THE CHURCH MUSIC OF JOHN SHEPPARD
The Collected Vernacular Works– Volume I • Academia Musica Choir / Aryan O. Arji • Priory PRCD 1081
This is an enjoyable disc, well sung by a choir that is composed of musicians in residence and choral scholars at Hereford Sixth Form College, where Aryan Arji is director of music. Even if, as the sleeve notes acknowledge, Sheppard’s Latin works are superior to his English church music, the vernacular works are fine nonetheless and well worth getting to know.
The recording includes the complete keyboard works of Sheppard (such as they are!), but no mention is made of them in the sleeve notes, other than their listing in the programme on the back of the CD box. It is a pity that the identity of the organist is not revealed, nor the author of the sleeve notes (and the picture on the front cover of the sleeve notes booklet is misidentified); but none of these niggles detracts from the enjoyment of the music.
Choral Music by E.W. Naylor • The Choir of Emmanuel College, Cambridge / George Lacey and Adam Mathias (organ) / Richard Latham • Regent REGCD426
Best known for the arresting eightpart motet that opens this disc (Vox dicentis: Clama), Naylor was organist of Emmanuel College, Cambridge from 1898 until his death in 1934. Today’s Emmanuel musicians present his works most persuasively, singing with great vigour when the mood calls for it. Naylor’s music might not be of the first rank, but it is attractive, worthy of performance and stands up well on a disc dedicated to it exclusively – which is certainly not always the case with minor composers. The excellent sleeve notes by Raymond Hockley make absorbing reading and contribute to the high quality of this release.
GREAT HYMNS FROM LINCOLN
Lincoln Minster School Chamber Choir / Charles Harrison (organ) / Aric Prentice • Priory PRCD 1104
The standard of singing is very high on this disc and it should be noted that it is the Lincoln Minster School Chamber Choir – not the cathedral choir. Diction is crystal clear and intonation precise. The range of the styles of the hymns is broad as the complete list reveals: Praise, my soul, the King of heaven, How great thou art, Christ triumphant, ever reigning, Father, hear the prayer we offer, When I survey the wondrous cross, Come, let join our cheerful songs, Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire (plainsong), Be still, for the presence of the Lord, Lo! he comes with clouds descending, O come, O come, Emmanuel, O Jesus, I have promised (Wolvercote), In Christ alone, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended, O blest Creator of the light (plainsong), Guide me, O thou great Redeemer, At the name of Jesus (Camberwell), O holy city, seen of John, O thou who camest from above, King of glory, King of peace, Dear Lord and Father of mankind, All my hope on God is founded, and Shine, Jesus, shine. The excellent organ accompaniments put the singing first, and several tracks have the added boost of a brass quintet. Variety is further enhanced by some verses being sung as solos, and there are numerous occurrences of fine colourful alternative harmonies.
Convivium Singers / Neil Ferris • Convivium Records CR016
This recording presents Fauré’s much-loved Requiem in an arrangement for string quintet and organ by Michael Higgins. The vocal score associated with this arrangement, published by the RSCM, is reviewed in the current edition of Sunday by Sunday (no. 70). Choirs that want to give a performance with the accompaniment played on more than organ alone, but can muster only a small number of string players, will surely welcome this arrangement.
Following the Requiem, the remainder of the CD features more French choral music: a charming a cappella Ave verum corpus by Saint-Saëns (sung with fine control by the Convivium Singers), de Séverac’s exquisite little Tantum ergo, a setting of the same text by Fauré (arr. Higgins), Ave verum corpus by Fauré (arr. Higgins), and the Cantique de Jean Racine. This accompaniment of the last piece is also arranged by Michael Higgins for string quintet.
The Convivium Singers give good accounts of the pieces, and worthy of special mention are Johnny Herford’s baritone solos in the Requiem.
ORGAN PARTY VOLUMES ONE AND TWO
Kevin Bowyer plays the organs of Glasgow Cathedral and Lancaster Priory • Priory PRCD 1085 (Glasgow) and PRCD 1094 (Lancaster)
Hey, let’s party! The concept of a bench (the collective noun, surely?) of organists in party mood may be a little hard for some to grasp – but Kevin Bowyer makes a splendid attempt. Kevin’s Wikipedia entry rightly describes him as being known for ‘a prolific recording and recital career and his performances of modern and extremely difficult compositions’. His discography is impressive, but the title of these volumes, ‘Organ Party’, belies the content; a collection of organ lollipops this is not. Right from track one of the Glasgow CD, we are grooving along with an excellent performance Guzzini’s Jazz Man Swing, followed in sharp contrast by Ad Wammes’s hypnotic Miroir. Some key suspects appear – Leroy Anderson and Iain Farrington share space on the Glasgow CD along with Giles Swayne’s Mr Bach’s Bottle-Bank: a witty working of the ‘ten green bottles’ tune which had me laughing out loud. Limited space precludes mentioning every piece, but on the Glasgow recording I must specially mention an uncredited transcription of Maxwell Davies’s Farewell to Stromness; originally for solo piano, this is a beautiful performance of this poignant piece.
Arthur Wills’s Fanfare opens the Lancaster CD, followed by a charming arrangement by Cyril S. Christopher of Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. Lefébure-Wély, John Ireland and Garth Edmondson are also represented. Such is the contrast of tracks that the subtitle of both CDs could be ‘The Ultimate Organ Party Mix’; there is plenty for organists and organ aficionados to get their teeth into. Talking of weddings, if any organist is asked – as a colleague of mine was recently – to provide ‘funky modern’ organ music, these CDs provide an excellent starting point. The Mission Impossible theme is given a joyful romp on the Glasgow organ and the Star Wars theme on the Lancaster CD brings this party to a close.
HANDEL AND HIS ENGLISH CONTEMPORARIES
Robert Woolley plays the 1766 Thomas Parker Organ at St Mary and St Nicholas, Leatherhead • Regent REGCD382
Although reputed to be a very fine player, Handel wrote relatively little keyboard music, and not all of that is suitable for the organ. Thus, Handel’s music accounts for only about the first third of this disc – and includes arrangements of orchestral music. Nevertheless, every note speaks of both his genius and his urbanity. How very unfair of Robert Woolley to ask poor William Walond, John James, William Goodwin, Boyce, Starling Goodwin, Thomas Roseingrave, Stanley, Greene and James Nares to follow in Handel’s giant footsteps! But follow they do; and, if one accepts that their music belongs to an English aesthetic to which Handel’s music belongs only in part, they do not form a collective dust-cart following the Lord Mayor’s Show. Rather, they serve to remind us that English composition did not die with Purcell. Their music is melodious, graceful, elegant, and possesses a value all of its own.
Robert Woolley’s playing exhibits perfect taste and a real affinity with the music. His choice of the 1766 Thomas Parker Organ at St Mary and St Nicholas, Leatherhead, restored by Goetze and Gwynn in 2007, could surely not be bettered.
SIR CHARLES VILLIERS STANFORD: THE COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS – 1
Daniel Cook plays the organ of Salisbury Cathedral • Priory PRCD 1095
Lovers of Stanford’s music will welcome with open arms Daniel Cook’s exciting playing on the glorious organ of Salisbury Cathedral, an instrument so appropriate to Stanford’s language. The generous acoustic supports, but does not cloud, the lines: indeed, the clarity of counterpoint is a feature of this recording and a tribute to the player, the sound engineers and old Father Willis himself. Those who are not so enthusiastic about Stanford will probably be of the view that some of the pieces on this disc are more inspired than others. Nevertheless, there is no denying the commitment and quality of Daniel Cook’s colourful and animated interpretations. This, the first volume in the series, features the Fantasia and Toccata Op.57; Sonata No.1 in F Op.149, Six Preludes Op. 88 and Sonata No.2 in G minor Op.151. Dedicated to Widor ‘and the great Country to which he belongs’, a Gallic influence pervades the second sonata (‘Eroica’); and this influence, together with the composer’s intention that the work should be a tribute to the sacrifices made by people of France in the Great War, inspired an imaginative and noble piece.
THE COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS OF HERBERT SUMSION, VOL 2 (final volume)
Daniel Cook plays the organ of St Davids Cathedral • Priory PRCD 1093
Unfortunately, Sumsion did not compose enough organ music to fill two CDs; so the programme on this disc is padded out with arrangements by Sumsion of music by other composers, and also with music by Elgar arranged by Herbert Brewer. The justification for the latter is that ‘the figures of Brewer and Elgar loomed large in Sumsion’s personal life and career’! Putting paucity of material to one side, the genuine Sumsion is worth hearing, though it does not really have the magic of his choral music. Nevertheless, Daniel Cook’s playing is superb. He handles stop changes effortlessly and shapes every phrase musically. Volume 1 was made on the Willis organ of Salisbury Cathedral. The St David’s organ, also originally built by Willis, proves itself to be a fine vehicle for Sumsion’s music, the composer’s Willis at Gloucester having given way to a very different Hill, Norman& Beard instrument in 1971.
FRENCH ORGAN SUITES
Works by Duruflé, Mihaud, Widor, Pâque • John Scott Whiteley plays the organ of York Minster • Boreas BMCD1301
While some listeners will prefer their French music on a Gallic organ, those happy with it served à l’anglaise will be well pleased with the virtuosity of John Scott Whiteley on the organ of York Minster. Dupré’s dazzling Prelude and Fugue in A flat opens the disc, followed by Trois nouvelles pièces by Widor, late works dating from 1934. Six petits préludes by M.J.L. Désiré Pâque (1912) are interesting pieces by an obscure composer. Milhaud’s Petite suite of 1955 is a welcome discovery. Finally, Duruflé’s Suite blows all that precedes it out of the water with its brooding Prélude, exquisite Sicilienne and dazzling Toccata, each of which John Scott Whiteley performs with mastery.
Unfortunately, the track numbers are wrong because the Dupré Prelude and its Fugue are tracked separately on the disc, but not in the sleeve notes.
THE INFLUENCE OF PLAINSONG
William Dore plays the organ of Ampleforth Abbey • Priory PRCD
The organ of Ampleforth Abbey is quite a beast! It has two main sections: the Transept organ (Pedal-Positive-Choir-Great-Swell-Solo) and the Antiphonal Organ (Pedal-Great- Swell, built on the extension principle). Both instruments are playable from a four-manual console that boasts no fewer than 122 drawstops. This organ can roar, but it can sing sweetly too, as William Dore amply demonstrates on this exciting disc. Jeanne Demessieux’s Te Deum opens the programme, followed by the same composer’s Twelve Choral Preludes on Gregorian Themes. The classically-inspired voicing of the Walker organ suits Demessieux’s rather sharp-elbowed music well. Tournemire’s Suite XXV from L’Orgue Mystique (In Festo Pentecostes) follows, and the disc ends with Philip Moore’s Five Sketches on Helmsley. Although the Moore Sketches are the only pieces on the disc not by a French composer, and neither are they based on plainsong, they sit well with that which has gone before on account of their pungent harmonies. William Dore’s connections with Ampleforth go back to his childhood. He clearly knows the instrument intimately and loves it. He gives us a disc that is well planned and masterfully played.
BILLY (Billy Neely)
A film by Paul O’Dell and Myriam Martin • Films des fontaines: DVD • firstname.lastname@example.org
In recent years, CMQ has reviewed CDs and books about the great boy trebles of the past, notably The Better Land series produced by Stephen Beet. One of those trebles was Billy Neely, ‘Belfast’s boy soprano’, whose real name was William Corkhill-Callin and who, for many years, did not reveal his early career to those he worked with or to his friends. This film, a taster extract of which can be found on YouTube, is a documentary interview with Billy shortly before his death in 2012. Retired to rural France, he gives a touching account of his singing career and proves to be an engaging raconteur, despite having to wear an oxygen supply through the interviews. There are many extracts from his recordings used as background music and, although this may be a DVD that you will not return to many times, it is a valuable record of a forgotten era.
THOMAS TROTTER: A SHROPSHIRE IDYLL
The organ of St Laurence, Ludlow • Regent Records REGDVD002 (DVD + CD)
A recording of English music recorded to mark the 250th anniversary of the fine Snetzler/ Nicholson organ in Ludlow Parish Church by such a world-class master as Thomas Trotter is a treat indeed. The usual DVD extras are here, a description of the repertoire by the recitalist and a demonstration of the organ by Ludlow’s own organist Shaun Ward. The expertise of Gary Cole’s recordings hardly need mention and the camera action is well done and very clear indeed.
The playing is quite superb and effortless, so effortless as to make the performer seem completely impassive. We organists are all taught to be economical with body movement and, as we are often hidden away in organ lofts, our body language is really irrelevant: we speak through the music. Thomas Trotter does this to such an extreme that his is more an aural performance than a visual one. Having recently finished watching BBC’s Young Musician of the Year where communicating with the audience is a key element, I wonder if organ recitalists are not really video animals? The accompanying CD of the same programme, ranging from 16th-century dances through Handel, Boyce, S.S. Wesley, Elgar and Walton to Michael Nyman, is worthy of many repeated playings.