Thursday 28 December 2023

Healey Willan (1880-1968) Quem Pastores from Six Chorale Preludes, Set 1.

Healey Willan was born on 12 October 1880 in Balham, South London. He is usually claimed as an Anglo-Canadian organist and composer. After choir school in Eastbourne and organ posts at Wanstead and Holland Park, in 1913 he emigrated to Canada where he spent the remainder of his life. He was an organist at St. Paul's, Bloor Street in Toronto and taught there at the University and Conservatory. His catalogue is vast with more than eight hundred pieces. His reputation rests on his liturgical and organ music. Willan’s best known work is the remarkable Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue for organ. This has been described as “one of the great organ works of our time.”

One commentator stated the Willan’s “music represents a unique and beautiful combination of styles: both an homage to the sacred music of five centuries ago and a reflection of the innovations of the Romantic/post-Romantic period in which he lived.” (''Tribute to Willan'' Archived 7 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine. St. Martins Chamber Choir website, Retrieved 11 October 2021.)
There were operas, symphonies, a piano concerto, chamber music and piano pieces.
Healy Willan died in Toronto on 16 February 1968.

F.R.C. Clarke in his masterly Healey Willan: Life and Music, University of Toronto Press, 1983) explains that beginning in 1950, Willam wrote more than one hundred chorale preludes and hymn tune preludes as well as several recital pieces.

The Six Chorale Preludes for organ, Set 1, was published by Concordia in 1950. A second set was issued in the following year. They cover a considerable range of mood with their melodies taken from a diverse source of originals: Lutheran Chorales, plainchant, George Wither’s Hymns, and the Victorian musician John Goss. The prelude on Quem Pastores is the first number.

The tune “Quem Pastores,” along with the original Latin text dates from the 14th century, and was printed in the Hohenfurth Ms.,1410). It was first published in Valentin Triller’s Ein christlich Singebuch für Laien und Gelehrten, (A Christian singing book for lay people and scholars) in Breslau, 1555. A German text was provided beginning “Preis sei Gott im hochsten Throne.“ (Praise God in his Highest Throne).

Shepherds left their flocks a-straying,
God's command with joy obeying,
When they heard the angel saying:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem."

Wise Men came from far, and saw him
Knelt in homage to adore him;
Precious gifts they laid before him:
Gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Let us now in every nation
Sing his praise with exultation.
All the world shall find salvation
In the birth of Mary's Son.

Structurally, Willan’s chorale prelude, Quem Pastores follows the basic plan where “individual phrases of the hymn-tunes are presented unornamented and separated by interludes.” The hymn tune appears in the tenor part, played by the left hand. The accompanying counterpoint appears to develop from phrases of the tune. The prelude begins and ends in F major, with few accidentals. It is written in 3/4 time and is typically quiet in character. The tempo is Moderato quasi pastorale.

There is no doubt that this chorale prelude is most effective during a church service as opposed to a concert organ recital.

Peter Hardwick (British Organ Music of the Twentieth Century, Scarecrow Press, 2003, p.116) writes that Quem Pastores is characterised by “gentle rising and falling contrapuntal lines [that] may remind one of the flowing Tudor choral style, a new feature in [his] post-1949 organ works…It seems that he absorbed the Tudor vocal idiom through osmosis into his instrumental style as a result of writing for voices so much.”

Huw Williams can be heard on YouTube playing Willan’s Quem Pastores on the organ of St Pauls Cathedral, London. 

Monday 25 December 2023

Christmas Greetings

 A Merry Christmas

To All Readers and Followers of

'The Land of Lost Content'

The Nativity' by Bartholomaus Bruyn the Elder, c. 1520


The snow lay on the ground,
The stars shone bright,
When Christ our Lord was born
On Christmas night.
Venite adoremus Dominum;

’Twas Mary, daughter pure
Of holy Anne,
That brought into this world
The God made man.
She laid Him in a stall
At Bethlehem;
The ass and oxen shared
The roof with them.

Venite adoremus Dominum;

Saint Joseph, too, was by
To tend the Child;
To guard him, and protect
His mother mild;
The angels hovered round,
And sang this song,
Venite adoremus Dominum.


And thus that manger poor
Became a throne;
For He whom Mary bore
Was God the Son.
O come, then, let us join
The heav’nly host,
To praise the Father, Son,
And Holy Ghost.

Venite adoremus Dominum.

 Traditional Carol

Thursday 21 December 2023

Bryan Kelly: Nativity Scenes (1966/2011)

Whilst writing a recent post about Kelly’s attractive Left Bank Suite, I also heard his Nativity Scenes included on the same CD. The liner notes explain that this work began life as an organ piece in 1966, dedicated to one of the composer’s former pupils, Simon Williams. In 2011, it was scored for a full orchestra. There are three ‘scenes’ in the suite, each being inspired by an ancient poem.

The first, an Adagio, considers Joly Joly Wat, a shepherd sitting on a hillside: “He had on him his tabard and his hat, His tar-box, his pipe, and his flagat [bundle]…” Of interest, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the tar-box as “being formerly used by shepherds to hold tar as a salve for sheep.” And the context of the poem suggests that his pipe was the musical and not the smoking kind.

The music begins quietly in the “low strings”: it is clearly a dark night, and the break of day is far off. The shepherd boy plays a lullaby on his flute, whether to comfort himself or his flock. The nocturnal theme reappears. There is no hint of the angelic host.

The second poem exhorts: “Runne (Sheepheards) run where Bethleme blest appears/Wee bring the best of newes, bee not dismay’d.”  Kelly provides vibrant music here, played Allegro. Imperatively, it encourages the shepherds to journey to Bethlehem to “find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” This scurrying music also portrays the biblical verse, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God…”

The final movement or scene, Lento, returns to a reflective mood. This is a lullaby for the Baby Jesus. The poem, originally in Latin, was paraphrased by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Sleep, sweet babe! my cares beguiling:
Mother sits beside thee smiling;
Sleep, my darling, tenderly!
If thou sleep not, mother mourneth,
Singing as her wheel she turneth:
Come, soft slumber, balmily!

Kelly provides a beautifully orchestrated berceuse, with especially luminous passages for solo horn and flute. There is a final nod to the shepherd boy’s pipe playing bringing the suite to a satisfyingly cyclic conclusion.

The work issued on the Heritage Label in 2015 (HTGCD 285). The Royal Ballet Sinfonia is conducted by Barry Wordsworth. Other works on this disc include the Epitaph for Peace, Concertante Dances, Globe Theatre Suite, A Christmas Celebration, and the Left Bank Suite.

The Gramophone (March 2015, p.15), Andrew Achenbach describes the Nativity Scenes as being “evocative and touching.”

The Nativity Scenes can be heard on the Bryan Kelly playlist on YouTube, here.

Monday 18 December 2023

A Child’s Christmas: Orchestral Music for Christmas

Pantomimes are associated with the Yuletide season. Neither Victor Hely-Hutchinson nor the liner notes give the listener a clue as to which ‘panto’ this Overture (1946) alludes to. It does not matter really. All the elements of the genre are in place here: from the joyful fairy-like dancing and the principal’s romance to the wicked stepmother or the villain. It is brief, lasting just over three minutes. There are definite nods to Gilbert and Sullivan. A rare treat indeed.

Gordon Thornett is a new name to me. A Mancunian, he studied at Manchester University, before developing his career as a teacher and music therapist. His A Child’s Christmas Suite (2016) is a delight. This child, sixty-something, enjoyed every moment. It reprises favourite carols and a few discoveries. These include Jingle Bells in the opening pages, Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, The Birds Carol, Away in a manger (British version!) and the Huron Indian Carol. The piece concludes with a rumbustious rendition of We wish you a merry Christmas. The scoring is outstanding and displays much variety.

Adam Saunders’ compositional career has embraced the concert hall and silver screen/television. He is represented by two pieces on this CD. First up, is A Magical Kingdom (2003) which is a fusion of both genres. It is difficult to pin down the location of this Kingdom. To me, it seems more Disneyland than “a wood near Athens or Prospero’s Island.” There are lots of good tunes with sweeping strings and harp arpeggios. Saunder’s second offering is Journey to Lapland (2020). This is cinematic in mood, allowing the listener to imagine a visit to the homeland of Santa’s reindeer. Once again, the orchestration is sumptuous.

I was a bit disappointed with Thomas Hewitt Jones’s Christmas Party (2016) It is a lot of fun, but somehow the music seems a little disjointed, and lacking development. Conceived as a “showcase” for violin and orchestra, it explores well-known seasonal songs: Christmas is Coming, the goose is getting fat, Yorkshire Wassail, Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, Jingle Bells and O Tannenbaum. The big finish presents Tomorrow shall be my dancing day. The scoring includes a solo piano and a champagne cork popping: I thought this latter was a fault on the CD. Hewitt Jones’s second work on this disc is the Overture: The Age of Optimism (2023). Surely this is concerned only tangentially to Christmas. Nevertheless, it is a well-wrought piece, which is typically happy, exuberant, and upbeat. It was written at the conclusion of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I always enjoy virtual sleigh rides at Christmas time. Think of Leroy Anderson, Fred. Delius and Sergei Prokofiev’s Troika. Roy Moore’s Santa’s Sleigh Ride (2019) ticks all the boxes. Lots of sweeping tunes, rushing through the snow, delivering the presents and the reindeers having fun. Remember their names? Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph.

Bryan Kelly has written a fair bit of Seasonal music, including his Nativity Scenes and his Christmas Dance (Sir Roger de Coverley). He has also provided choirs with a few attractive carols. Sing a Song of Sixpence (2020) is not particularly related to Xmas. However, it is fun and fairly bounces along. Like Roger Quilter’s Children’s Overture, Kelly has woven several children’s songs into a formally satisfying fantasia.

More than half a century ago, Frederick Ashton choreographed The Tales of Beatrix Potter (1971) for a film release. The score was assembled by John Lanchbery from largely forgotten Victorian melodies by (amongst others) Arthur Sullivan, Jacques Offenbach, and Michael Balfe. It results in an attractive sequence of waltzes, polkas, tarantellas, marches, and a cakewalk. This 90-minute ballet brought to life many of Potter’s favourite characters including Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs Tittlemouse and Johnny Town-Mouse. On this CD we hear four extracts: the Introduction, the Tale of Jemima Puddleduck, two episodes from The Picnic (with the country and the town mice) and the Finale. In the film, the part of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle was played by Ashton himself.

The final work is a cooperation between Philip Lane and Ian Nichols for the 1999 TV animation, The Adventures of Captain Pugwash. Readers of a certain age will recall the original series that ran from 1957-66. The theme tune, which is heard in the opening pages of the score, is an early nineteenth century Trumpet Hornpipe. Formerly, it was played on the accordion. Here it is in an orchestral arrangement. The remainder of the Suite consists of various sea shanties, some of which are well known, others less so.

This piece is a great finish to a remarkable cornucopia of delights.

The performances are always enthusiastic and nuanced, complimented by an excellent recording. The liner notes, authored by Philip Lane, give brief, but sufficient details on each composer and the music in question. The CD cover illustration could have been a bit more evocative of the Season.

Altogether, this is a delightful CD, full of splendid things. I guess that most, if not all this repertoire will be new to the listener. Each piece is enjoyable, approachable, and full of interest. It will make an ideal stocking filler for all lovers of British Light Music.

Track Listing:
Victor Hely-Hutchinson (1901-47)

Overture to a Pantomime (1946)
Gordon Thornett (b.1942)
A Child's Christmas (2016)
Adam Saunders (b.1968)
A Magical Kingdom (2003)
Thomas Hewitt Jones (b.1984)
Christmas Party (2016)
Roy Moore (b.1948)
Santa's Sleigh Ride (2019)
Bryan Kelly (b.1934)
Sing a Song of Sixpence (2020)
Adam Saunders
Journey to Lapland (2020)
John Lanchbery (1923-2003)
Tales of Beatrix Potter: excerpts (1971/1999)
Thomas Hewitt Jones
Overture: The Age of Optimism (2023)
Philip Lane (b.1950), Ian Nicholls (b.1960)
Suite: The Adventures of Captain Pugwash (1999)
Simon Hewitt Jones (violin)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Barry Wordsworth (Hely-Hutchinson, Moore, Kelly, Saunders Journey to Lapland, Lanchbery, Hewitt Jones Overture) and Gavin Sutherland (Thornett, Saunders A Magical Kingdom, Hewitt Jones Christmas Party); City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Julian Bigg (Lane/Nichols)
rec. 1999-2023 Various locations. 
Heritage HTGCD 139

Friday 15 December 2023

Out Deliused…by C.W. Orr’s A Cotswold Hill Tune (1937) Part II

A Programme Note
: A Cotswold Hill Tune is written for string orchestra, with each section ‘divisi’ for most of its duration. This gives the composition a rich and heartfelt texture. It opens quietly, evoking a misty landscape. After a short pause, the ‘tune’ emerges. This is not based on a folksong but is a deliberate parody of Delius. The atmosphere is of quiet reflection and resignation. Yet there is a building intensity here – after the harmonic shifts that characterise the style of the models, the music sinks into a misty reflection. After another short pause the atmosphere lightens and it becomes a little less intense, perhaps wistful. Ass the conclusion approaches, there is a gradual lifting of the mist to reveal a sunlit landscape over the Severn Plain. It ends with a loud sforzando pizzicato chord. The aesthetic of this work is quite ‘reactionary’ in its musical language compared to the developing modernism in British music at that time.

This composition has as its exemplars in the Serenade for the Birthday of Frederick Delius (1923) by Peter Warlock, and maybe ‘Summer Valley’ (1925) for piano, by Ernest John Moeran. Both these works were dedicated to Delius.

A Cotswold Hill Tune was published in 1939 by J & W Chester.

Early Performance: Despite considerable investigation, I was unable to find a date and venue for the premiere of C.W. Orr’s A Cotswold Hill Tune. The earliest reference that I located was in the Radio Times (30 June 1939, p.23). It featured in the final programme exploring ‘Works by Midland composers.’ The concert was heard on Sunday, 2 July at 9.05 pm. Other music included ‘Slow Movement for strings’, and a ‘Prelude to an Arthurian Drama’ by A Hawthorne-Baker, a Fantasy: The Fox and the Crow by Frederick Bye, Elegy: In memoriam Dick Sheppard by G. Radford Williams. Interestingly, Orr is the only composer here that retains, albeit tentatively, his position in the concert hall and recital room to this day. The others are only subjects of passing references in library catalogues and forgotten reviews.

Recording: There is only a single commercial recording of Orr’s A Cotswold Hill Tune in the record catalogues. In 2000, Naxos Records released the first of six volumes of English String Miniatures. These CDs presented music by a wide range of composers crossing the divide between ‘light’ and so-called ‘serious music.’ Also included on this disc were works by John Rutter, George Melachrino, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs and Philip Lane.

Ivan March (The Gramophone, June 2000, p.77) was impressed by this disc, and observes that ‘the performances…are first rate, as is the Naxos recording.’ He thinks that the CD is ‘Winningly entertaining and marvellous value for money’. March says little about Orr’s music, save misjudging it as ‘folksy’, like the John Rutter ‘Suite’ which features delightful arrangements of such numbers as ‘O Waly, Waly’ and ‘Dashing away with the smoothing iron.’  Paul A. Snook (Fanfare September 2000, p.359) notes that ‘Orr's [work] prolongs the aura of mellow, gregarious good feeling…’ of this CD.’  

It is strange that an iconic impression of the English landscape such as C.W. Orr’s A Cotswold Hill Tune has not gained the popularity due to it. Admittedly, it is a short piece, and, as such may find some difficulty in securing a performance at an orchestral concert. On the other hand, its timing of just over five minutes, makes it an ideal choice for Classic FM.

Hold, Trevor, Parry to Finzi: Twenty English Song Composers, (The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2002)
Lane, Philip CD Liner Notes NAXOS 8.554186 2000
Palmer, Christopher, "C. W. Orr: An 80th Birthday Tribute," The Musical Times, July 1973, pp. 690-692.
Rawlins, Joseph Thomas, The Songs of Charles Wilfred Orr with Special Emphasis on his Housman Settings, The Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, D.M.A., 1972
Wilson, Jane, C.W. Orr: The Unknown Song-Composer, (Thames Publishing, London, 1989)

C.W. Orr, A Cotswold Hill Tune with music by John Rutter, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, George Melachrino, Peter Dodd, Frank Cordell, David Lyon, Roy Douglas and Philip Lane Royal Ballet Sinfonia/ David Lloyd-Jones NAXOS 8.554186 (2000)

With thanks to the Delius Society Journal, Spring 2021, where this essay was first published.


Tuesday 12 December 2023

Out Deliused…by C.W. Orr’s A Cotswold Hill Tune (1937) Part I

Introduction: C.W. Orr’s A Cotswold Hill Tune is a fine tribute to Frederick Delius, as well as being a superb example of string writing in the so-called ‘pastoral’ mood. This essay will give a brief overview of the composer, a few of his stylistic mannerisms, an introduction to the work, and some reviews of the only available recording.

Some Notes about the Composer: Charles Wilfred Leslie Orr was born in Cheltenham on 31 July 1893. In his early years he studied the piano privately. He attended Cheltenham College; however, the First World War interrupted his plans for a formal musical education. In 1915, he joined the Artists’ Rifles Officers Training Corps. Subsequently, Orr enlisted in the Coldstream Guards, based at Windsor, but was soon discharged due to ill health. At the end of the war, he entered the Guildhall School of Music, then located in John Carpenter Street. Whilst there he studied composition under the composer and musicologist Orlando Morgan (1865-1956).

A fascination with Frederick Delius’s music led to the unusual expedient of Orr following the elder composer and his wife, Jelka, into a restaurant in Oxford Street. The young man approached the couple at the table, said “Excuse me, but are you Mr Delius?” On receiving an affirmative reply, he stated, “Oh, then, I wanted to tell you how much I love your music”. (Wilson, 1989, p.20). Anecdotally, Orr received a free meal that day. The two men became friends and Orr continued to correspond with Delius for some years.

A meeting with Peter Warlock/Philip Heseltine led to Orr’s early songs (1921) ‘Silent Noon’ and ‘Plucking the Rushes’ being published on the continent. Warlock had kindly copied them out and sent them to Austria, where they were engraved by Waldheim-Eberle, and subsequently published by J & W Chester Ltd.

C.W. Orr’s oeuvre is hardly large. There are some 36 songs listed in the catalogue. Out of these, there are 24 settings of Housman. Other poets include Helen Waddell, D.G Rossetti, James Joyce, and Robert Bridges. There are three rarely heard choral works, the Midsummer Dance for cello and piano, and A Cotswold Hill Tune for string orchestra.

Virtually all Orr’s music was written before the Second World War. A few songs were composed in the 1940s and 50s, with the final example being written in 1957. He was to live for a further 19 years.

Orr was bitter at the lack of recognition he had received. In 1974, he wrote that ‘… I have always been more or less completely ignored by the BBC during the last 40 years or so, and it is nothing new…to be regarded as not worth while performing, but all the same it is a bit disheartening to be cold-shouldered in one’s own country …’ (Letter C W Orr to M J Wilson, 25 April 1974, Wilson, 1989, p.47).

Charles Wilfred Orr and his wife, Helen (née Tomblin), had moved to Painswick in Gloucestershire in 1930 and remained there until his death on 24 February 1976.

Orr’s Musical Aesthetic: There are three key influences on Orr’s music. Firstly, German lieder. In his younger days, he had studied and enjoyed the songs of Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms. (Rawlins, 1972, p.8). But it was Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) who had the greatest impact. Trevor Hold (2002, p.315) states this comprehensively: [Orr] admired Wolf not only for his discriminating choice of text and immaculate word-setting, but also for the unity of his conception of vocal-line and accompaniment, in which the two elements are intertwined and interdependent - equal partners as in an instrumental duo sonata’.  Joseph Thomas Rawlins (1972, p.15) cites a letter from the composer to the author (29 December 1971): [Wolf’s] impact was ‘mainly . . . because the piano parts consist of a single figure running throughout, very much in Wolf's manner.’

Typically, Orr’s piano accompaniments and postludes are an integral part of each song, providing more than bare harmony and support for the singer.

The second major influence was the poetry of A.E. Housman. Orr was introduced to the poet’s work by ‘a chance hearing of Graham Peel’s (1877-1937) setting of ‘Summertime on Bredon.’

And finally, the music of Frederick Delius. The included, ‘the Delian insignia - a weft of lush chromatic discords woven to a hypnotically seductive barcarolle-like 6/8’, (Palmer 1973, p.691), which are a characteristic of A Cotswold Hill Tune. Like Delius ‘the harmonic element in Orr’s music takes precedence over everything else, flowering in continuous chromaticism from fundamentally diatonic roots...’  (Hold, 2002, p.315).

One important influence that is virtually absent from Orr’s music is folksong. To be sure, the listener may be aware of some modality in the songs’ melodies, but this is incidental rather than structural. Orr has avoided the ‘‘olde English’ style i.e., lyricism and simplicity within the ballad type of writing.’ (Rawlins, 1972, p.13).

Yet, as one unattributed critic stated, Orr was ‘no slavish imitator of any man’s work.’ (The Chesterian, December 1924 p.62).  Each poem that he chose to set, created a mood in the composer’s mind that allowed him to create a perfect partnership between words and music. There is a huge difference in style and effect between the lyrical beauty of Rossetti’s ‘Silent Noon’ and, the dramatic, almost violent, sound of Housman’s ‘The Carpenter’s Song’. 

Genesis of A Cotswold Hill Tune: The composer and conductor Eugene Goossens wrote to Orr on 23 January 1935. He requested that he orchestrate four songs from his Cycle of Seven Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad.’  He did not oblige, but instead wrote a short work for string orchestra – A Cotswold Hill Tune. He dedicated it to Goossens and sent him a copy of the holograph in 1938. Jane Wilson (1989, p.39) quotes Goossens reply from Cincinnati (25 April 1938):

‘I can’t tell you how completely delighted and touched I am at receiving the beautiful ‘Cotswold’ piece. I am playing it here next season (alas it was too late to programme it before my departure, which takes place this afternoon on the Statendam) and I know the public will love it…’ In concluding his letter, Goossens said that he ‘look[ed] forward to seeing you and your nice wife.’  The Goossens arrived at Plymouth on 4 May 1938. Wilson (1989, p.39) records that the couple stayed with the Orr’s at Painswick during the summer. It was the last time they would meet.

For interest, the SS Statendam was a ship of the Holland-America Line, laid down in 1924 at the Harland and Wolff yard in Belfast. It was destroyed during the Second World War in 1940. 

It would appear the Eugene Goossens never did perform Orr’s only orchestral work.

With thanks to the Delius Society Journal, Spring 2021, where this essay was first published.

To be continued…

Saturday 9 December 2023

Bryan Kelly: Left Bank Suite (c.1965)

The Left Bank Suite was composed during the 1960s after Bryan Kelly (b.1934) had been studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He had already learnt most of his compositional craft from Gordon Jacob and Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music. The liner notes of the only CD recording of this work explains that the Suite is a “light-hearted attempt to paint some of the scenes of this quarter of Paris.” It seems that when Kelly was a student there it was "still a place for writers and artists to congregate, and where a cheap meal could be had at one of the several bistros dotted around.”

The opening Prelude is a lively musical portrait of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a district in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. During the 1940s and 1950s it was at the centre of the existentialist movement associated with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Many cafes were popular with the intellectuals, such as Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, and Café Procope. They are still there. During Kelly’s time in Paris, the literary set was waning, but jazz was becoming more popular. The second movement depicts the Jardin du Luxembourg in the same area. These gardens have a playground for children and a large carousel. Kelly’s take on this features a very Parisian waltz complete with the out-of-tune sound of a fairground organ in the middle section. The most sophisticated movement is the Intermezzo: The Seine. Romantic to the core, it evokes a kind of Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron rendezvous by night. Initially heard on solo flute, the main theme builds to a full orchestral climax. The finale looks to the above-mentioned Café de Flore for a rumbustious finish. There are certainly nods here to Malcolm Arnold.

The Left Bank Suite was issued on the Heritage Label in 2015 (HTGCD 285). It can be heard on the Bryan Kelly playlist on YouTube, here. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia is conducted by Barry Wordsworth. Other works on this disc include the Epitaph for Peace, Concertante Dances, Globe Theatre Suite, A Christmas Celebration, Tango for strings and Nativity Scenes.

Reviewing this CD for The Gramophone (March 2015, p.15), Andrew Achenbach considers that “Happy memories of this French sojourn bubble up to the surface in the disarmingly tuneful and deftly sculpted Left Bank Suite, a 1960s commission for the BBC Concert Orchestra and the effervescent curtain-raiser on this generous Heritage survey.”

Wednesday 6 December 2023

It's not British, but...J. P. E. Hartmann Piano Works Vol 5

This is the fifth volume of piano music by the Copenhagen-born Danish composer J.P.E. Hartmann. For details of his life and achievement, see my review of Volume 1 of this cycle. This present CD explores various collections of pieces as well as three waltzes.

Once again, I was disappointed that there is precious little commentary on the music recorded on this CD. It is repertoire that is little-known, certainly to listeners in the UK. The liner notes, assembled by Claus Byrith, do provide a long and detailed introduction to Hartmann, including an assessment of Britain’s military action in Demark during the Napoleonic wars and the contemporary political situation with Germany. Commenting in general, the liner notes explain that “the piano works…occupy a significant place in [Hartmann’s] production. He wrote several sonatas and…a number of short pieces intended for use not only in the concert hall, but also in the drawing room.” 

A brief descriptive note on each work would have been helpful and rewarding.

The programme begins with the Fantasy in G minor, op. 7 (1831). To my ear, this is slightly unbalanced pianistically: it flits across multiple moods and fancies without ever settling: maybe that is its point?

The Six Fantasy Pieces, op.54 was written in 1855. They contain much beautiful pianism. I was particularly taken with No.1 in F sharp major, marked Allegro poco moderato pastorale. Less remarkable is the third, Canto Marziale Religioso: it seems to me laboured. More fun is No.4, a little scherzo-like number performed Allegro molto assai. I think that this collection ought to be played as a group. They are too slight to be played individually.

Three waltzes are heard. The first, Grand Waltz in E Flat Major (1826) is a highly infectious romp, with more thoughtful episodes. It was penned when Hartmann was only 21 years old. Thirty-three years later the Midsummer’s Waltz (1859) was completed. It gently nods to Chopin and Weber. The Slow Waltz in E flat major (1947) is darker but lasts for a mere 43 seconds ending before it really gets going.

Equally charming are the Eight Caprices, op.18 (1835), admired by Robert Schumann himself. But there as a sting in the tale. This critic considered that they had “intellectual vigour” but thought that they lacked melodic interest. In the present recording, Thomas Trondhjem has teased out the tuneful aspects of these pieces. I was particularly impressed with the bewitching No.6 in F major. I found all of them full of interest and delight.

The liner notes explain that Hartmann heeded Schumann’s analysis when he came to write his Two Character Pieces, op.25. They are indeed full of charm and occasional magic.

I have remarked on the CD booklet above, however, it is well produced and features an interesting contemporary painting by Heinrich Hansen of the Christiansborg Palace from Højbro Square, Copenhagen. There are also some sheet music scans, a portrait of the composer and one of the soloist. The text is printed in Danish and English.

The Danish-born pianist, Thomas Trondhjem, is highly regarded for his “immense” repertoire of classical through to modern music. He has released many CDs by various Danish composers including Friedrich Kuhlau, C.E.F. Weyse and Fini Henriques. He is also a teacher at the Music Academy of Jutland West and from 2004, professor at The Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus. Trondhjem is widely respected in Denmark as a chamber musician and accompanist for singers.

Trondhjem is an outstanding advocate for Hartmann’s piano music. He brings technical skill, nuanced playing, and academic erudition to this CD. Danacord’s sound recording is always clear and vibrant.

J.P.E. Hartmann’s compositional models are plentiful. They include Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Frédéric Chopin, and Scandinavian folk song. One individual that struck me as a major influence is the Hungarian pianist, teacher and composer, Stephen Heller. Commentators have remarked on nods to Edvard Greig, and more tellingly, intimations of Carl Nielsen. It is up to the listener to decide if Hartmann has replicated or synthesised his prototypes. Overall, this music is full of interest and gives considerable pleasure. Listen slowly, to each number or collection at a time. It is rewarding music.

Other reviews of this series are Volume 2, Volume 3 and Volume 4.

Track Listing:
J. P. E. Hartmann (1805-1900)
Fantasy in G minor, op. 7 (1831)
Six Fantasy Pieces, op. 54 (1855)
Two Character Pieces, op. 25 (1839)
Grand Waltz in E Flat Major (1826)
Midsummer's Waltz in A Major (1859)
Eight Caprices, op.18 (1835)
Thomas Trondhjem (piano)
rec. Spring 2023, Concert Hall, Holstebro Music School and Music Academy, Denmark.
Danacord DACOCD 968
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 


Sunday 3 December 2023

William Lloyd Webber: Rhapsody on Helmsley for organ (1956)

Today is Advent Sunday. For many Christians this is a time of preparation for Christmas. Traditionally, this demands meditation on three topics: 1. The Coming of Christ to judge the world, 2. The end of the world is approaching and 3. The need for confession of our sins, leading to forgiveness. The well-known Collect of the day calls for the believer to “cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light.” The ceremonial calls for the altars to be “adorned in a simple manner and at all Services of the Season the colour will be violet.”

In the January 1956 edition of the Musical Times, a new series of organ music publications was announced. Novello were to issue six volumes of Festal Voluntaries. The advertising blurb notes that these “…are intended for the Church Seasons, each contain five pieces based on appropriate hymn-tunes. Despite the use of the word ' Festal ', provision has been made for the seasons of Lent and Passiontide. All were written specially for this series and the composers have assumed a wide interpretation of the chorale-prelude form, the various styles including Prelude, Postlude, Sortie, Meditation, Rhapsody and Pastorale.”

Musicians who were commissioned included most of the big names in the nineteen-fifties organ world. This included Francis Jackson, William H. Harris, Flor Peeters, Healey Willan, and Ivan Langstroth. The six volumes were Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, Lent, Passiontide and Palm Sunday, Easter, Ascensiontide, Whitsuntide and Ascension and finally Harvest.

In the Advent album, William Lloyd Webber contributed his Rhapsody on Helmsley for organ completed around 1955. Helmsley is a hymn tune associated with the words:

 Lo he comes in clouds descending,

Once for helpless sinner slain!

Thousand, thousand saints attending.

Swell the triumph of his train:

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah,

All the Angels cry amen.

This is a perfect Advent hymn which derives its theological content from the Book of Revelation, relating imagery of the Day of Judgment. The words were by Charles Wesley, and the melody is attributed to Thomas Olivers, a Welsh Methodist preacher and hymnist.

In his seminal study of British Organ Music of the Twentieth Century, (Scarecrow Press, 2002), Peter Hardwick gives a succinct analysis of the Rhapsody on Helmsley. He considers that it is a “notable piece.” The work opens Allegro spiritoso, “loosely based on the opening motif of the hymn tune, with fleeting references to the fifth and sixth lines of the melody.” The rhapsodical nature of the work is clear in the various sections, which alternate contrapuntal and chordal textures. There are frequent changes of tempo throughout. It ends with massive chords. Hardwick sums up: “In Rhapsody, raw emotion, and [Lloyd Webber] allows himself unfettered freedom, to be totally and utterly immersed in the creation of this rhythmically driven, dramatic, Romantic music.”

The Rhapsody was dedicated to John Churchill, who at that time was the organist at St Martin-in-the-Fields church.

To my knowledge, there is no commercial recording of Lloyd Webber’s Rhapsody on Helmsley. However, at least three versions have been uploaded to YouTube. For me the best account (here) is given by Matt Brittain on the organ of Front Street United Methodist Church in Burlington, North Carolina.

Thursday 30 November 2023

Christopher Howell plays Charles Hubert H. Parry's Piano Music: Volume 1

Like London buses, Parry CDs come in twos. I have recently reviewed favourably (here) Richard Deering’s two CD album featuring the two Piano Sonatas, the Charakterbilder and the premiere performance of the Five Miniatures (Heritage, HTGCD140-141). Arriving in my letterbox around the same time was the present disc played by Christopher Howell. I am guessing that this is the first instalment of a “complete” cycle of Parry’s piano music. This would complement his magisterial performances the piano works of Alexander Mackenzie and Charles Villiers Stanford.

Hubert Parry’s Shulbrede Tunes have long been a personal favourite. I found a dusty copy of the score in a music shop more than half a century ago and have enjoyed trying to play them ever since. The Tunes date from 1914, shortly before the start of the First World War. The composer was in residence with his daughter, Dorothea, at Shulbrede Priory in West Sussex. The idea behind it was to sketch some of the residents as well as the architecture and the entertainments. The opening Shulbrede is a portrait of Parry himself, with its intensely romantic pianism. This is followed by a tribute to his granddaughter Elizabeth. His other grandchild, Matthew, is more serious than would seem appropriate for a wee laddie. The house and gardens are represented by the shadowy Prior’s Chamber by Firelight and the idyllic pastoral, In the Garden with Dew on the Grass. The Bogies and Sprites that Gambol by Nights is a haunting little scherzo. Children’s Pranks may refer to father and grandfather’s shenanigans, rather than those of the younger members of the family. The robust Father Playmate is Parry’s son-in-law Arthur Ponsonby. Dolly No.1 and Dolly No.2 present two facets of his daughter, Dorothea.

The optimistic and largely cheerful Shulbrede Tunes is to Parry what the Wand of Youth Suites are to Elgar: a reflection on childhood and lost innocence, reflected on in maturity. Sadly, this serene evocation of an Edwardian family would be lost during and after the catastrophic Great War.

Howell provides a sense of wistfulness and confidence to these pieces. It is exactly their interpretive requirement.

The main event on this present CD is the Sonata No.1 in F major, which was published in 1877. I repeat some of my observations made for Richard Deering’s recording.  It is possible that this Sonata may have begun life as a “sonatina” written three years previously. This “original” has been lost. The Sonata was dedicated to George Grove, the then Director of the Royal School of Music. It was originally to have been Lady Pembroke, but at that time, Parry’s relationship with her was “strained.” 

The Sonata is presented in four movements and lasts for about 22 minutes. Formally, Beethoven would seem to be the model, although the listener will be aware of the influence of other composers: Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Schumann. The pastoral Non troppo allegro is followed by a short, skittish scherzo which suggest Sprites that Gambol by Night from the Shulbrede Tunes. The Andante is a perfectly stated barcarolle that nods to Schubert. Howell has written that the finale could have been written by Cramer or Dussek. It is easy to detect a huntsman’s galop in these pages.

It could be argued that this Sonata is “regressive” or “derivative.” Despite this implied criticism, I feel that this is a successful work that appeals to the mind and the heart. Formally it is a splendid example of the genre.

Added value to this CD is the premiere recording of Parry’s Sonnets and Songs Without Words Book 1 dating from around 1869. It was his earliest piano publication. The set opens with a delightful Pastorale. The liner notes refer to it as a “modest piece of fashionable tone painting.” More Theocritean than cow leaning over the gate, I think. Owlet is quiet and reflective: it is more concerned with mood than avian description. It is perfect in effect and execution. Strangely, Gnome is not a scherzo, but a thoughtful meditation that is “curiously original and even characteristic.” The final number is a Lied which owes a debt to Mendelssohn with its balance of a “rippling” opening section with a hymn-like trio. These four pieces are truly lovely and are an important addition to Parry’s catalogue of recorded music.

The liner notes, produced by the present soloist, give a thorough, non-technical analysis, as well as providing helpful context and relevant biographical information. There are details about the soloist as well as references to his many recordings. The CD cover features an antique print of Shulbrede Priory, Sussex dating from1784.

This is a fine recording, with superb playing. I have noted before that the key to the successful interpretation of Parry’s piano music is the ability to synthesize the influences that lie behind each composition with the unique contribution from Parry himself. In every case Howell provides this fusion of history and progress.

Track Listing:
Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918)

Sonata No.1 in F major (pub.1877)
Sonnets and Songs Without Words: Book 1 (1868, pub. 1869)
Shulbrede Tunes (1911-13, pub.1914)
Christopher Howell (piano)
rec. 4 June 2021; 9 July 2021, Studio of Griffa e Figli, Milan, Italy
Da Vinci Classics C00759

Sunday 26 November 2023

Introducing Charles Villiers Stanford

Charles Villiers Stanford’s music results from a careful fusion of his Irish birth and his English formation. Coupled to this, is his musical training in Germany. Stanford’s work is characterised by a rigorous technical craftsmanship. His genius is best seen in the songs, the part songs, some smaller choral works, several of his refined and well-wrought chamber works and the orchestral rhapsodies. That said, his cycle of seven symphonies, the concertos, and certain large-scale choral pieces, once criticised as uninspiring, can be seen in recollection as full of interest and delight.

Sadly, from the beginning of the 20th century his music entered the doldrums. Stanford never attached himself to any of the “modernist” schools such as impressionism, atonalism, or serialism. Since the 1990s, Stanford has seen a considerable revival in the recording studio, if not the concert hall. Interestingly, his liturgical settings have never absented itself from our native cathedrals and “quires and places where they sing.”

Stanford was also a notable educator as professor of music at Cambridge University, and a successful, if sometimes controversial, teacher of composition at the Royal College of Music.

Percy M. Young once wrote that Stanford is “a composer to whom one may return with cultured pleasure.” That is no mean achievement.

Brief Biography of Charles Villiers Stanford:
  • Born at 2 Herbert Street, Dublin on 30 September 1852
  • Studied music privately with Robert Prescott Stewart and Michael Quarry.
  • Came to London in 1862 and studied with Arthur O' Leary and Ernst Pauer.
  • Went up to Cambridge in 1870, with an Organ and a Classical Scholarship.
  • In 1873 he transferred to Trinity College as organist.
  • Studied in Leipzig with Carl Reinecke and later at Berlin under Friedrich Keil.
  • Came to public attention with the incidental music for Tennyson’s Queen Mary (1876).
  • Attended the First Bayreuth Festival in 1876.
  • Involved with the Cambridge University Musical Club from 1871 to 1893.
  • Married Jennie Wetton on 8 April 1878
  • His first opera The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan was completed in 1877 and was premiered at Hanover on 6 February 1881.
  • The ever-popular Service in B flat, op.10 was written during 1879.
  • In 1883, he was appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music, London.
  • From 1885 to 1902 he was conductor of the English Bach Choir.
  • In 1887, he succeeded George Alexander Macfarren as Professor of music at Cambridge.
  • First performance of the Symphony No.3 (Irish) heard at St James’s Hall on 27 June 1887, under the direction of Hans Richter.
  • Knighted in 1901.
  • At the Royal College of Music, his pupils included Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Frank Bridge, Herbert Howells, Gustav Holst, Arthur Bliss, and Ivor Gurney.
  • Charles Villiers Stanford died in 9 Lower Berkeley Street, Portman Square, London on 29 March 1924. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.
Twelve Selected Works:
Charles Villiers Stanford’s catalogue is massive. He completed nine operas, seven symphonies, thirteen concertos, six Irish Rhapsodies, more than twenty anthems and services for liturgical use, sundry secular cantatas, incidental music, eight string quartets, six duo sonatas, six organ sonatas, numerous songs, and part-songs. The twelve works, which cover most genres, given below are all available on CD/LP/Download. Several have been uploaded to YouTube.
  1. Morning, Communion and Evensong Service in B flat, op.10
  2. Piano Quintet in D minor, op.25
  3. Symphony No.3 in F minor (Irish), op.28
  4. Funeral March from the incidental music to Tennyson’s Beckett, op.48.
  5. Violin Concerto in D major, op.74
  6. The Fairy Lough, op.77, no.2 for voice and piano.
  7. Three Rhapsodies from Dante for piano, 1. Francesca, 2. Beatrice, 3. Capaneo, op.92
  8. Songs of the Sea, op.91 and Songs of the Fleet, op.117
  9. Part Song: The Bluebird, op.119, no.3
  10. Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, op.126
  11. Irish Rhapsody No. 4 in A Minor, op. 141, "The fisherman of Lough Neagh and what he saw."
  12. Organ Sonata No.5 in A major, (Quasi una fantasia) op.159
Stanford authored a book on Brahms and his Music (1912) and was joint author with Cecil Forsyth of A History of Music (1916). Of significant importance to historians are his “autobiography,” Pages from an Unwritten Diary (1914) as well as two collections of essays, Studies and Memories (1908) and Interludes, Records, and Reflections (1922).
The earliest study of the composer was John F. Porte’s Sir Charles V. Stanford published in 1921. The volume included a brief sketch of his career as well as an annotated catalogue of his music. The first formal biography was authored by his friend, the Irish baritone, Harry Plunkett Greene, and published in 1935.
The definitive biography is Jeremy Dibble’s Charles Villiers Stanford: Man and Musician, which was published in 2002. In the same year, Paul Rodmell’s study was issued by Ashgate Press in their Music in 19th Century Britain series.
Finally, of considerable interest is Gerald Norris’s Stanford, the Cambridge Jubilee, and Tchaikovsky (1980).

If you can only hear one CD:
This must be the Lyrita recording of the Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, op.126, coupled with the ‘Funeral March’ from Beckett, op.48, and the Irish Rhapsody in A Minor, "The fisherman of Lough Neagh and what he saw," op. 141 (SRCS102, 1985, SRCD219, 2015), Malcolm Binns gives an excellent performance of this wonderfully romantic concerto: he is accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Nicolas Braithwaite. Reviewing this recording for The Gramophone (August 1985, p.244) Michael Kennedy suggests that “This recording will encourage some brave orchestral administrators to invite the eloquent soloist, Malcolm Binns, to play the concerto in public. Several much less attractive and well-written concertos are heard which one would happily see yielding place to it.” Apart from another recording of the concerto by Margaret Fingerhut, and the Ulster Symphony Orchestra under Vernon Handley, (CHAN8736, 1989) this desideratum never happened.

Thomas Dunhill wrote about the Irish Rhapsody No.4, “If I wanted to impress a foreign unbeliever with the real beauty of British music at its best I should take him to hear a performance of the ‘Ulster’ Rhapsody, that he might have a glimpse of what the "Fisherman saw at Lough Neagh," and of what the great Irish composer was able to reflect of this vision in his music. ‘Dark and true and tender is the North’ is the quotation attached to the closing page of the score - a mere expression of an Orangeman's sympathies, probably - but the three adjectives describe the loveliness of the music itself in a way that no other words could do. It is a work of imperishable quality.”

Finally, if you can only listen to one work:
One of my Desert Island part-songs is Charles Villiers Stanford’s The Blue Bird, a setting of a text by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. There are many recordings of this piece, including this one by the Cambridge Singers, on YouTube. The poem is taken by the composer and is turned into a glorious miniature. Few other motets have this feeling, this magic, this power to move. There is a “combination of coolness and warmth - of sunlight and cloud.” If this were the only music that we remembered Charles Villiers Stanford for, he would be well-worth recalling.

Friday 24 November 2023

Richard Deering plays Hubert Parry's Piano Music on the Heritage Label

Several years ago, I heard Anthony Goldstone on disc, (Albany Records Troy 132, 1994) playing Hubert Parry’s two piano sonatas. For better or worse they were played on the composer’s Hagspiel grand piano at Shulbrede Priory in Sussex. I was disappointed that they were not played on a modern instrument. It was listenable, but not particularly easy on the ear. Somehow, I never got around to engaging with this repertoire again until the present CD arrived.

Parry is not particularly noted for his piano music. Amongst enthusiasts, the charming Shulbrede Tunes (1914) are the best known. His most significant piece for piano is the Theme and Nineteen Variations written between 1878 and 1885.

The liner notes suggest that Hubert Parry’s Piano Sonata No.1 in F major (1876) may have started life as a “sonatina” produced three years previously. Furthermore, it was originally intended to be dedicated to Lady Pembroke, but was changed to George Grove, the then Director of the Royal School of Music. His relationship with the countess was “strained.” 

The Sonata is Beethovenian in its “classical approach to sonata form.” That said, there are also reminiscences of Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Schumann throughout the work’s twenty-odd minute duration. The “Arcadian” opening movement balances a warm first subject with something a little more pastoral. I loved the Scherzo which is full of puckish delight. It is unusual in having three “unrelated sections arranged in an arch form.” The booklet remarks on the trio’s “plodding bass suggesting a ceremonial march rather like Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance” some 25 years in the future. The moving Barcarolle recalls Mendelssohn or Schubert and is none the worse for that. It is profound, lyrical, and imaginative. The finale is a good old-fashioned rondo, which begins slowly and introduces four themes. Christopher Howell has noted that it could well have been composed by Cramer or Dussek and called La Chase. Certainly, there is an element of a huntsman’s galop in these pages. Despite its “regressive” and derivative nature, this Sonata works well, is always pleasing to the ear, and succeeds as a well-structured example of the genre.

The Piano Sonata No.2 in A minor/major was finished in 1876. It was dedicated to Tora Gordon on her engagement to Victor Marshall. Tora was Parry’s close, but platonic friend. The first movement is a kind of modified sonata form, really a rhapsody on two contrasting themes. The liner notes explain that this “flexible approach to form” and the “chromaticism” owes much to Brahms and Wagner. The slow movement, Adagio con sentimento, may nod to Weber and Schubert, but features Wagnerian harmonies. It is romantic and reflective, presented in a complex binary form, with each section having two themes. The Beethovian Scherzo is presented in a lively 6/8 time with one or two novel twists and turns. The finale is a well-constructed rondo, with a genial “refrain” and two contrasting episodes which has many splendid modulations in its progress. There are references to the first and the slow movements towards the end. Once again, if the listener enjoys Schumann and Schubert, they will love this pleasing sonata that is replete with warmth and affection.

Hunt the influence is an easy game to play with Charakterbilder (Seven Ages of Mind) written in 1872. Yet despite echoes of earlier composers, Parry has created a delightfully charming take on romantic piano music. It may be that he was inspired by the soliloquy from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the “Seven Ages of Man.” That said, he does not replicate the Bard’s sequence in these pieces. The titles were not included in the score, and only became known in a letter from Parry to the dedicatee, the pianist Susan Stephenson. The batting order here begins with the beautiful Dreaming, inspired by a reading of Tennyson’s Lotus Eaters. This is followed by Learning, which uses the technical tool of strict canon – the young man understanding his trade? Yet there is lyricism here and no sense of the didactic. Passion, in binary form, develops from flirtation to urgency in mood. The Age of Striving can be seen in the context of “intellectual freedom” with much of its figuration centring on rising arpeggios in the “trio” section. There are also lots of octaves and thick chords. Things calm down with the lovely Longing. This acts as a foil to the sixth piece, Triumphing. Once again, Parry has deployed powerful octave figurations in the refrain, contrasting with more relaxed ‘dolce’ episodes. It concludes with a powerful and challenging coda. Charakterbilder ends with a quiet and thoughtful Adagio con sentimento. It has been said that this may represent the 24-year-old composer’s “meditation on the far-off inevitability of old age.” Whatever the “programme” of these seven studies, Parry has created a distinctly engaging suite that deserves to be in the pianist’s repertoire.

A delightful addition to this CD set is the Five Miniatures: I think that they are premiere recordings. These were collected and published posthumously in 1926. Sleepy has all the hallmarks of Schumann. It is a delicious little “berceuse” or “romance.” The second, A Little Christmas Piece is a brisk allegro: it was originally entitled Cosy. There is little to remind the listener of the Season in these subtly syncopated rhythms. The Capriccio is played Leggiero molto capriccioso and is really a little toccata with a gentle 6/8 movement. The lingering Pause is, as one commentator suggested, full of diminished sevenths, “of which certain of Parry’s admirers are getting a little tired.” It is a pensive number that explores chromatic harmony and a dotted rhythm. The final Miniature, Envoi, may be the last piece that Parry wrote. It is gently optimistic.

Little information about their genesis is known, however Sleepy was probably written in 1917, and Cosy first appeared in the Girl’s Own Paper during 1892.

The informative liner notes are by Lisa Hardy, the author of the commanding study The British Piano Sonata 1870-1945 (The Boydell Press, 2001).

Pianist Richard Deering is an authority on British music and has been “entrusted” with premiere performances by a wide range of composers, including Malcolm Arnold, Malcolm Williamson, Thomas Wilson, Edward Gregson, Edward McGuire, and Brian Chapple. Over the years he has worked with Alan Rawsthorne, Elisabeth Lutyens, Bernard Stevens, and William Alwyn. As well as concertising, Deering’s activities include lecturing, broadcasting, recording, teaching, adjudicating, and authoring.

Current CD projects also include the re-issue of the Pearl LP (SHE 537) taken live from Elisabeth Lutyens’s Birthday Recital in 1976 with works by Lutyens, Michael Blake Watkins, Malcolm Williamson, and Richard Rodney Bennett. Equally important is the remastering of a cassette (BMS 407) featuring the complete piano works of William Wordsworth plus pieces written for Deering by Thomas Wilson and Edward McGuire. His past catalogue includes a recital of English Piano Music on the Saga Label. (SAGA 5445). Composers here included York Bowen, Cyril Scott, Arnold Bax, Frank Bridge, Eugene Goossens and John Ireland.

Overall, this is a splendid new release of piano music by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. Richard Deering brings consummate skill to these varied works. He assimilates the influences of earlier composers with Parry’s personal skill and creates a satisfying whole. The recording is outstanding, as is the CD documentation. I look forward to his subsequent issues on the Heritage Label.

Track Listing:
Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918)
CD 1

Sonata No.1 in F Major, (1876)
Charakterbilder (Seven Ages of Mind) Studies for the Pianoforte: 1. Prelude-Andantino (Dreaming), 2. Con energia (Learning), 3. Con moto (Passion), 4. Allegro (Striving), 5. Espressivo Longing), 6. Allegro energetico (Triumphing), 7. Adagio con sentimento (1872)
Sonata No.2 in A Minor/Major (1876)
Five Miniatures 1. Sleepy (Dreamily), 2. A Little Christmas Piece (Allegro), 3. Capriccio (Leggiero, molto capriccioso), 4. Pause (Lento), 5. Envoi (Tenderly) (pub. post.1926)
Richard Deering (piano)
rec. 15 July 2023, Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
Heritage Records HTGCD 140-1 

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Charles Villiers Stanford and Charles Hallé, Venice 1882

Despite his reputation as an irascible teacher, Charles Villiers Stanford had a developed sense of humour. Coupled to this was an eye for journalistic detail. He penned three books of “memoirs”: Studies and Memories (1908), Pages from an Unwritten Diary (1914), and Interludes, Records and Reflections (1922).  This present anecdote is taken from the Unwritten Diary (p.206f).

Stanford explains that after the Birmingham Festival of 1882 he travelled with his wife to Switzerland. He wrote:

After the 1882 Festival we went to Monte Generoso and had experience of the worst floods I have ever seen. After a long spell of doubtful weather, three thunderstorms met over our devoted hotel, and over most of the rest of the range of mountains to the North of Italy and deluged the plains below. We got with difficulty to the station outside Verona, and made our entry into the town between two banks of mud standing three feet high on either side of the

streets. The only bridge left was the old Roman structure. The buildings on each side were mostly like dolls' houses with the front taken off. Two or three fell into the Adige as I watched.

Going on to Venice the next day, we were turned out at Padua and had to drive along an interminable road between two muddy lakes, which extended at least half-way to the sea-city, in a most rickety vehicle, drawn by a shying horse.

Venice made up for the risky journey, and the floods to an unusual extent counteracted the perfumes at low tide. There was a pleasing uncertainty as to our exit; so many were the broken bridges, and so dangerous the sunken and (far from) permanent way on the railways. But we contrived to escape from an unduly long imprisonment by way of Trieste and Vienna. I saw one sight in Venice which alone repaid the journey: Charles Hallé in a frockcoat and a white top hat reading the Daily Telegraph while seated in a gondola and floating under the Bridge of Sighs.

Monte Generoso is a mountain located on the Swiss-Italian border. At the time of Stanford’s visit, the mountain railway had not been built.

Charle Hallé (1819-95) was an Anglo-German pianist and conductor. He studied at Darmstadt and later in Paris. In 1848 he arrived in Manchester where he took on several conducting posts. Nine years later he founded the orchestra that bears his name.

It is interesting to recall that Stanford’s reference to the Roman bridge at Verona, being the only one left standing. Sixty-three years later the structure was blown up by the retreating German army. It was rebuilt in 1957, using rubble recovered from the River Adige.

Saturday 18 November 2023

A Year at Llandaff...

Llandaff Cathedral is sited on the banks of the River Taff, to the north of Cardiff. It is effectively the Anglican cathedral for the Welsh Capital. This splendid building was badly damaged by a parachute mine during the Second World War. Much restored by the architect George Pace it has many impressive features. Most striking is the sculpture by Jacob Epstein, Christ in Majesty (1954) which towers over the interior of the nave. Lightning damaged the organ in 2007, and a new instrument was procured. The current instrument was built by Nicholson and Co., Malvern and was commissioned in 2010. The Cathedral supports a lively musical tradition.

This present CD is one of several that explore A Year At… These include York, Winchester, Bristol, and Exeter.

The Christian Year begins on the First Evensong of Advent Sunday (held on the Saturday). The anonymous Creator of the Stars of Night gets this choral concert off to a good start. John Scott, onetime Organist and Director of Music at St Thomas’s Church, Fifth Avenue, New York, provides a moving setting of the ancient plainsong melody. It sets the scene for the church’s meditation on the imminent Birth of Jesus and the hope of his Second Coming. I am not sure that Bob Chilcott’s vibrant Nova! Nova! is appropriate for Advent. I think that the story of the Angel Gabriel and his visit to Our Lady is more appropriate to the Annunciation on 25 March. At Christmastide, Christina Rossetti’s haunting In the Bleak Mid-Winter is ever popular – in the Harold Darke or the Gustav Holst version. The present number was “souped up” by Mack Wilberg, and given “luscious, romantic harmonies.” This uses Holst’s tune to great advantage.

Epiphany celebrates the Coming of the Magi. For this Feast, we hear Gaston Litaize’s stirring organ solo, Epiphanie. This celebrates both the wonder and the numinous qualities of the story. The Spiritual, Down to the River, commemorating the Baptism of Christ does not work for me. Candlemas celebrates the moment that Mary presented the Infant Child in the Temple in Jerusalem. Jonathan Dove has set a Vast Ocean of light, a poem by the seventeenth century author, Phineas Fletcher. The text majors on the manifestation of the divine which inspired Simeon in the Temple to sing “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation…” Dove has created a magical score that balances a moto perpetuo organ accompaniment against soaring vocal parts and sensitive harmonies.

Lent arrives with another Spiritual – We shall walk through the valley. I am not sure the choice of this piece reflects the penitential preparation for Easter, that the Christian tradition demands.

We are on more secure liturgical grounds with Philip Wilby’s setting of Isaac Watt’s moving hymn When I survey the wondrous cross. Wilby has through composed this anthem, with a gentle exposition of the first two verses, followed by some intensity at the words “See by his head, his hands, His feet/Sorrow and Love flow mingled down.” The calm of the opening music returns for the final verse, the reader’s response to Christ’s suffering. This is my big discovery on this CD: it is incredibly beautiful. Edward Elgar’s Ave Maria is suitable for the celebration of the Annunciation. This deeply devotional anthem is a well-wrought meditation on the Angel Gabriel’s words to Mary and our reaction to them.

The Father’s Love, sung here on Maundy Thursday, speaks of service to, and love for, one another. I have not heard (knowingly) anything by Simon Lole before. His beautiful setting of a text from St John’s Gospel is tranquil, melodic, and fully within the Anglican choral tradition. Equally moving is the Good Friday offering: Philip Moore’s It is a thing most wonderful, to words by William Walsham How. It reflects the progress of the text’s sentiment, beginning peacefully, building up to an intense middle section where the choristers consider the “cruel nails, and crown of thorns.” The anthem concludes with a gentle interweaving of voices in the serene final stanza.

Easter is celebrated with a dynamic arrangement of the Dutch Carol by Philip Ledger. This Joyful Eastertide recalls the passion, but also looks to the hope of the risen Christ. Healey Willan, although born in England in 1880, is regarded as the “Dean of Canadian Composers.” Most listeners will associate him with organ and choral music, however, amongst his eight hundred works, he did write a piano concerto, two symphonies and at least seven operas. Rise up, my love, my fair one, is drawn from The Song of Solomon and can be interpreted allegorically as Christ’s Ascension. It is a perfect fusion of words and music.

The second organ solo on this CD is Kenneth Leighton’s Veni Creator Spiritus, completed in the year before his death. Regarded as a meditation on the eponymous ninth century plainsong chant it is a formally imaginative piece. It explores various moods appropriate to Pentecost, including a powerful climax and calm conclusion. Sometimes the aesthetic of Vaughan Williams is apparent.

Today’s sophisticated musicians often decry John Stainer as being “deservedly forgotten” and his work riven by “a tide of sentimentalism,” “cheaply sugary harmony” and “palsied part-writing.” Anyone listening to Stainer’s I saw the Lord (1858) will have to retract this view. They will be surprised by its technical competence. Jeremy Dibble, in his study of the composer has noted that it is devised in a tri-partite structure, makes an unconventional use of fugue, has unusual tonal schemes, and exhibits a “striking dialectic of drama and serenity which is articulated by the anthem’s larger architectural plan.” The text is taken from the book of Isaiah and an eleventh century hymn concerning the Trinity.

All Souls is represented by Bob Chilcott’s second offering, Even such is time, using a poem penned by Sir Walter Raleigh on the evening before his execution at the hand of James I. The words explore the idea of death and the hope of eternal life. This understated setting retains a definite sense of optimism.

The Call of Wisdom was composed for the Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral for the Diamond Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. The text, based on verses from the Book of Proverbs, is by Michael Hempel. There is considerable beauty in Will Todd’s lyrical anthem. It is heard here in its SATB version. Here it is used in a celebration of All Saints.

The final track is an evening hymn, Arglwydd mae yn nosi (Lord, the Night Approaches) written by Caradog Roberts in 1918. Lasting just over a single minute, it perfectly complements the text’s plea for God to “Stay with us” as “the night approaches.”

The liner notes are first-rate and provide succinct details, texts, and translations. There is a helpful introduction to the Cathedral and its musical heritage. Dates for all the pieces would have been useful. I have provided them where possible. Lists of choristers and choir members are included, as well as biographical details of the Assistant Director of Music, Aaron Shilson, and Director of Music, Stephen Moore.

Altogether a splendidly eclectic mix of church music mainly from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It is magnificently sung with an outstanding ambient recording. 

I look forward to subsequent releases from this series of A Year At…

Track Listing
Anon Medieval, arr. John Scott

Creator of the stars of night (2007)
Bob Chilcott (b.1955)
Nova! Nova! (2002)
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) arr Mack Wilberg

In the bleak mid-winter
Gaston Litaize (1909-91)

Epiphanie for organ (1984)
Baptism of Christ:
Spiritual, arr. Philip Lawson

Down to the river
Jonathan Dove (b.1959)

Vast ocean of light (2010)
Spiritual arr. Undine Smith Moore

We shall walk through the valley.
Philip Wilby (b.1949)

Wondrous Cross
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Ave Maria (rev.1902)
Maundy Thursday
Simon Lole (b.1957)

The Father’s Love (1987)
Good Friday
Philip Moore (b.1943)

It is a thing most wonderful (2005)
Dutch Carol arr. Philip Ledger

This joyful Eastertide
Healey Willan (1880-1968)

Rise up, my love, my fair one (1929)
Kenneth Leighton (1929-88)

Veni Creator Spiritus for organ (1987)
John Stainer (1840-1901)

I saw the Lord (1858)
All Souls’
Bob Chilcott

Even such is time (2002)
All Saints’
Will Todd (b.1970)

The Call of Wisdom (2012)
Caradog Roberts (1878-1935)

Arglwydd mae yn nosi (Lord the Night Approaches) (1918)
The Choir of Llandaff Cathedral/Stephen Moore; Aaron Shilson (organ)
rec. 21-23 June 2022 Llandaff Cathedral.
Regent Records REGCD573

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first pubished.