GAUDEAMUS OMNES: Celebrating Warwick 1100
Choirs of St Mary’s Collegiate Church, Warwick / Mark Swinton (organ) / Thomas Corns · Regent REGCD461
To mark 1,100 years of Warwick, the organists and choirs (boys, girls, men) of St Mary’s Collegiate Church perform a programme of ‘music composed almost entirely within living memory, or by still-living composers’. Bairstow’s Blessed city, heavenly Salem might have been composed 101 years ago, but is surely a timeless classic. The Warwick organs give the choir mighty support; the effect of instrument and voices is thrilling. William McKie’s We wait for thy loving kindness, O God shows the choir’s ability to support and grow phrases to impressive effect. Philip Moore’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in A was composed for St Mary’s and is scored for upper voices and organ. The singing is a model of what young people (the girls in this instance) can achieve. The inclusion of Parry’s I was glad will be an attraction to many potential purchasers, but one hopes that listeners will be pleasantly surprised by David Briggs’s Gaudeamus omnes. The organist is kept busy (as often in Briggs’s music), but the overall effect is one of rapt adoration. Other pieces by Vaughan Williams, Harris, Walton and Richard Shepherd, plus organ solos by Francis Jackson and James MacMillan, add up to an enjoyable hour of listening.
ONE EQUAL MUSIC
St Peter’s Singers / Simon Lindley · http://oneequalmusic.org.uk/
Recorded not in a sacred space but in the Victoria Quarter (a shopping centre) in Leeds, this is part of what sounds like a fantastic project undertaken in the summer of 2014 by St Peter’s Singers. The programme includes some of the unaccompanied greats of the English choral tradition: Bring us, O Lord God, Faire is the heaven and Holy is the True Light by Harris, Let all mortal flesh keep silence by Bairstow and My soul, there is a country by Parry. The adult voices of St Peter’s Singers bring much expressiveness to these wonderful pieces. There are also several contemporary works on the disc by Eric Whitacre (Alleluia), Pärt, Sally Beamish, Morten Lauridsen (O magnum mysterium), James MacMillan, Philip Moore, and Francis Jackson. Rachmaninov’s exquisite Bogoróditse dyévo is a most welcome inclusion.
MUSIC FOR EVENSONG AT GLOUCESTER CATHEDRAL
Choir of Gloucester Cathedral / Jonathan Hope (organ) / Adrian Partington · Priory PRCD 1128
This disc is intended as a commemoration of the start of the ‘War to end all wars’ on 4 August 1914. The music is an exquisite tapestry of the old and the new. Notably, it includes three pieces by Ivor Gurney: Chorale Prelude on ‘Longford’, a psalm chant (sung to the words of Psalm 23) and an anthem with words by Robert Bridges, Since I believe in God the Father. This motet for double choir was composed in June 1925 while Gurney was in a mental hospital in Dartford. It is a work of fragile beauty in which might be detected something of the musical language developed by Howells. The Gloucester Service by Neil Cox (b. 1955) is an exciting piece that owes a debt to Howells without aping his style. Other music on the disc is by John Sanders, E.W. Naylor and Goss. Readings and prayers are included and the service closes with a stirring performance of Parry’s Toccata and Fugue ‘The Wanderer’.
THE COMPLETE PSALMS OF DAVID: Series 2 Volume 7
Psalms 89–104 · Choir of Wakefield Cathedral / Simon Earl (organ) / Thomas Moore · Priory PRCD1120
With this CD the Priory psalm recording bus has rolled into Wakefield in its thirty-day tour through the BCP psalter by way of English cathedrals. Here their stay extends from day 17 evening through to day 20 evening – from Psalm 89 to Psalm 104. As with previous volumes recorded in cathedrals such as Exeter and Lincoln, the idea is to use chants which are previously unrecorded, and in this case to include those with a Yorkshire or at least a northern touch. Here there are chants by two previous organists: Jonathan Bielby (Psalm 100) and Newell Wallbank (Psalm 103). Sir Walter Parratt’s lush B major chant is used for Psalm 92. There is excellent, spirited singing from the choir, who perfectly capture the mood of each psalm; the words and their recitation are clear. This is an atmospheric recording with a clear sense of place.
HYMNS FROM BATH ABBEY
Choir of Bath Abbey / Marcus Sealy (organ) / Peter King · Regent REGCD445
This is an excellent collection of 24 well-known and much-loved hymns, starting with ‘Praise, my soul’ along with other favourites such as ‘All for Jesus’, and ‘O thou who camest from above’. Evenings are not forgotten with ‘The day thou gavest’ and ‘Abide with me’. The singing is superb, with some wonderful descants from the trebles (21 boys and 26 girls); Richard Marlow’s double descants in ‘A great and mighty wonder’ are a case in point. The Abbey has the foresight to have a congregational choir who sing in eight items. Mention must be made of Marcus Sealy: ‘Well played, sir!’ (I was once a pupil of his.) Whatever the arguments for and against using recordings of hymns in live worship, this is an excellent source which could be dipped into – not just for a liturgical sing-along but also to listen to; John Scott’s arrangement of Repton to ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’, sung beautifully by the army of trebles, is a case in point. This is a full recording and every credit to Peter King, the Abbey’s director of music and his team.
AVE MARIS STELLA
Anne Page plays the Kenneth Tickell organ of Little St Mary’s, Cambridge · Regent REGCD436
Anne Page’s impeccable playing, a choice of interesting repertoire and a very fine organ combine to make this a disc of distinction. The organ of Little St Mary’s Cambridge by the late Kenneth Tickell (to whose memory the recording is dedicated) is a beautifully voiced, two-manual instrument with a cleverly conceived stop-list that affords a wide variety of tonal possibilities. The programme includes music by Scheidemann, Bach, Mendelssohn, David Aprahamian Liddle (b. 1960), Bull, Ian de Massini (b. 1959, a former organist of Little St Mary’s), Flor Peeters and Buxtehude. Two of the ‘Bach’ works are of questionable attribution (Prelude in G BWV 568 and the ‘Gigue’ Fugue BWV 577), while a chorale fantasia on ‘Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält’ BWV 1128 was discovered in 2008. Similarly, the Mendelssohn is not one of his better-known organ works. The Allegro (Chorale, Fugue) in D is an extended piece of characteristic contrapuntal ingenuity and charm. To my ears, the organ lacks the Principal (Diapason) tone that the Chorale seems to require, but you can certainly hear every note in a performance that is dramatic, expressive and tasteful. David Aprahamian Liddle’s English Organ Mass is based on Merbecke’s music for Holy Communion. While very much of the late 20th century, it has something of the 16th-century English liturgical organ repertoire about it. Ian de Massini’s Ave maris stella (Arabesque for organ solo) is much easier listening! There is so much variety and so much to relish on this disc.
THE ENGLISH CATHEDRAL SERIES VOL. XIX
David Humphreys plays the William Hill organ of Peterborough Cathedral · Regent REGCD459
Works by Parry, Bull, Schumann, Reger, Buxtehude, Elgar, Mozart, Philip Moore and Dupré make for a recording of great variety and demand great virtuosity from the player – which David Humphreys delivers in spades. After the blaze and bombast of Parry’s Fantasia and Fugue in G, Bull’s verses on Salve regina might be more intimate, but they are technically challenging. Schumann’s Study for the Pedal Piano Op.56, no.5 is performed with charm and not a little whimsy. In Mozart’s Fantasia in F minor K.608, David Humphreys captures the shifting light and shadows. Philip Moore’s Andante tranquillo from his Sonata for Organ is an introspective piece that is worth getting to know. The acoustic of Peterborough Cathedral is heard to advantage in the opening detached chords of Dupré’s energetic Final (from Sept Pièces Op.27). In sum, fabulous music played on a superb organ by a gifted and exciting organist.
Franck: Father of the Organ Symphony
Two DVDs (349 minutes) and two CDs (145 minutes) · Fugue State Films FSF-DVD-009
Yet another exciting release from Will Fraser at Fugue State Films, this documentary focuses on Franck’s major organ works: the early Six Pièces, the middle period Trois Pièces and the late period Trois Chorals, together with a handful of short pieces taken from L’organiste. The latter are sensitively played on an 1891 Mustel instrument by harmonium expert Joris Verdin and on the choir organ at Orléans Cathedral by Jean-Pierre Griveau.
The major works are all performed by David Noël-Hudson on the Cavaillé-Coll organs of Saint-Omer Cathedral, and in Paris of l‘Eglise Saint-Antoine des Quinze-Vingts and l’Eglise Saint-Louis d’Antin (where he is titulaire). His performances are beautifully shaped and wonderfully coloured; he has a romantic style that is restrained and unflashy in a way that Franck would surely have approved. Mr Noël-Hudson also contributes an illustrated analysis of these major works in a documentary film on the first DVD from which both organists and non-playing Franckophiles will learn a great deal.
On the same DVD Eric Lebrun provides a film describing Franck’s life, Joris Verdun speaks about performance practice in relation to Franck’s music and Olivier Penin describes and demonstrates Franck’s organ at Sainte-Clotilde in Paris. The second DVD contains the complete performances with the two CDs duplicating the music for ‘audio only’ listening.
Whilst the previous Cavaillé-Coll set of DVDs from Fugue State had a triple star rating, I found that the recording levels here were often a little too low to be fully aware of all the detail in the playing. Having said that, the DVDs are playable in Surround-Sound, which I do not have and which might give better results.
We should all look forward to Will Fraser’s forthcoming Widor set of DVDs, sponsorship of which I would urge readers to consider.