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. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

William Wordsworth: Cheesecombe Suite for piano solo (1945) Part 2 (Conclusion)

The premiere of Wordsworth’s Cheesecombe Suite was given during a lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, on 19 May 1948. Miss Yvonne Enoch’s playing ‘invest[ed] its four short movements with positive character.’ (The Times, 24 May 1948).
The Prelude & Fughetta from the Suite was played on Radio 3 during a recital of Scottish music by pianist William Wright on 18 October 1974. Also included in the programme was Wordsworth’s ‘Valediction’ for piano (Op.82) which was composed for Ronald Stevenson, in memory of Joe Watson. It was later arranged by the composer for full orchestra (op.82a, 1969). Other pieces included the now forgotten Suite by John Bevan Baker (1926-94) and Frank Spedding’s (1902-84) Eight Impromptus after Paganini.

The sheet music for the Cheesecombe Suite was published in 1948 by Lengnick, London. It was reviewed by Kenneth Avery in Music and Letters (July 1948). Avery considered that ‘Mr Wordsworth’s suite of four pieces, show considerable ability in working with insufficient material. The pieces all have the disadvantage of sounding uninteresting, although this composer’s great talent is apparent on every page he writes. Pianists are recommended to purchase the ‘Cheesecombe Suite’, however, for it is, after all, the accessible work by one of the foremost of our younger composers.’

The recording history is quite straightforward. Originally released by Lyrita in 1963, this is a mono album. Margret Kitchen (1914-2008) also played Wordsworth’s splendid Piano Sonata in D minor, op.13 (1938) and the rhapsodic Ballade, Op.41 (1949). The album was rereleased in identical packaging in 1975. In 2007 the LP was issued on CD as  REAM.2106. This disc also included Kitchen’s recordings of Iain Hamilton’s Piano Sonata, op,13 (1951) and Michael Tippett’s Piano Sonata No.1 (1937, rev. 1954).

The original LP was discussed in The Gramophone (June 1963) by Roger Fiske. He was moderately impressed and stated that ‘the final fughetta…ends splendidly and is very well played.’ He considered that the Prelude and the Nocturne ‘took too long to end, but…are otherwise pleasant enough.’  

In 1975 Michael Oliver reviewed the LP (vinyl) re-release of this album for The Gramophone (September 1975). His thoughts on the composer in general are worth recalling. He considers that Wordsworth is a ‘perplexing composer’ who ‘despite writing in an accessibly tonal language and being superficially dismissible as a late romantic…’ The ‘predominant mood of his music is a craggy brooding darkness, degenerating at times into glum heaviness or apparently aimless wanderings, but at its best conveying a brusque, unaccommodating nobility. It is not music for every day and it is undeniably uneven in quality, but there are several passages…works, whose sombre gravity evokes the world of Thomas Hardy or even of the composer’s namesake and kinsman himself.’
This is a cue for a dissertation.

Rob Barnett (MusicWeb International, 8 September 2008) writes ‘…darkling gloom pervades both the Prelude and the pensive overcast tolling of the Nocturne but is dispelled by the devil-may-care angularity of the Scherzo. The little Fughetta finale comes and goes in a few turbulent moments.’

Writing for MusicWeb International, (8 October 2008) Jonathan Woolf explained that the ‘Cheesecombe Suite…opens in vertiginous [lofty] but wholly tonal style and has its ‘darkling thrush’ [Thomas Hardy] moments. Cool and still and also vaguely watchful the Nocturne sits at its heart but there’s also a frantic Fughetta to end things – almost, it has to be said, in hysteria. Adherents of British piano music of the period will want to seek out Margaret Kitchin’s pioneering disc…’

For the record, I feel that William Wordsworth’s Cheesecombe Suite is a delightful excursion into neo-classicism, that has touches of romanticism, little in the way of modernism and virtually nothing of the ‘cow and gate.’ Despite its occasional lack of pianism, it is a worthy Suite that deserves pianists’ attention in 2017.

The Cheesecombe Suite, played by Margaret Kitchin, can be heard on LYRITA REAM 2016. It is available to subscribers of the Naxos Music Library.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

William Wordsworth: Cheesecombe Suite for piano solo (1945) Part 1

I first discovered William Wordsworth’s (1908-88) music back in 1975. I had been exploring the record browsers in the music department of Harrods’ Knightsbridge store. Amongst the usual fare, I found two Lyrita albums of piano music: Franz Reizenstein (RCS19) and William Wordsworth (RCS.13). I immediately bought them, despite having no clue as to their sound world: the record label was reason enough. After returning home to Glasgow I listened to both with eager anticipation. I confess that I was a little disappointed. Both albums presented music very different to the diet of Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Delius that I was exploring at that time.
Interestingly, Mosco Carner, writing a short review of an early performance of the Suite in The Daily Telegraph (24 October 1950) pointed out that on the previous evening, Frank Merrick had included the Cheesecombe Suite in his recital at the Conway Hall. He felt that this ‘proved to be pastoral [my italics] music as its title suggests, not particularly pianistic in character but unpretentiously pleasing.’ Other works at Merrick’s recital included Prokofiev’s Third Sonata.  At least Carner felt they were inspired by the landscape.
The ‘pastoral' character of the music in not a view I would concur with. In fact, it is one of the reasons that I did not warm to this Suite in 1975: it did not evoke (for me) a mood of topography or countryside meditations. 

I guess that I had imagined that the Cheesecombe Suite would have been a ‘bucolic’ ramble, clearly inspired by some real or imaginary place in the depths of the English countryside. In fact, it was probably the title that persuaded me to buy this record of music by a composer I knew nothing about.

William Wordsworth’s Cheesecombe Suite was composed in the spring of 1945. The work carries the following dedication: ‘To my friends B.A., C.A, D, C, and G.E whose initials provide the theme for these pieces.’ At this point I would only be guessing in trying to tie a name down to the initials.

There is some discussion as to where Cheesecombe is, and the composer’s relation to it. Roger Fiske, (The Gramophone June 1963) presumes that it is the name of the Wordsworth’s house at Hindhead. I think that he is wrong. At the time of composition, Wordsworth was living at Little Hatch, Churt Road, Hindhead. This village, which is the highest in Surrey lies some 10 miles south west of Guildford. It is close to the Devil’s Punch Bowl, which is a local beauty spot.
Paul Conway (MusicWeb International) has suggested that ‘Cheesecombe’ was in fact located near Lyme Regis in the village of Harcombe. It was here that Wordsworth, who was a conscientious objector, may have carried out agricultural war-work in lieu of military service.

Harry Croft-Jackson provided the original liner notes for the Lyrita LP.  I quote the description of each movement:
Prelude: Pensive Andante tranquillo in A minor, full of charm and innocence.
Scherzo: A deft Allegro scherzando in G. Although written in simple triple time [3/4] the beats often divide into triplets as the music chuckles its way through a series of impish key changes.
Nocturne: An example of the composer’s ability to express with economy and restraint a sustained, nostalgic mood.
Fughetta: Like the Prelude, this 9/8 Allegretto is in A minor, with a soft aeolian flavour. Subject and answer are announced ‘delicato,’ and are followed by three pianissimo middle entries. There after the Fughetta gradually mounts in excitement to a vigorous conclusion.

Paul Conway rewrote the liner notes for the CD reissue of this album. The only additional comments he makes is noting the ‘capricious key changes and constantly varying rhythms’ making ‘the gambolling Scherzo a light-hearted romp, revealing the composer’s humorous side.’  He believes that the Nocturne ‘is the most profound movement’. This initially wistful pieces ‘intensifies to generate a powerful climax, before falling back on its initial reveries’.

To be continued…

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Bravura! Francesca Massey plays the organ of Durham Cathedral

I omitted to post this review back in 2015. Following Francesca Massey's excellent new disc of organ music from King's Lynn Minster I felt that it was high time I presented here. 
This CD gets of to a fine start with a rare excursion into the organ loft with York Bowen: in his catalogue there is also a Melody in G minor and a transcription of the orchestral Somerset Suite. The composer, who is best known for his piano works, is often unfairly dubbed the ‘English Rachmaninov.’ Pianistic textures with considerable use of octaves in the right hand, arpeggios and chromatic scale figurations are to the fore in this Fantasia, although I do believe that these work exceptionally well (in this case) for organ. The liner notes do not mention that this Fantasia was written in 1949 and received its first outing during the Festival of Britain by the work’s dedicatee Arnold Richardson. It is a romantic piece with one or two nods towards something a little more hard-edged.

The second piece is a million miles away in mood and tone. Olivier Messiaen composed his Diptyque for organ in 1930: it is subtitled ‘essay on earthly life and blessed eternity.’ Diptyque was dedicated jointly to Paul Dukas and Marcel Dupré.  There could not be a greater disparity between the two ‘panels’ of this early masterpiece. The opening section has a powerful rhythmic drive that displays huge suffering and torment. Suddenly, the dreamy second ‘panel’ begins. This is timeless (as in duration) music that reveals much of the nature of the Christian view of peace and eternal rest.  Messiaen was to reuse this material in his superlative Quatuor pour la fin de temps, which was written and performed in a German prisoner of war camp during the winter of 1941. Diptyque is beautifully played here by Francesca Massey.

I have never heard Oskar Lindberg’s Sonata in G minor before. This four movement work was written by the Swedish composer, organist and teacher in 1924.  The liner notes suggest that the music was composed in a late romantic style evoking Rachmaninov, Sibelius and the French Impressionists. It was dedicated to his friend, the composer Albert Lindström (1853-1935). The first movement is a lugubrious funeral march. This is followed by a spectral adagio which is has a sound of improvisation written all over it. The next movement, ‘alla sarabanda’ is also mysterious in its working out: this is gloomy music indeed. The finale is impressive with a powerful rhythmic drive and an equally imposing hymn-like peroration. 

Marcel Dupré’s fine Prelude and Fugue in F minor, op.7 no.2 was a commemorative work written in memory of the blind organist Augustin Barié who died in 1915. This is a quiet, retrospective piece that clearly pays deep homage to his friend. Some listeners have noticed the shadow of Claude Debussy over this music.  In spite of its reticence, this Prelude and Fugue is not despairing: there is a profound confidence and hope in these pages.

The performance of William Mathias’ Variations on a Hymn Tune op. 20 is outstanding. This large recital work was written in 1962 and is based on the well-known Welsh hymn ‘Briant.’ There is a short introduction, followed by a statement of the hymn, then six variations each exploring a phrase from the tune.  A huge variety of timbres and musical genres are heard here: this ranges from the string stops, to magical flutes and the heavy reeds. The composer presents his variations in the form of ‘dances, marches, elegies and fanfares.’ There is always a good balance between Mathias’ skipping figurations and his more intimate moments. The work closes with massive four-part harmony on the tuba stop.

Jehan Alain’s ‘Choral Cistercien pour une elevation’ was composed in 1934. It was conceived with a liturgical function in mind: the offering up of the Host during Mass. The work was discovered after his death and is believed to have been written at the Cistercian Abbey in Valloires in the Somme department of France, where the composer would go on retreat. Alain’s life and career was cut short by a sniper’s bullet during the Battle of Saumur in 1940.

The penultimate work on this CD is the Toccata on ‘Nu la oss takke Gud’ (Now thank we all our God) by the Norwegian composer Egil Hovland. It was composed in 1973. The liner notes suggests that his compositional style is eclectic: his teachers included Aaron Copland and Luigi Dallapiccola. It is a great example of an exuberant recessional piece of music. Hovland’s virtuosic writing for the instrument includes cascades of sound, running scales, rapidly alternating chords and clusters in the last bars.

The final work on this CD is Francis Pott’s ‘Empyrean’ which was envisioned during a performance of Berlioz’s Requiem Mass in Ely Cathedral. The composer writes that the play of light in the Octagon of the cathedral provided him with a metaphor of the human soul rising heavenward. The piece begins quietly and concludes in ‘full blazing immediacy.’ It is a work that I enjoyed infinitely more than its inspiration.

Francesca Massey began her musical career as a pianist, singer and violinist. She was a founder member of the City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus. Massey took the opportunity of a gap-year Organ Scholarship at St George’s Windsor Chapel, before taking her music degree at Cambridge. During her studies, Massey was Organ Scholar at Gonville and Caius College and later organist at Great St Mary’s Church. Subsequent appointments have included Organ Scholar at Manchester Cathedral, Assistant Director of Music at Peterborough before taking up her current position as Sub-Organist at Durham Cathedral.

It is always a pleasure to hear the large four-manual Father Willis organ in Durham Cathedral whether in recital, on CD or at Evensong.  The organ was originally installed in 1876 and was then ‘state-or-the-art.’  It was rebuilt between 1905 and 1934 by Harrison & Harrison, the long delay being as a result of financial restraints. The instrument was again rebuilt by the same organ-builder in 1970 when a new console was added and other modifications which balanced contemporary aspirations with the historic nature of the organ.
The liner notes are informative and quite detailed, however it would have been helpful if the date of every piece had been given. These notes include the all-essential specification as well as a brief history of the organ.
It is almost superfluous to praise the sound quality of this CD: it is exactly as one expects from Priory. The listener can well imagine they are in the nave of the cathedral. Everything is clear and the various timbres of the stops are well-balanced and distinct.

This is a fine addition to the recorded collection of Great British Organs. It presents a diverse and imaginative programme that is superbly played and finely recorded. It will be a ‘must’ for all organ enthusiasts. 

Track Listings:
York BOWEN (1884-1961) Fantasia, op. 136 (1949)
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992) Diptyque (1930)
Oskar LINDBERG (1887-1955) Sonata in G minor (1924)
Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971) Prelude and Fugue in F minor, op.7 No.2 (c.1915)
William MATHIAS (1934-1992) Variations on a Hymn Tune, op. 20 (1962)
Jehan ALAIN (1911-40) Choral Cistercien pour une élévation (1934)
Egil HOVLAND (1924-2013) Nu la oss takke Gud (Organ Toccata) (1973)]
Francis POTT (b.1957) Empyrean (1982) [6:58]
Francesca Massey (organ)
Rec. 22-24 September 2014, Durham Cathedral.
PRIORY PRCD1137 [76:20]
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this reviews was orginally published in 2015.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

The Forgotten Gem: Francesca Massey plays the Organ of King’s Lynn Minster

It is many years since I was last in the former Hanseatic trading port of King’s Lynn. At that time, the present Minster was known simply as the Parish Church of St Margaret. In 2011, it was rededicated as King’s Lynn Minster in recognition of its role in the wider promulgation of the Gospel in West Norfolk.
The church was founded in 1101 by the first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga. The building has been subject to much ‘restoration’ over the past 900 years, with a complete rebuild after the spire collapsed in 1741 and more recently by George Gilbert Scott in 1874. There are few remains of the original Norman church. Finally, visitors to King’s Lynn must not miss the only surviving Hanseatic League warehouse in England. 
The specification of the instrument provided in the liner notes is an organ enthusiasts dream. It begins with details of the present organ and then reviews the previous builds and rebuilds. It is a nineteen-page essay! 
I will précis this essay in a paragraph or two. The original instrument was built by John Snetzler (1710-85) in 1754, at a cost of £700.  The organ case was designed by John’s brother, Leonard.   Since that time, it has had several rebuilds, most notably by Holdich (1848) then by Hill and Son (1870). However, as the liner notes suggest, it would be wrong to call the present organ a ‘Snetzler.’  It is in fact a Wordsworth of Leeds instrument with 12 ranks of the original organ incorporated. It was commissioned in 1895. Further work was carried out by Rushworth and Dreaper (1962) Holmes & Smith (2001/3) and Nicolson. (2014). The current instrument has three manuals, Great, Choir, Swell and Pedals.  There are 59 speaking stops as well as a Cymbelstern (tinkling bells!). The liner notes helpfully detail the original source of each pipe from each rebuild. The specification published in the National Organ Register varies slightly from the liner notes.

The objective in the selection of music for this CD was to ‘showcase the diversity of the instrument’s resources.’ This original ‘Snetzler’ pipes feature in the eighteenth-century repertoire, whilst the acoustic value of subsequent stop additions are explored in the remaining, largely 20th century repertoire.

The recital opens with Percy Whitlock’s Hymn Prelude on ‘King’s Lynn’ which was published in 1945. It is based in Vaughan Williams eponymous hymn tune, which was a folksong collected in Norfolk, arranged for the English Hymnal and used for G.K. Chesterton’s ‘O God of earth and altar/Bow down and hear our cry.’  Whitlock’s treatment is varied, with a reflective opening, building to a huge, tuba-supported climax. 
John Jordan’s ‘Folk Tune’ is a pastoral stroll that reflects the Norfolk landscape. It is just a little bit too short.

J.S. Bach’s massive Choral Partita "Sei gegrüßet Jesu gütig" BWV 768 is based on a hymn-tune setting the words ‘Hail to thee, kind Jesus.’ The progress of the music begins with a four-part harmonisation of the original melody. This is subject to ten variations with a concluding ‘monolithic’ five-part chorale. These variations are a commentary on the sentiment of the hymn, as well as an exploration of the musical content of the tune. It is surely one of Bach’s master pieces. It is especially effective on this organ.

John Stanley’s Voluntary in D minor, op.5 no.8 is one of his best works. It is in the form of an Italian concerto which he may have been encouraged by Handel to adopt. It is rare (for Stanley) to have three movements: he normally employs a slow introduction followed by a fugue or an allegro. Massey presents a thoughtful account of this work, with a magical opening allegro, and a restrained ‘adagio’ followed by an exuberant fugal-tinged finale. 
Other 18th century pieces include the ‘expressive’ and ‘exquisitely decorative’ Récit de Tierce en Taille (from Livre d'Orgue) by the French baroque organist Nicolas de Grigny. It was originally used to accompany the Gloria during the Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass.
Charles Burney’s Cornet Piece begins with a lovely ‘introduction for diapasons (the foundation stops on church pipe organs) and is followed by a fairly restrained movement for trumpet stop.

The mood changes completely with Gaston Litaize’s vibrant ‘Epiphanie’ which was composed in 1984. The imagery behind the work is the arrival of the Magi at Christ’s Nativity. The music is full of joy, excitement and a sense of wonder, which complements the biblical story presented in St Matthew’s Gospel. 

I was delighted that Francesca Massey included Peter Racine Fricker’s ‘Pastorale’ in her recital. For anyone looking for a ‘cow and gate’ piece they need to search again. What Fricker has achieved is a reworking of the old idea historically associated with ‘shepherds abiding in the fields.’ The reed stop plays a wayward shepherd’s pipe tune whilst the accompaniment provides the drones of mediaeval instruments. Whether his Pastorale has biblical inspiration, or the secular Theocritus and his Idylls, it is really does not matter. This is an easily approachable piece that is typically reflective and less dissonant than some of Fricker’s contemporary pieces.

To many folk, Max Reger conjures up an image of a severe German writing pedantic music that is dismal. It is imagined that all his music is excessively long, uncompromisingly chromatic and downright boring. The truth is that Reger’s style was wide-ranging and encompassed romanticism, neo-classicism, impressionism and a ‘back to Bach’ enthusiasm for the baroque. Exemplars include Wagner and Brahms, Richard Strauss and obviously Bach.
The Sonata for organ no.2 in D minor is an impressive piece of music by any standard. It was composed in 1901 and dedicated to the German concert pianist, teacher and critic Martin Krause (1853-1918). The work is presented in three hugely contrasting movements. The opening ‘improvisation’ balances a powerful first subject with a thoughtful chorale-like second. Naturally, as the title implies, there is a freedom and openness about the movement’s progress. The second movement is the heart of the work. Quiet passages are juxtaposed with something quite sinister. Typically, this is a meditative piece. The Sonata concludes with an animated chromatic fugue that seems to modulate all over the keyboard. There is a big finish. None of this Sonata deserves the epithet ‘arcane’ or ‘dry as dust.’

Francesca Massey is currently Sub-Organist at Durham Cathedral, a post she was appointed to in 2011. Her duties involve playing for the daily diet of worship and training of the choristers.  She has performed with the choir on several tours, broadcasts, concerts and recordings. Massey is currently Assistant Conductor of the Durham Singers, teaches organ and plays piano and continuo accompaniments for recitals.
Other appointments have included organ scholarships at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and Manchester Cathedral. She was onetime Assistant Organist at Great St Mary’s Church, Cambridge and Assistant Director of Music at Peterborough Cathedral.
In 2015 Francesca Massey issued her debut solo album, Bravura on the Priory label (PRCD1137). This included music by York Bowen, William Mathias, Olivier Messiaen and Oskar Lindberg. I had the pleasure in reviewing it for MusicWeb International.

I do have one or two niggles about the programme notes. For example, the composers’ dates are not given, either in the liner notes or on the track-listings. Now I know that they are easy to look up on the Internet, or more mundanely in a musical reference book (I still use them!). But I feel it is important to have this information immediately to hand. I could not find a total playing time for the disc. Finally, yellow print on a green background (track-listing) is not good for people with less than perfect eyesight.
What is not in doubt, is the detail presented by Francesca Massey in the programme notes and the above-mentioned essay on the organ. The text is a wee bit small, so it would be great if Priory had a .pdf file available on line: I may have missed some details as I read these pages.  

I enjoyed the sound quality of this disc and it passed the test of ‘like being in the church’. Francesca Massey has provided a varied and interesting programme that showcases the features of this splendid and historically important organ.

Track Listing:
Percy WHITLOCK (1903-46) Hymn-Prelude on King’s Lynn (1945)
John JORDAN (1941-2012) Folk Tune (?)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Chorale Partita "Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig" BWV 768 (c.1710)
John STANLEY (1712-86) Voluntary in D minor, op.5 no.8 (1748)
Nicolas de GRIGNY (1672-1703) Récit de Tierce en Taille (from Livre d'Orgue) (1699)
Charles BURNEY (1726-1814) Cornet Piece No.1 with an Introduction for the Diapasons (1751)
Gaston LITAIZE (1909-91) Epiphanie (1984)
Peter Racine FRICKER (1920-90) Pastorale (1959)
Max REGER (1873-1916) Sonata No.2 in D minor for organ, op.60 (1901) [22:50]
Francesca Massey (organist)
Rec. 12-14 September 2016 King’s Lynn Minster
PRIORY PRCD 1178 [77:50] 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Arnold Bax: A belated review of Robin H. Hull’s Handbook on Arnold Bax's Symphonies,

A few days ago, I posted a review of a concert of Arnold Bax’s chamber music given at the University of Edinburgh. This was a wide-ranging survey of music, albeit with a distinctly Celtic mood. Thirteen days later, an article appeared in The Scotsman, Edinburgh’s daily newspaper, which was effectively a delayed review of Robert H. Hull’s study of the first four of Bax’s Symphonies. Despite its date, this booklet is still of immense importance to Bax enthusiasts.  I include a few notes after the review.

‘The recent appearance in Edinburgh of Mr. Arnold Bax, at a concert devoted to his own compositions, imparts an additional interest for local readers to a Handbook on Arnold Bax's Symphonies, by Robert H. Hull (2s. net; London: Murdoch), which has just been published [1]. Mr Bax has written four Symphonies, the first of which is dated 1922, while the fourth was begun in October 1930, and was completed in February 1931:
There is a Scottish interest attached to the Fourth Symphony, in that it was written during a winter stay in Inverness-shire. [2] It may be recalled that its first performance in Britain (it had already been heard at San Francisco in March of this year) - took place in London, at a Courtauld-Sargent concert, just a little over three weeks ago. [3]
Of the composers who may to-day be styled ‘modern’, Mr Bax displays perhaps the most powerful individuality. ‘Modern’ music has all, in a greater or less degree, the quality of improvisation. It is fluid, elastic, and with patterns which have no mechanical regularity. The music of Mr Bax possesses all these characteristics; its development takes unexpected turns, and its ornamentation is luxuriant. But the composer is always the master of his improvisation never its servant, and while his design is not formal, in the classical sense, it moves forward, despite all its decorative exuberance, towards a definite and logical conclusion. There is less of the decorative element, no doubt, in the Symphonies than in the composer's other works.
When he wrote his first Symphony, he had already some sixteen years of work as a composer behind him, for the Trio for Violin, Viola, and Violoncello dates from 1906. The character of the First Symphony, Mr Hull describes as 'relentless, often despairingly grim, and dominated by a single idea of paramount austerity,’ although there are glimpses of ‘the distant peace towards which the composer is striving but which, until Symphony No.3, he never permanently obtains.’
In the second Symphony, a growing mastery of a more direct utterance is reflected in ‘a much more exacting process of refinement and compression.’ The third Symphony is ‘a singularly gracious work, easy to accept,’ while the fourth Symphony, criticism, has described as displaying precision of form attained without sacrifice of free improvisation, or richness of orchestral colouring.
Mr Hull has followed his scores very closely, and his practice of referring the reader to the pages and bars from which his musical illustrations have been taken is one which is to be commended’.
The Scotsman - Thursday 29 December 1932

[1] It seems that the author of this piece was a little behind the times. As noted below Hull’s booklet was published four years prior to this review.
Hull, Robert H., A Handbook of Arnold Bax’s Symphonies (Murdoch, Murdoch & Co., London 1932).  The price 2/- is equivalent to 10p, which would be about £7.50 at today’s prices.
It should be noted that this monograph covers only symphonies 1-4. Two years later, Hull addressed Symphony No.5 in the Monthly Musical Record (January 1934). In 1942 Hull submitted a lengthy article to Music & Letters (April 1942) which was ‘An Approach to Bax’s Symphonies’. This majored on all seven-canonical works. Later, scholarly endeavour has brought the unnumbered Symphony in F (1907, realised Martin Yates) to the public’s attention.
At the time of the writing of this review (December 1932) although Bax’s Symphony No.5 had been written, it was not premiered until 13 January 1934.
[2] The Symphony No.4 had indeed been worked on in at the Station Hotel, Morar, Inverness-shire as well as Glencolumcille in Donegal, Ireland. Graham Parlett points out that Bax told Graham Whelen that the work was ‘composed in London and Morar.’ 
[3] Arnold Bax’s Symphony No.4 was first performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Basil Cameron at the Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, on 16 March 1932. It was not heard in the United Kingdom until 5 December when it was given by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Sargent. The venue was the Queen’s Hall as part of the series of the Courtauld-Sargent concerts. Unusually for a ‘modern’ work it was repeated the following day and on the 9 December. 

Monday, 21 August 2017

It's not British, but...Music of the Night: American Nocturnes for piano

George Crumb is not part of my usual listening fare. No real reason: I have just never got around to hearing his music. Based on the seven pieces from his Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik (A Little Midnight Music) it is a situation that I may have to review. Crumb is regarded as an avant-garde composer, who creates his often-beautiful sound-world by way of unusual sonorities and extended playing techniques.  On the present discs, these pieces act as a continuous thread through the sequence of American ‘nocturnes.’ The inspiration for this music came from Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ written in 1944. Crumb effectively deconstructs the theme and provides simultaneously a commentary and meditation on it. All the ‘advanced’ pianistic techniques are used: strumming and plucking of strings inside the instrument, tapping the piano’s woodwork with the fingers and the ironwork with a padded stick. It is played on an amplified piano:
The nine movements of Crumb’s Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik are 1. Nocturnal Theme; 2. Charade; 3. Premonition; 4. Cobweb and Peaseblossom (Scherzo); 5. Incantation; 6. Golliwog Revisited; 7. Blues in the Night; 8. Cadenza with Tolling Bells; 9. Midnight Transformation. Cecile Licad omits movements 6 and 8.
All these pieces conjure up a vivid nocturnal mood, that can be variously unsettling, eerie, scary and quite delicious.

More romantic fare is provided by Amy Beach, ‘the first great American-born female composer’ whose Hermit Thrush Pieces, op.92 were written in 1921. These two numbers – ‘A Hermit Thrush at Eve’ and ‘A Hermit Thrush at Morn’ have their inspiration in poems by the American poet John Vance Chaney and the British John Clare. Both pieces are a kind of crossover between Chopin and French Impressionism seen through the ears of Edward MacDowell. The Hermit Thrush is a native American bird which has fascinated many poets, writers and musicians over the years.  The other piece by Beach is the evocative ‘Dreaming’ from her Four Sketches (1892).  This is prefaced with a quote from Victor Hugo: Tu me parles du fond d'un rêve – ‘You speak to me from the depth of a dream…’ The music is suitably surreal in its elusive pianism.

Charles Griffes was influenced (amongst others) by Debussy, Scriabin and elements of Asian music. The present Nocturne (1915) is largely impressionistic in its mood, although there is some ‘high-romanticism’ in these pages. The composer even indulges in a little polytonality on occasion (two- or more - keys at once!). Griffes’ other offering is ‘Night Winds’ from Three Tone Pictures, op.5 (1911/15). This is another manifestly impressionistic piece complete with whole tone scales and harmonies. It is based on a poem, ‘The Lake’, by Edgar Allan Poe and has been described as ‘a shimmering spray of notes’ (Michael Lewin).

Louis Gottschalk’s ‘La chûte des feuilles’, Nocturne, op. 42 was composed in 1860 whilst the composer was in Havana, in Cuba. It is based on an original Cuban melody by Nicolás Ruiz Espadero (1832-1890). Yet the reality is that this work epitomises the French salon of mid-century Paris. A distinctive feature is the powerful middle section of the piece.

Something a little more sinister is found in Daniel Gregory Mason’s ‘Night Wind’, op.9, no.6. This piece, composed in 1913, is highly derivative of Franz Liszt’s virtuosic pianism, with its ‘evocation of a stormy night.’ It is the last number of his suite Country Pictures.  The liner notes enjoin the listener lookout for Mason’s use of the whole-tone scale (C, D, F# G# & A# etc.) in two Debussy-inspired sections of this work.  It is an impressive piece.

Ernest Bloch was born in Switzerland, but emigrated to the USA in 1917. The notes explain that as he did not take American citizenship until 1924, so In the Night: A Love Poem (1922), may not qualify for inclusion on this disc. However, I feel that this dark, lugubrious piece, with its ‘euphonious’ dissonance and nods to impressionism deserves it place in this collection.

Everyone knows Samuel Barber’s Adagio for strings and his Violin Concerto, but I wonder how many have explored his fascinating piano music. Best-known (where known) are his Piano Sonata, op.26 and the jazz-infused Excursions, op.20. The present Nocturne, op. 33: Homage to John Field is standalone and was written during 1959. It pays tribute more to Chopin than the Irish John Field. Whatever the motivation, Barber does not try to write pastiche music of either composer: there is even a nod to a 12-note tone row in this music. It is very much in Barber’s ‘20th century’ style.

It was inevitable that Aaron Copland’s Night Thoughts: Homage to Ives was included on this double CD of Nocturnes. Apart from the Crumb pieces, this is the most modern work in the collection. It was written as a test piece for the 1973 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition which was held at Fort Worth, Texas.  Although this is not a hugely virtuosic piece, it is a challenging exploration of serial writing, more traditional resources and considerable dissonance. It is basically slow throughout with variety being provided by the deployment of textures. For listeners who think of Copland in terms of ‘Hoe-Downs’, ‘Appalachian Springs’ and ‘Fanfares for Common Men’ it will come as something of a culture shock.

I was impressed by Leo Ornstein’s Nocturne no.2. As the notes point out, Ornstein was regarded as the ‘wild man of music’ during the late 1910s and early 1920s. His music was characterised by ‘extreme (then) dissonance’ and for the composer’s ‘savage performances’ of his own music. Witness the present work. It is more a nightmare than an evening reverie, although there are some restful moments. The music is horrendously complex to read and difficult to play. It is given a stunning performance by Cecile Licad.

Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin has contributed a Little Nocturne, which is timeless in its stylistic parameters. This near-perfect piece was composed in the city of Boston in 2007. So, it is (in effect) an American work! 

George Whitefield Chadwick was one of the ‘Boston Six’: the others were Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, John Knowles Paine and Horatio Parker.  Their mission was the Americanisation of European music. Chadwick’s Nocturne is a ‘late successor’ to Chopin’s genre, although note the ‘habanera-like’ rhythm played by the pianist’s left hand. A lovely piece.

The Nocturne, op.6 no.2 by Arthur Foote is entirely European in its mood and effect. The liner notes suggest that this is odd, as Foote is regarded as being the first ‘significant American composer who was entirely USA trained.’ Boundaries of land and sea matter little when the music is as attractive and moving as this piece is.

Ferde Grofé is best recalled as the person who orchestrated George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for the Paul Whiteman band. Which is a pity. Grofé wrote several fine orchestral suites, the most famous being the Grand Canyon Suite. Other Suites include the Hudson River, Madison Square Garden and the Niagara Falls. The Nocturne was originally written for orchestra with the present arrangement is by Domenico Salvino. The music is presented in ternary form with a central blues section framed by dream-like music and an impressively strong coda. Grofé uses exotic scales and subtle harmonies to create this all-American Nocturne.

I enjoyed Joseph Lamb’s clever Nightingale Rag. Associated with the other great ragtime composers, Scott Joplin and James Scott, Lamb gave up composing when ragtime began to be overtaken by jazz in the years following the First World War. This present rag is quiet and delicately nuanced.

Arthur Farwell’s 1905-piece Dawn, op.12 is influenced by melodies from the Nebraska Omaha tribe of native American Indians. It nods to Edward MacDowell’s earlier ‘Indianist’ essays. There is a delightfully unfocussed feel to this music.

The Nocturne (Ragusa) by Ernest Schelling has little to do with the USA. Ragusa may refer to a city in Sicily. It is also the historical name for the wonderful Croatian town of Dubrovnik. The score is prefaced with lines from a poem: ‘Chapels of the Dalmatian Coast/Half hidden in the rugged heights/Send out a silvery vesper call/Ragusa of haunting charm…’ This is an evocative piece, that will immediately appeal to anyone who has seen this part of the world. The music owes much to Debussy, but is sultrier in its mood.

The playing by Cecile Licad is impeccable. She is absolute master of these diverse styles. Her superb playing is complemented by the excellent recording by Danacord as well as the readable liner notes by Jeremy Nicolas and an introduction from Thomas Nickelsen.

I reviewed the first volume of this anthology of American Piano Music back in 2016. This included Sonatas by Alexander Reinagle, Elie Siegmeister, Edward MacDowell and Charles T. Griffes. This series from Danacord is designed to reveal ‘the stylistic breadth, high musical quality and great originality of the best American piano works.’ This second volume is a worthy successor to the first. I do recommend listening to the tracks a few at a time to get the most out of this exploration. I look forward to the next volume (American Landscapes, 2018) in the series with considerable interest and much impatience.

Track Listing:
Music of the Night: American Nocturnes
George CRUMB (b.1929) Nocturnal Theme: Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik, no. 1 (2002)
Amy BEACH (1867-1944) A Hermit Thrush at Eve, op. 92 no. 1 (1921)  
George CRUMB Charade: Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik, no. 2 (2002)     
Charles GRIFFES (1884-1920) Notturno: Three Fantasy Pieces, op. 6 no. 2 (1915)
Louis M. GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869) La chûte des feuilles, Nocturne, op. 42 (1860)
Daniel Gregory MASON (1873-1953) Night Wind from ‘Country Pictures’, op. 9, no. 6 (1913)
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959) In the Night - A Love Poem (1922)  
Charles GRIFFES The Night Winds: Three Tone Pictures, op. 5, no. 3 (1911/15)
George CRUMB Premonition [1:47], Cobweb and Peaseblossom (Scherzo): Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik, nos. 3-4 (2002)
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981) Nocturne: Homage to John Field, op. 33 (1959)   
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) Night Thoughts: Homage to Ives (1972) 
Leo ORNSTEIN (1893-2002) Nocturne no. 2 (1923)         
George CRUMB Incantation: Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik, no. 5 (2002)

Marc-André HAMELIN (b.1961) Little Nocturne (2007)
George Whitefield CHADWICK (1854-1931) Nocturne (1895)   
Amy BEACH Dreaming no. 3 from Four Sketches, op. 15 (1892)  
Arthur FOOTE (1853-1937) Nocturne, op. 6, no. 2 (1883)
George CRUMB Blues in the Night: Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik no. 7 (2002)  
Ferde GROFÉ (1892-1972) Deep Nocturne (1947) (piano transcription D. Savino (1882-1972))
Joseph LAMB (1887-1960) Nightingale Rag (1915)
Arthur FARWELL (1872-1952) Dawn, op. 12 (1902)       
Amy BEACH A Hermit Thrush at Morn, op. 92 no. 2 (1921)         
Ernest SCHELLING (1876-1939) Nocturne (Ragusa) (1926)       
George CRUMB Midnight Transformation: Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik no. 9 (2002)
Cecile Licad (Piano)
Rec.7-11 February 2017, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City, USA
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Friday, 18 August 2017

Arnold Bax: A Fine Chamber Music Concert in Edinburgh, December 1932.

I found this review of a concert of Arnold Bax’s music presented at Edinburgh University on Thursday 15 December 1932. It was printed in The Scotsman the following day.
It is a concert I should have liked to attend, as it features three of my favourite Bax chamber works. These were clearly chosen to reflect a wide range of Bax’s achievement, but, as the review states, all have a Celtic feel to them. It is surely rare enough to have a recital devoted to the music of just one (living) composer in any age. A subsequent post will examine a follow up article about Bax and his symphonies, also published in The Scotsman.

‘Musical art does not stand still, and if public opinion lags somewhat behind, it also advances, although, no doubt, at a slower rate. It is not so many years since there were many to be found of a conservative turn of mind, who denounced the playing of Debussy’ music as an insult to the public. Today, Debussy is accepted as a matter of course.
Between the advent of a composer of ‘advanced’ ideas or methods, and his more or less general acceptance by the public, however, there is much spade-work to be done, and it is for such useful work that an organisation of the type of the Contemporary Music Society exists.
This Society, which has been formed within the last few months, made its first public appearance last night, in the University Music class-room, with a programme devoted to the music of Mr Arnold Bax.
The composer of ‘The Garden of Fand’ [1] is scarcely to be regarded as a musician still waiting for that recognition which is his due. Except for the ‘Garden of Fand’ music, which was given at an orchestral concert a few years ago [2], Mr Bax 's compositions are as yet little known in Edinburgh, and last night's concert, in which Mr Bax himself took part, afforded a welcome opportunity of hearing some of the work of one of the most remarkable composers of today.

The programme began with the third Sonata for violin and piano, [3] played by Mr Edward Dennis replacing Miss Bessie Spence at short notice, and Mr Erik Chisholm [4]. Miss Mona Benson gave attractive renderings of a group of three songs, ‘Cradle Song’, ‘Rann of Exile’, and ‘Rann of Wandering,’ [5] with Mr Chisholm at the piano; Miss Margaret Ludwig and Mr Bax played the ‘Legend’ for viola and piano [6], and Miss Ruth Waddell and Mr Bax played the Sonata for violoncello and piano [7]. In view of the unfamiliarity of all the music, attention turned principally to its general characteristics. Throughout, there is a strong suggestion of Celtic folksong. Mr Bax has pronounced Irish sympathies, and there was little of last night's thematic material which had not much of the character of Irish folk-music. It would perhaps be not altogether fanciful, too, to trace a resemblance between Celtic design and the elaborate ornamentation of Mr Bax's music. The Sonata for violin and piano was well played, but with rather a hard tone from both violin and piano, and suffered proportionately in its effect. It contains some beautiful writing, however, particularly in the first movement. The ‘Legend’ proved a charming work. Miss Ludwig has been very successful in seizing the rather elusive beauty of the tone of the viola, which, if well played, has a very poetic quality; while Mr Bax proved an admirable pianist. The Sonata for violoncello and piano also contained much that was attractive. It was an unusual and very interesting concert.’
The Scotsman - Friday 16 December 1932

[1] The symphonic poem The Garden of Fand was composed in 1916. It received its first performance in Chicago on 29 October 1920, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Frederick Stock. The British premiere was at the Kingsway Hall, London on 11 December 1920 with Adrian Boult conducting the British Symphony Orchestra.
[2] The Edinburgh performance of Bax’s The Garden of Fand was on the 20th December 1926 at the Usher Hall. The Scottish Orchestra was conducted by Václav Talich.
[3] The Sonata No.3 for violin and piano was composed in 1927. It was first performed by its dedicatee the Hungarian Emil Telmányi (1892-1988), violin and Arnold Bax, piano, at the Arts Theatre Club on 4 February 1929.
[4] Erik Chisholm was born in the Cathcart suburb of Glasgow on 4 January 1904. Apparently, he was a kind of ‘wunderkind’ who was composing music before he could read and was also writing poems and ‘novels’ whilst still in junior school. He studied with Herbert Walton, the erstwhile organist at Glasgow Cathedral and Lev Pouishnoff and then at the Scottish Academy of Music between 1918 and 1920. After this, he toured the United States and Canada before returning to Edinburgh and studying under the great Sir Donald Tovey. He received his Doctorate of Music from Edinburgh in 1934. During this time, he was also the conductor of the Glasgow Grand Opera Society which gave under his direction several first British performances, including Mozart’s Idomeneo, Berlioz’s The Trojans (still remembered by the older generation when I was a young man in the early 1970s in Glasgow), Dvořák's Jakobin and William Beattie Moonies’ Weird of Colbar. Chisholm did seem to have a penchant for setting up groups and societies – but these were all means to an end for his enthusiasm for new music. He founded the Active Society for the Propagation of Contemporary Music in 1929; this was followed by the Barony Opera Society in 1936. During the Second World War, he was the conductor of the Carl Rosa Opera Company and was a director of ENSA in South East Asia. After the war Chisholm was appointed as Director of the South African College of Music at Cape Town. Once again, he was instrumental in promoting both new music and opera and set up the University Opera Company and the University Opera School. Erik Chisholm died in Cape Town on 8 June 1965, aged only 60 years.
[5] Three Irish Songs, 1922: ‘Cradle Song’, ‘Rann of Exile’ and ‘Rann of Wandering’ to texts by Irish poet Padraic Colum (1881-1972). The word ‘Rann’ means ‘quatrain’, ‘stanza’ or ‘verse’. The earliest traced performance was given by Eleanor Charter (soprano) and Arnold Bax (piano) at the Liberty Buildings, School Lane, Kingston upon Thames on 5 November 1926.
[6] The Legend for viola and piano was dedicated to the American musical patron and socialite Elisabeth Sprague Coolidge. It was completed during July 1929. The Legend was first performed at the Aeolian Hall, London on 7 December 1929 by Lionel Tertis (viola) and Arnold Bax (piano).
[7] Arnold Bax’s Sonata for cello and piano was completed on 7 November 1923. It was dedicated to the cellist Beatrice Harrison (1892-1965), who along with pianist Harriet Cohen, gave the first performance at London’s Wigmore Hall on 26 February 1924. 
With thanks to Graham Parlett, for information derived from his magisterial A Catalogue of the Works of Sir Arnold Bax, Oxford University Press, 1999.