Percy Whitlock’s (1903-46) Music for Orchestra was completed in 1941. This is a compilation of re-cycled music from different periods of the composer’s life. The first movement is called Peter’s Tune. This is better known to those who haunt the organ loft as the Allegretto from the ever popular Five Pieces for Organ which was composed during his last year at Rochester in 1929. The tune was based on the whistling of a chorister, a certain Peter Burney. The piece opens with dotted quavers in 4/8 time, and swings along in a wistful manner. This rhythm is heard virtually throughout the piece in varying guises and at slightly different tempi. It is one of the finest miniatures to come from the composer’s pen. The orchestral version complements the original organ edition admirably, with a subtle sense of light and shade. A true gem.
The Caprice is almost quicksilver. It was worked out some time before the war began. In some ways it is a miniature ‘organ concerto.’ The orchestra plays passages ‘antiphonally’ which gives the piece a sense of drive and direction. The material is slightly darker than the title may suggest; it is certainly not a ‘humorous’ piece as the dictionary definition of the title may suggest.
The Reverie again has an integral organ part; it began life as the third movement of Three Pieces for Organ and Strings (1927). However, although there are some attractive passages, there is a slight problem with the balance between the organ and orchestra. Not tonally, but certainly structural. There is a sense here of organ then band: organ then band.
The last piece is interesting. It is in a little world of its own. The Fanfare on the tune Song of Agincourt was written in 1940. Whitlock had heard the song on the radio and his wife, Edna, suggested he write a piece based on the tune. The harmonies in this piece are quite different to much that has come from Whitlock’s pen. Parts of it suggest quite a ‘warlike’ felling. The use of parallel harmonies reminiscent of Vaughan Williams less-pastoral moments. Or it is the spareness of a pseudo ‘sackbut and drum’ sound which makes this piece sound as it does. Once again the music is presented antiphonally. The organ playing the ‘tune’ or ‘chorale’ and the orchestra commenting. It makes a good finish to this collection of disparate music. The Suite lacks coherence between the movements that makes this is the least convincing of the larger works which we can listen to on this CD.
Percy Whitlock’s Music for Orchestra is available on Marco Polo 8.225162. Malcolm Riley plays the organ obligato and RTE Concert Orchestra is conducted by Gavin Sutherland.