumbrian Society of Organists, where these listings were originally published in .pdf format. I have used this list as a cross check to WorldCat and the published lists by Novello on the rear covers of their organ music publications.

1 Jean Langlais (1907-91) Triptyque for organ (1958) CD
2 Anthony Milner (1925-2002) Rondo Saltato for organ (1955)
3 Richard Tynsky (1909-74) Phrygian Toccata for organ (1960)
4 Camil Van Hulse (1897-1988) Christmas Rhapsody, op.103, no.2 for organ (1958)
5 Brian Brockless (1926-95) Prelude, Toccata and Chaconne for organ (1959) CD
6 Ivan Langstroth (1887-1971) Theme and Variations for organ (1961)
7 Karel B. Jirák (1891-1972) Five Little Preludes and Fugues for organ (1960)
8 Camil Van Hulse (1897-1988) Seven Preludes and Fugues for organ (1961)
9 Arthur Wills (b. 1926) Introduction and Allegro for organ (1961)
10 John Gardner (1917-2011) Five Hymn-Tune Preludes, op.44 for organ (1962)
11 Paul Crunden-White, (b. 1937) Theme & Variations for organ (1962)
12 John Joubert (b.1927) Passacaglia and Fugue for organ (1963) CD
13 Arthur Wills (b.1926) Five Pieces for organ (1963) CD/LP
14 Jos de Brabanter (1918-2006) Sonata: for organ (1964)
15 Richard Dirksen (1921-2003) Prelude on ‘Urbs Beata’ for organ (1964) CD
16 Derek Healey (b.1936) Introduzione, Aria e Passacaglia (1965) (Originally written in 1962 as ‘Voluntary VI’, op.15c) for organ
17 Kenneth Leighton (1929-88) Prelude, Scherzo and Passacaglia for organ (1964) CD
18 Lotte Backes (1901-90) Improvisation on an Original Theme for organ (1964)
19 Robert Cundick (1926-2016) Divertimento: for organ (1964) CD
20 Robert Cundick (1926-2016) Sonatina for organ (1964) LP/CD
21 Arthur Wills (b.1926) Prelude and Fugue for organ (1965)
22 Lotte Backes (1901-90) Praeludium and Toccata for organ (1965)
23 Arthur Milner (1894-1972) Diptych for organ (1965)
24 John McCabe (1939-2015) Sinfonia (1961) for organ (1966)
25 Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003) Fons Amoris for organ (1965) CD
26 John McCabe (1939-2015) Johannis-Partita (1964) for organ (1965)
27 Peter Naylor (b.1933) Movement for organ (1967)
28 Christopher Steel (1938-91) Fantasy on a theme of Purcell for organ (1965) CD
29 John McCabe (1939-2015) Elegy (1965) for organ (1967)
30 Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003) Organ Symphony (1971) LP/CD
30 Arthur Wills (b. 1926) Variations on ‘Amazing Grace’ and Toccata for organ (1979) CD
31 Brian Brockless (1926-95) Introduction, Passacaglia and Coda for organ (1966) CD/Stream
32 Kenneth Leighton (1929-88) Et Resurrexit: Theme, Fantasy and Fugue for organ (1967) CD
33 Arthur Wills (b. 1926) Variations on a carol, ‘I sing the Birth’ for organ (1967)

Friday 15 September 2017

Novello’s Organ Music Club Sheet Music: Listings

Just a listing of the ‘Novello Organ Music Club’ pieces published between 1956 and 1963. When I was a young, aspiring organist (it never really came to pass), I found several of these pieces in Cuthbertson’s and Biggar’s music shop in Glasgow. I confess to buying a number of these volumes, with little hope of ever being able to play them. Since those days in the early 1970s, precious few have been recorded. Yet a rough-and-ready play-through on the piano/organ suggest that these are often works of considerable value that ought to be played in ‘choirs and places where they sing’ and, I believe ought to be committed to CD as a group.
A few of these composers are probably now forgotten, except amongst organ enthusiasts: fewer have carried their achievement into the 21st century. Some of these pieces may occasionally be heard at organ recitals. A handful have been recorded on YouTube or commercial CD. Fortunately, Arthur Wills, Derek Holman, Peter Hurford and Francis Jackson remain part of the music scene.   
I owe thanks to the Cumbrian Society of Organists, where these listings were originally published in .pdf format. I have used this list as a cross check against WorldCat and the published lists by Novello on the rear covers of their organ music publications.

1 Alec Rowley (1892-1958) Triptych for organ (1955)
2 Eric Thiman (1900-75) Three Pieces for organ (1955)
3 George Dyson (1883-1964) Prelude and Postlude for organ (1956)
4 Francis Jackson (b. 1917) Three Pieces for organ (1956)
5 Flor Peeters (1903-86) Preludium, Canzona e Ciacona, op.83 for organ (1956)
6 John Cook (1918-84) Invocation and Allegro giojoso for organ (1956)
7 Healey Willan (1880-1968) Rondino, Elegy and Chaconne for organ (1957)
8 Heathcote Statham (1889-1973) Four Diversions for organ (1957)
9 William H. Harris. (1883-1973) Miniature Suite for organ (1957)
10 Jean Langlais (1907-91) Three Characteristic Pieces for organ (1957)
11 William Lloyd Webber (1914-82) Chorale, Cantilena and Finale for organ (1958)
12 Henry Coleman (1888-1965) Two Pieces for organ (1958)
13 Gordon Jacob (1895-1984) Prelude, Meditation and Fanfare for organ (1958)
14 Camil Van Hulse (1897-1988) Biblical Sketches for organ (1958)
15 Charles Hutchings (1910-64) Ostinato, Elegy and Paean for organ (1959)
16 Guy H. Eldridge (1904-76) Four Impressions for organ (1959)
17 Norman Gilbert (1912-75) Pieces for four seasons for organ (1959)
18 Vernon Griffiths (1894-1985) Short Suite for organ (1959)
19 Herbert Sumsion (1899-1995) Air, Berceuse and Procession for organ (1960)
20 Gordon Slater (1896-1979) Prelude, Intermezzo and Epilogue for organ (1960)
21 Arthur Milner (1894-1972) Prelude, Siciliano and Ricercare for organ (1960)
22 Desmond Ratcliffe (1917-2001) Preamble, Contrast and Hosanna for organ (1960)
23 Clifford Harker (1912-99) Pastoral Suite for organ (1961)
24 Sidney Campbell (1909-74) Canterbury Improvisations for organ (1961)
25 Arthur J. Pritchard (1908-97) Procession, Interlude and Sortie for organ (1961)
26 Arthur Wills (b. 1926) Eucharistic Suite for organ (1961)
27 Philip Cranmer (1918-2006) Prelude, Ground Bass and Finale for organ (1962)
28 C.S. Lang, C.S (1891-1971) Prelude, Pastorale and Fugue for organ (1962)
29 Arnold Cooke (1906-2005) Prelude, Intermezzo and Finale for organ (1962)
30 Robert Ashfield (1911-2006) Carillon, Plaint and Paean for organ (1962)
31 Derek Holman (b. 1931) Prelude, Air and Fugue (1963)
32 Peter Hurford (b.1930) Two Dialogues for organ (1963)

Monday 11 September 2017

Sidney Torch: Shooting Star

I am not sure that I agree with David Ades’ liner notes for the Guild Light Music Series ‘The Hall of Fame Volume 2’ (GLCD 5162) when he writes that ‘Shooting Star’ is probably the best-known work from Sidney Torch’s pen. I would have suggested the equally delightful ‘On a Spring Note’ as the favourite.

Certainly, ‘Shooting Star’ has all the attributes of a successful piece of light music – ‘a strong, catchy main theme, supported by a melodic middle theme with contrasting tempi…’ Add to that, a truly professional orchestration, a surprisingly challenging work for performers and the creation of a happy and delightful mood.
The work was composed shortly after the end of the Second World War and was issued by Chappell’s in 1947. The piece was released the following year on Columbia DB 2456 played by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, conducted by the composer. The ‘flip’ side was the equally popular ‘The Dance of the Ostracised Imp’ by Frederick Curzon.
One of the things that is not clear is to what the title refers to. Train enthusiasts will recall the eponymous Britannia Pacific Locomotive No. 70029, built in Crewe in 1952 and scrapped in 1967. Too late to have inspired this piece, alas. I did see it, in 1967 at Carlisle Kingmoor loco shed. It is also unlikely to be the old Great Western locomotive, 'Shooting Star', which was scrapped in 1871.
I am inclined to ignore the influence of the obvious meaning of ‘Shooting Star' as a meteor. The music just does not seem to be ‘cosmic’ in its design and effect. Finally, USAF jet trainer aircraft of that name were in service when the piece was penned, but there is something about this music that is decidedly English and un-military.
I see it as a celebration of a ‘star’ of stage and screen, one who recently risen into public view, but still must secure a reputation. It is a romantic piece, full of verve, energy and optimism for the future. 

Soon after ‘Shooting Star’s’ release the piece was used as a theme tune on BBC Television for their ‘Kaleidoscope’ feature. Out of interest, this was a successful light entertainment series that ran from 1946-53. Initially, it was a half-hour programme, but owing to its popularity, it was latterly increased to an hour. There was an ‘collector’s corner’ with antique expert Iris Brookes, a ‘How-to’ feature, ‘Meet you Favourite Author’ and a series of short detective plays, designed to test the listener’s skill in solving a mystery.  Kaleidoscope was where comedian Tony Hancock had his first television success.

Sidney Torch’s ‘Shooting Star’ can be heard on Marco Polo 8223443 and on Guild GLCD 5162.. 

Friday 8 September 2017

Charles Villiers Stanford: The Complete Organ Works 5 (Final Volume)

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.

Track Listing: 
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.