CDs, March 2015

CHORAL CDs

***
ST PETER’S DAY AT YORK MINSTER: A musical celebration of the Patronal Festival
The Choir of York Minster / David Pipe (organ) / Robert Sharpe · Regent REGCD439
The programme presented on this disc divides into music for the Eucharist, matins and evensong. A hymn (‘Christ is made the sure foundation’/Westminster Abbey) and chanted psalms are found among David Briggs’s Missa Brevis for York Minster (first recording), Richard Shepherd’s Preces and Responses for Salisbury Cathedral (with the composer as cantor); and various canticles, anthems and motets. The canticles include Stanford’s Te Deum in C and Philip Moore’s arresting Jubilate Deo at matins; and Howells’s New College service and Walton’s Coronation Te Deum (arr. Simon Preston and Mark Blatchly) at evensong. Two large anthems, And when the builders by Shepherd and O quam gloriosum by Moore, reflect the happy fact that the extraordinary levels of musical creativity that York Minster has fostered over the last couple of hundred years have been as alive and well as ever in recent years. Amongst the musical pomp, Harris’s Holy it the true light holds its own as a little gem. Throughout the disc, the performances are of the highest order.

***
SUNDAY AT NORWICH CATHEDRAL
The Choir of Norwich Cathedral / David Dunnett (organ) / Ashley Grote · Priory PRCD 1121
While St Peter’s Day at York Minster includes Eucharist, matins and evensong, Sunday at Norwich consists of just Eucharist and festal evensong. The hymn ‘How shall I sing that majesty’ (complete with Ken Naylor’s own descant for his superlative tune Coe Fen) opens the disc and is indicative of the excellence of the music that is to follow. Grayston Ives’s Missa Brevis is bold, atmospheric and tuneful. Festal evensong features Ashley Grote’s own Preces & Responses (composed for the Gloucester Youth Choir in 2009) and that glorious hymn ‘O love divine, how sweet thou art’ to S.S. Wesley’s Cornwall. The canticles were composed by Richard Allain (b.1965) to a commission in 2013 as part of Norwich Cathedral’s celebrations of the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten. They feature a particularly colourful and demanding organ part. Elgar’s monumental Give unto the Lord is given a performance imbued with all the gusto that the piece demands. The boys’ fearless attack in the Elgar is spot on; and David Dunnett’s brilliant execution of the accompaniment brings out so much of the detail. His virtuosic performance of Howells’s Psalm Prelude Set 2, no. 3, which concludes the disc, is also worthy of special mention.

***
A YEAR AT ELY
The Choir of Ely Cathedral/Edmund Aldhouse (organ) / Alex Berry (organ II) / Paul Trepte · Regent REGCD441
Tracing the liturgical calendar from Advent (Out of your sleep – Richard Rodney Bennett) to Christ the King (O clap your hands – Rutter), this disc takes in Christmas (Away in a manger – Kirkpatrick arr. Pat Brandon), Epiphany (Ascribe unto the Lord – S.S. Wesley), Candlemas (Nunc dimittis in B flat – Wood), Lent (Prayer – Ben Parry), Holy Week (When David heard – Tomkins), Easter (My beloved spake – Hadley, Laudate pueri – Mendelssohn), Ascension (Coelos ascendit hodie – Stanford), Pentecost (Come, Holy Ghost, the Maker – Cedric Thorpe Davie), St Etheldreda (A hymn to St Etheldreda – Matthew Martin, Beati quorum via – Stanford), Harvest (Fear not, O land – Sumsion), All Souls (Justorum animae – Stanford), and Remembrance (Death be not proud – Francis Grier). There is so much to enjoy on this excellent disc – not least the performances. But special mention must be made of the Grier and Rutter pieces, both of which are premiere recordings and stunningly good compositions.

**
PLAINSONG: THE ECHO OF ANGELS
Portsmouth Cathedral Choir / Oliver Hancock & William Wallace (organ) / David Price · Convivium Records CR025
This disc presents some of the best-loved and most exquisite plainsong melodies in various guises, including: a cappella, with organ accompaniment, and woven into compositions. Some tracks are sung in English, others in Latin (and the Kyries are sung in Greek, of course). The music includes the Advent Prose, Lent Prose, Missa de Angelis, Missa Deus Genitor Alme, and a couple of psalms. The compositions based on plainsong are mostly by conductor David Price, though the disc ends with an organ piece, Meditation on ‘Adoro Te Devote’ by Arthur Wills. The music is beautifully sung with every word clearly enunciated, though some of the tempi are on the slow side, particularly those tracks sung in English with organ accompaniment. The accompaniments themselves are very well executed, with several of them improvised.

*
A YEAR IN SAINT LOUIS
The Choir of Saint Peter’s Church, Saint Louis / Martha Schaffer (chamber organ) / Brian Reeves (assistant conductor) / William Aitkin (grand organ and director) · Regent REGCD415
The adult voices of the choir of St Peter’s are accompanied by what are evidently two fine organs, both by the English firm of Mander. The programme includes music by a number of American composers: Ned Rorem (b. 1923), Leo Sowerby (1895–1968), Moses Hogan (1957–2003), Louie L. White (1921–79), Joseph Goodman (b. 1918), and director/organist William Aitken. British musicians are well represented, too: Weelkes, Stanford, Arthur Baynon (1889–1954), Leighton, and contemporary composer Sasha Johnson Manning (b. 1963) whose A wonder of angels was commissioned by St Peter’s. It is well worth hearing. Victoria and Widor fly the flag for mainland Europe. Widor’s Tu es Petrus and Surrexit a mortuis have the chamber organ accompanying the choir and the main organ impersonating the roaring of the grand orgue of St Sulpice! The choir of St Peter’s sings throughout with very good blend and discipline.
Christopher Maxim

ORGAN CDs

***
GREAT EUROPEAN ORGANS NO. 91
Daniel Cook plays the Harrison & Harrison Organ of St Davids Cathedral, Wales · Priory PRCD 1102
St Davids nowadays boasts a four-manual organ of which any British cathedral might be proud. Completed by Harrison & Harrison in 2000, it is based on the three-manual instrument built by ‘Father’ Willis in 1883 and sounds absolutely wonderful on this recording. That its Diapason choruses are magnificent and are crowned perfectly by the Mixtures, and that its big reeds are breathtaking is illustrated in abundance by W.T. Best’s arrangement of the Overture to Mendelssohn’s oratorio, St Paul, which opens the programme. On the very next track, the organ sings so sweetly in Tomkins’s A Sad Pavan for these Distracted Times that one could be forgiven for thinking that it is a different instrument. Varied 20th-century repertoire follows (some of it with Welsh connections) in pieces by W.H. Harris, Walford Davies, Cyril Jenkins (1889–1978), Mathias, Bainton, Arnold Cooke (1906–2005), and Ernest Tomlinson (b. 1924). It is, of course, at least as much the quality of Daniel Cook’s playing as the organ itself that makes every one of these pieces a pleasure to listen to. He judges tempi and gestures so well and brings real cantabile to the lines. His performances are characterized by a real sense of excitement on the one hand, and perfect control on the other. And just in case we thought that organ and organist were suited only to British repertoire, the disc ends with music by Gaston Litaize (1909–91), Pierre Villette (1926–98) and Jean-Jacques Grunenwald (1911–82).

**
AMERICANA
Jeremy Filsell plays the organ of Washington National Cathedral · Raven OAR-942 (two-CD set)
Jeremy Filsell’s virtuosity is very much at home in the music on this pair of discs that feature music by American-based composers, many of whom have been associated with Washington National Cathedral. They are: Raymond Weidner, Gerre Hancock, Nancy Plummer Faxon, Leo Sowerby, George Baker, Pamela Decker, David Briggs, Richard Dirksen, Daniel Gawthrop, Normal Coke-Jephcott, Richard Purvis and Douglas Major. Some of the pieces are distinctly ‘American’ to my ears, particularly on the first disc. Raymond Weidner’s Scherzo (Alleluia) makes an energetic opener, while Nancy Plummer Faxon’s Toccata spins notes at a phenomenal rate. There is a surprising level of background hiss on some tracks, George Baker’s Berceuse-Paraphrase being a case in point. This is a pity since it is a rather lovely piece that gives Jeremy Filsell the opportunity to demonstrate some of the organs’ softer colours. Overall, I found the second disc the more enjoyable of the two, not least on account of the inclusion of David Briggs’s Three Preludes & Fugues ‘Homage à Marcel Dupré. They are very much of the sound world of the musician whom they honour and demand an organist of Jeremy Filsell’s skill to execute them – which he does brilliantly.

**
THE HARROGATE HARRISON
David Halls plays the Harrison & Harrison Organ of St Wilfrid’s, Harrogate · Priory PRCD 1114
For this disc, David Halls, Director of Music at Salisbury Cathedral since 2005, returns to St Wilfrid’s Harrogate, where he was Assistant Organist as a boy. The Harrison & Harrison organ was built in 1928 and is described in the CD booklet as ‘a solid, three-manual organ, built in the conservative style of its day’. Distinctively of its period in tone, David Halls nevertheless presents a programme that embraces a range of composers: Charpentier (Prelude to the Te Deum, showcasing a Tuba that is very un-French and very un-Baroque!), Ernest Farrar (two pieces, both of which fit this organ like a glove), Rheinberger (Sonata no. 6 in E flat minor), Flor Peeters, Bach (Prelude and Fugue in B minor), Jesus Guridi (1886–1961), and the performer himself. David Halls’s clean, tasteful playing is exemplified by his interpretation of the Bach Prelude & Fugue, which is everything it should be on this kind of organ. The performer’s own Sound the trumpet which completes the programme is a melodically and harmonically attractive piece of great rhythmic vitality – most enjoyable!
Christopher Maxim

**
THE USHER HALL ORGAN VOL II
John Kitchen plays the organ of the Usher Hall, Edinburgh · Delphian DCD34132
John Kitchen’s first recording on the refurbished Norman & Beard organ in the Usher Hall was made in 2004. Remastered in 2009, Sunday by Sunday reviewed it then, describing the contents as a ‘town hall programme’ complete with transcriptions of orchestral favourites. This second volume continues the pattern, with Jeremy Cull’s transcription of Hamish MacCunn’s The land of the mountain and the flood. Again, the organ’s Carillon is featured, this time prompting the inclusion of a number of works concerned with bells, starting with Cecilia McDowall’s Church bells beyond the stars (a refreshing, rhythmic toccata inspired by George Herbert) and including S.S. Wesley’s Holsworthy Church Bells and Bernard Rose’s Chimes. The big work to conclude is J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue BWV 582, preceded by three of the five movements of Widor’s fifth Symphony. Christopher Maxim’s Toccata Nuptiale, receiving its third commercial recording, delightfully approaches ‘Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do’ as though it were the melody of a French organ toccata. Clifton Hughes has written a set of Dance Variations on ‘Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer’ with tango, waltzes, hornpipe and a rock and roll treatment that we are told is now an annual request by Usher Hall audiences, and one can hear why. John Kitchen plays with flamboyant and confident virtuosity.
Judith Markwith