CDs, June 2014


The Choir of Lincoln Cathedral / Colin Walsh (organ)/ Aric Prentice • Priory PRCD 1100
The Choir of Salisbury Cathedral / John Challenger (organ) / David Halls • Priory PRCD 1098

The popularity of CDs devoted entirely to psalms or hymns remains high, and these two excellent CDs demonstrate good reasons why. Colin Walsh, organist laureate at Lincoln, brings a lifetime’s experience to the organ accompaniments of the psalms and of course a detailed knowledge of the Lincoln organ – his accompaniments are imaginative but always at the service of the words. Aric Prentice and his choir are expressive and varied in their approach to each verse. This fifth volume in a new series from Priory covers Psalms 68 to 77. The chants chosen are mostly ones which one can imagine the choir might have been singing a century ago, which makes the two chants chosen for Psalm 74 stand out, being splendid, comparatively recent examples by Lindsay Gray (minor key) and Philip Marshall (major key).
Salisbury’s new recording of ‘great hymns’ has something for everyone, ranging from Jerusalem and ‘When a knight won his spurs’ to ‘At the name of Jesus’ (warning – sung to Camberwell) and a joyous final ‘Christ triumphant’ including John Barnard’s descant. Christopher Robinson contributes three excellent descants, and Christopher Gower a particularly effective one for Lasst uns erfreuen. Salisbury’s acoustic, well captured by Priory, adds its own distinctive resonance.
Duncan Watkins

The Chapel Choir of St Peter’s College, Oxford / Mary Ann Wootton (organ) / David Quinn and Roger Allen • OxRecs OXCD121

St Peter’s College Chapel boasts a Father Willis organ of 1875 (enlarged in 1889 and rebuilt and restored in 2003); this recording sensibly concentrates on music written in the mid to late 19th and early 20th centuries. The disc opens with a fine performance of S.S. Wesley’s Ascribe unto the Lord followed by Stanford’s three Latin motets ]ustorum animae, Coelos ascendit hodie and Beati quorum via. At the centre of the disc are three big pieces: Stanford’s For lo, I raise up (written in 1914 and as if prescient of the horrors about to come), Naylor’s Vox dicentis: Clama and Bairstow’s Blessed city, heavenly Salem with its colourful organ accompaniment written in the year that Bairstow went to York Minster. The young, mixed voices of the student choir blend well and have an enjoyment of the music that communicates strongly. The music has an easy flow – expressive but never over-weighty. This is a refreshing recording, worth considering as an alternative to the many cathedral performances of this repertoire.

The Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh / Duncan Ferguson • Delphian DCD34123

Sheppard’s music is not so commonly found in service lists, and this disc is particularly welcome. It comprises the Missa cantate, plus hymns, responds and antiphons, including Gaude virgo Christiphera, Sheppard’s only surviving votive antiphon, and the first recording of Adesto sancta Trinitas II. Sheppard, Informator Choristarum at Magdalen College, Oxford, was a near contemporary of Taverner, and his music has a similar level of complexity – and of musical rewards for overcoming its difficulties! The choir here sings magnificently, and especially the bright treble line of boys and girls who sound effortless in some difficult (and high-pitched) lines. The whole choir blends well but also allows the counterpoint to speak clearly. This disc is a notable achievement.

The Choir of Peterborough Cathedral / Richard Latham (organ) / Stanley Vann • Priory PRCD 938

If you were choosing just two composers for a disc headed ‘Tudor Church Music’ you would perhaps choose Byrd and Tallis, and probably not Batten and Dering as found on this disc. But the contrast between the music of Adrian Batten (Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral) and the continental influences on Richard Dering (study in Italy and employment in Brussels before returning to England) is fascinating. However it is not so much for the choice of repertoire as for the performances that this CD is so special, for it is a remastered version of an Argo 1962 recording of what was widely regarded at the time as the best cathedral choir in the UK. Stanley Vann was master of the music of Peterborough Cathedral from 1953 until his retirement in 1977. This disc is a splendid testament to the results of his choir training (and the choir sounds remarkably fresh and modern) along with some excellent solo voices and organ accompaniment by Richard Latham. There is also much to enjoy in the expressive and unexpected modulations in Dering’s music such as Factum est silentium and Contristatus est rex David.

The Gentlemen of Liverpool Cathedral / Martyn Noble (organ) / David Poulter • Priory PRCD 1110

We regularly review CDs of upper voices, whether adults, boys or girls, but rarely men’s voices alone, so it is a pleasure to welcome this recording. The main works come at the beginning and end, with Tallis’s two sets of Lamentations to start and Duruflé’s Messe cum jubilo to conclude. The ‘con jubilo’ Mass setting sounds particularly fine in Liverpool’s huge space, with unison baritones singing plainsong melodies, which the organ surrounds with Duruflé’s unmistakable harmonies that seem to glow in this warm acoustic. In between are ten short pieces (the Biebl Ave Maria rather longer than the others), ranging from John Dunstable to Francis Grier. Tallis reappears with If ye love me and Duruflé’s with Ubi caritas. The choir knows how to use the acoustic to add colour, but also sings with precision and attack where needed to cut through it. A most enjoyable disc.
Judith Markwith


Organ works by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, 1848-1918 • David Goode plays the Hill organ of Eton College Chapel • Regent REGCD365

Hubert Parry was educated at Eton, and this recital of his music is given by the current organist there on the 19th-century William Hill organ in the college chapel. The organ has recently been restored to its original tonal specification, although, dating from 1885, would not have been known by Parry when he studied the organ as a schoolboy. Parry wrote lots of organ music, far more than we normally hear after service or in recital today. This disc includes all of his large-scale works for the organ and a selection of smaller chorale preludes. The largest is a nearly 15 minute Toccata and Fugue in G (‘The Wanderer’). Named after Parry’s yacht, the Toccata certainly does wander, extended Fugue receives an expansive performance, building to a glorious climax in Goode’s performance. Parry’s organ music was written late in his life, and even the shortest chorale preludes are worth the care and attention to detail that Goode gives them. Not quite the complete organ music (the disc has seven of the 14 chorale preludes that Parry composed in two sets), but with 70 minutes of music it is a generous selection and, for enthusiasts of Parry’s music, essential listening.
Stephen Patterson

Benjamin Nicholas plays the new Dobson organ of Merton College, Oxford • Delphian DCD34142

Merton’s decision to commission a new organ from Dobson Pipe Organ Builders was a bold choice: the company is less than 40 years old and the Merton instrument is only its ‘Op. 91 ‘. Furthermore, there is little precedent for UK commissioning of organs from American builders. But the result justifies the decision, with an instrument that fulfils Merton’s requirements to accompany sympathetically the daily choral services, to have sufficient flexibility to accommodate the works of many eras and to honour the Chapel’s ancient architecture. Nicholas’s programme is strong on texture and colour, especially French with Messiaen, Vierne, Dupré and Franck. Even two of the three J.S. Bach titles are arrangements by Dupré and Duruflé. The third is the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, unexpectedly appearing midway through the programme and separating sensitive performances of Messiaen’s Prière après la communion and Mendelssohn’s Andante with Variations in D. Although Nicholas remains more associated with choir directing than playing (this is his first recording as a solo organist), his performance of Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster to conclude the disc demonstrates just how technically assured a player he is.

Huw Morgan plays the organ of St Laurence, Catford • sfz music SFZM0513

Huw will be known to many readers as a composer, journalist and tutor for the RSCM’s Foundation Degree in Church Music, as well as a reviewer of organ publications for CMQ. On this disc he plays the J.W. Walker & Sons extension organ at St Laurence, Catford, where he is director of music. The organ was built in 1969 to a specification devised by the late David Sanger, with bright, clear sounds particularly suitable for works of the north European baroque – and there are sparkling performances here of music by Buxtehude, J.S. Bach and Sweelinck. The rest of the disc is devoted to the 20th and 21st centuries, with Hugo Distler’s charming Sonatina and the first recording of Einbrechendes Licht, a work by the Austrian composer Kurt Estermann which gives the album its title. Also included are two of Morgan’s own compositions: Dialogues (2013), and the wonderfully atmospheric Adam’s Fall (2010), a work including fixed electronics as well as live organ.

Michal Novenko plays the organ of the Mosteiro de Arouca, Portugal • Priory PRCD 1092
Gerard Brooks plays the restored organ in Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, London • Priory PRCD 1099

Compare and contrast: early Portuguese organ music played on a Portuguese instrument, and late 19th and early 20th-century music by British organists played on a four-manual Rushworth and Dreaper-restored instrument. The Portuguese pieces are mostly by Carlos Seixas (1704-42) and Manuel Rodrigues Coelho (d. 1647). Toccatas and Batalhas abound with exciting figurations and strident colours. One has the impression that Iberian composers at the time tended to be more conservative in their sacred choral music and let their imaginations off the leash in their keyboard compositions. Seixas, who was admired as a composer by Domenico Scarlatti, might be better known to us and regarded as a more significant composer if most of his music had not been destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.
In contrast, the composers on the British disc are decidedly conservative. Gerard Brooks features the music of two previous Central Hall organists, William Lloyd Webber (1914-82) and J Arthur Meale (1880-1932), plus music by composers who taught at the Royal College of Music – Stanford, Coleridge Taylor, Ireland and Parry. But the opening piece is Alfred Hollins’s Concert Overture: entertaining and colourful. Gerard Brooks, the current Central Hall organist, plays with intelligence and taste – he is an ideal exponent of this repertoire where understatement is often more effective than flamboyance.

Jazz and blues inspired works for organ • Philip Scriven plays the organ of Lichfield Cathedral • Regent REGCD304

Iain Farrington’s seven-movement Fiesta! is the big piece here, Bernstein’s Candide Overture probably the best-known – both are full of colour, rhythm and verve. But I am haunted by the gentler Blues Chorale Preludes (three very different chorale or spiritual tunes arranged by three different composers) and by Zsolt Gárdonyi’s version of Slane in Be thou my vision. Gárdonyi also contributes Mozart Changes, taking as its starting point the theme of the last movement of Mozart’s final piano sonata (in D, K576). Reviewers in Sunday by Sunday emphasize from time to time how suitable is the organ for music in jazz-influenced idioms. This entertaining CD provides welcome proof.
Stephen Patterson