TWELVE VOLUNTARIES Vol.1 (1–6) [M]
TWELVE VOLUNTARIES Vol.2 (7–12) [M]
ed. David Patrick
Fitzjohn Music Publications £10.00 each
Theophania Cecil (1782–1879), one of the few female composers of the period, became organist at St John’s Chapel, Bedford Row, London. Published c.1810, these Voluntaries are mostly in one movement. There is writing in the right hand for the Bassoon (no.1 which is melodic and no.2 with its repeated three-note figure) and the Cremona (no.3), which features extended passages for crossed hands. No.4 is closer to William Russell in its Larghetto and Allegro, and no.5 is a cantabile switching between Swell and Great. No.6 offers far greater variety in its two lively movements, the second being a robust, insistent 3/4 Allegro.
No.7 includes short RH passages for the Cremona, which occasionally dip below the LH. Nos.8 and 10 are quite short, slow pieces; no.8 finishes in the bass clef, no.10 is in ternary form. No.9 is a short Spiritoso which includes repeated semiquaver chords in the RH, but finishes in quavers. Nos.11 and 12 are far more extended, covering half the volume. No.11 finishes with an Allegro similar to no.6, and no.12 consists of three movements approaching Russell in style. Pedals are required in several pieces, mainly long held points, but some include crotchet movement.
These pieces offer less harmonic interest but somewhat fewer technical challenges than the voluntaries by William Russell and Thomas Adams, but the extended crossed-hands writing for the Bassoon and Cremona and the internal writing between the octaves in right hand in several passages may pose a challenge, as may passages in octaves in left hand. Adjustments will need to be made for notes outside today’s compass in both manual and pedals. Some of the pieces would make attractive additions to the recital repertoire and offer good teaching material. The volumes are printed and edited to David Patrick’s usual high standards.
THE FAGUS BOOK OF SLOW MOVEMENTS FROM 18TH-CENTURY ENGLISH VOLUNTARIES [E]
ed. Geoffrey Atkinson
The title may be a mouthful, but the contents of this useful anthology slip down easily. It comprises just the slow introductory sections of 25 voluntaries selected from the 34 published in the Fagus collected editions of the voluntaries of Maurice Green (1696–1755), John Travers (c.1703–58) and John Bennett (d.1784). Why? The editor, Geoffrey Atkinson, explains that ‘arguably the best, and easily the most expressive music in these 18th-century pieces is to be found in these opening slow sections …’. They are certainly expressive; they are also useful as they stand by themselves, used as (quoting Atkinson again) what Samuel Wesley was to describe as ‘desk voluntaries’, i.e. music to be kept by the organ desk for use as ‘fillers’. There are short one-page ‘fillers’ and more substantial three-page pieces here, especially from John Bennett whose music seems to look forward towards the early 19th century. My regret would be if purchase of this anthology discouraged organists from exploring the wide-ranging, inventive and lively music that almost always follows these slow introductions. Buy this volume for convenience, but then let enjoyment of the music lead to buying one or more of the complete editions.
IN TRANQUIL MODE [E]
‘In Tranquil Modes’ might have been the title, such is the range of music encompassed here. Subtitled ‘Six Easy Pieces for Organ Manuals’, there is ‘Martinmas’, a cradle song (‘Canción de Cuna’), Pastorale, Prayer, and a piece based on plainsong (Kyrie XVI). The final Nocturne has an extended tonality and a feeling that it is telling a story or painting a picture. All the pieces begin and end quietly, with a slightly louder central section that often has more movement. Recommended as effective and subtle mood-setting pieces.
HUDSON PRELUDES [M/D]
PRELUDE ON LASST UNS ERFREUEN [M]
St Rose Music Publishing Co (Music Sales)
SRO110081 £7.95 & SRO110116 £8.95
FAST CYCLES [D]
St Rose Music Publishing Co (Music Sales)
SRO110101 & 110062 £9.95 each
Nico Muhly is one of the most popular and versatile young composers working on either side of the Atlantic. Born in America and based in New York, his incessant schedule and diverse, prolific output is testament to his strong work ethic and imagination. These four works are from 2005 to 2013, showing that organ music has formed a consistent stream in his oeuvre.
Often, Muhly’s titles allude to the American minimalist style (such as John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine) and indeed there are strong minimalist elements in his writing, though often combined with a freer, more lyrical voice.Hudson Preludes (2005), a diptych of works, shows both sides of this character: the first movement ‘Take Care’ is warmly emotional, contrasting with a furious, brilliant, moto perpetuo toccata ‘Follow-Up’. Prelude on Lasst uns erfreuen(2007) is a thoughtful work that, avoiding cliché, starts and ends in rich, fragmented chordal writing, developing a more energetic, pattern-led central section. Fast Cycles (2009) is pure minimalism, another toccata of repeating and developing patterns in the hands underpinned by an unfolding and developing pedal melody. Patterns (2013) is a more substantial, 25 minute set of four virtuoso pieces that show Muhly’s development as a composer: figurations, rhythms and harmony have become more extended and varied, a sign perhaps of a future direction.
All these works require rock-steady technique and delivery to allow the music to convince, allied to an imaginative approach to registration and a generous acoustic where possible. To this observer, the music is most affecting in the quieter, lyrical passages where Muhly allows an emotional kernel to emerge, but I have no doubt that the faster, more exciting music will prove enduringly appealing to audiences too.
FAITH, LOVE, HOPE [D]
Banks Music Publications 14074 £4.95
This latest offering from Frederick Stocken is a musical depiction of the ‘theological virtues’, their traditional order changed to create a convincing triptych. The opening movement is an energetic, moto perpetuo toccata with an extending and developing theme in the pedals; ‘Love’ is the slow centrepiece, moving to a warm and generous climax; ‘Hope’ provides an exultant conclusion to the set. This is deeply felt and thoughtful music.
TOCCATA MAURITIANA [M/D]
Doblinger 02503 £13.95
The Austrian composer Peter Planyavsky (b.1947) may already be known to readers for his exuberant Toccata alla Rumba. This new toccata, composed in 2014 for the organ competition in St Moritz, Switzerland, is equally exuberant but has an admirably serious streak and is harmonically more severe. The work’s central section is actually a long ‘calmando’, subverting the toccata genre, before the opening tempo is regained, ending with a triumphant flourish. Based on a plainsong hymn for the feast of St Moritz, Toccata Mauritiana would make an excellent voluntary or recital work.
REINHEIMER VARIATIONEN [M]
Edition Dohr (Universal Edition) 15228 £7.95
INTRODUKTION UND PASSACAGLIA [D]
Edition Dohr (Universal Edition) 22963 £11.95
MARIANISCHE ANTIPHONEN [M]
Edition Dohr (Universal Edition) 15233 £9.95
Though theypublish a broad spectrum of instrumental and vocal music, Cologne-based Edition Dohr’s growing catalogue of organ music is testament to the insatiable and admirable demand of German organists for original works by living composers. Handsomely and simply produced with distinctive and hard wearing ‘old gold’ covers, the volumes are well priced and prefaced with clear notes and biographical information in German and English. By and large the quality of the music itself is pretty high, and often comes from practising German organists writing for their colleagues and communities, very much the case with these three works.
Bernd Genz’s melodious Reinheimer Variationen on an original theme are very approachable in a tonal post-romantic style, pretty and idiomatically written. Reiner Gaar’s thunderous Introduktion und Passacaglia requires the resources of a larger instrument. Again it is tonal in a post-romantic manner, but taken to greater extremes, with heavy chromaticism and some confronting clusters: a satisfying work that makes deeper demands of the player’s technique. Finally Walter Glessner’s quartet of Marianische Antiphonen maintain the neo-classical tradition of Hindemith, Distler and Kropfreiter: again, idiomatically written and satisfying to play, if less demanding than Gaar’s work, these would make useful liturgical or concert works.
It is an excellent catalogue, well worth exploring.
TOCCATA INGENUO [E/M]
I wonder how many non-US readers know Gordon Young’s Prelude in Classic Style of 1966. There are plenty of performances on YouTube, and it does help to know it to appreciate what Geoffrey Atkinson has done in this affectionate ‘Homage to Gordon Young’. But equally important is to be aware of Atkinson’s dedication: ‘For all those who like their music to sound more difficult than it really is’. Everything lies under the hands and feet perfectly. It sounds if not virtuosic at least energetic and triumphant – good for providing a bright end to a big service. The helpfulness even applies to the printing: an extra loose-leaf copy of page 4 is provided to avoid a page turn (and avoid having to make a photocopy of that page oneself).
PASSACAGLIA Op.80 [D]
ed. David Patrick
Fitzjohn Music Publications £7.00
John Henderson, in his invaluable Directory, describes this as ‘a fine piece reminiscent of Max Reger’. Merikanto (1868–1924) was conductor of the Finnish Opera and also organist of St Johannes church in Helsinki. David Patrick has re-edited the music from Merikanto’s manuscript that includes the composer’s registration scheme. Starting with the passacaglia theme pianissimo in the pedals, it gradually builds up to two thundering climaxes, with a final triple-forte statement of the theme in double-octave pedals below thick manual chords. In between there is much light and shade, and musical inventiveness. It is more tightly constructed that many of the big romantic organ works, and deserves a place in the repertoire among them.