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Hyperion Records

CDA67146 - Organ Dreams, Vol. 2
CDA67146

Recording details: June 1999
Ripon Cathedral, United Kingdom
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: May 2000
DISCID: F6113413
Total duration: 71 minutes 54 seconds

GRAMOPHONE CRITICS' CHOICE

'Another fine collection of varied organ works. Thoroughly enjoyable and strongly recommended … a beautifully chosen selection … magical' (Gramophone)

'Brilliantly played by this much-fêted player' (Choir & Organ)

'Constantly enjoyable' (Organists' Review)

Organ Dreams, Vol. 2
Allegro  [1'52]
Andantino  [2'38]
Poco lento  [1'51]
Moderato  [1'26]
No 5: A minor  [1'19]
No 8: F major  [1'44]
No 9: F major  [1'40]
No 11: D major  [1'18]

Continuing from the highly successful 'Organ Fireworks' series and the first volume of 'Organ Dreams' (CDA67060, released July 1998), this CD introduces more wonderful melodies from the organ repertoire. Some of the pieces were specially written for the instrument, such as Guilmant's Rêve and Wesley's Twelve Short Pieces and a Voluntary, and others are well-known in other incarnations, such as Barber's Adagio.

All of the tracks on this recording are sure to delight organ enthusiasts. Christopher Herrick knows how to coax the very best from the instrument he plays (and this one has 3482 pipes ranging from 0.58 inches to 32 foot long!)


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In 1859 Théodore Dubois was chosen by César Franck to be maître de chapelle at the newly opened church of Ste Clotilde. He took up the post in 1861 on his return to Paris, after his time in Italy as winner of the Prix de Rome. Like so many other young composers he was given help and encouragement there by Liszt and was able to renew the acquaintance in 1866, when he assisted Franck at a private performance given for the distinguished visitor. In 1869 Dubois moved to the Madeleine in a similar role and eventually succeeded Saint-Saëns as organist in 1877, a post he later relinquished when he became Director of the Conservatoire. Although now remembered principally for a handful of organ pieces and, in France, for his textbooks on harmony and counterpoint, he was a prolific composer in many other fields. He never had a major success in the theatre, the ne plus ultra for any serious composer in Paris, but his works were performed at the Opéra-Comique and the Châtelet; he also produced many works for the concert hall as well as large quantities of church music. In Paradisum comes from his Douze Pièces Nouvelles of 1892 and is dedicated to Enrico Bossi. Heavenly harps, in the form of right-hand arpeggios, usher in a sweetly expressive tune on a soft reed stop which pursues its leisurely course over some twenty bars. After a brief chordal interlude the music of the opening returns, the melody now provided with its own harmonic support creating a particularly felicitous and idiomatic organ texture.

Although now perhaps best known as the teacher of Benjamin Britten, Frank Bridge had an important reputation both as composer and conductor. There is an unmistakable Englishness about his music, yet he has never really been accepted into the pantheon of twentieth-century British composers. His most popular pieces are small scale, like the song Love went a-riding or the orchestral There is a Willow Grows Aslant a Brook; but it is in the bigger works such as Enter Spring, Oration and Phantasm where we find a more individual voice, which, while being completely aware of its national musical heritage, is also looking to the continent, in particular the extended harmonic palette of Alban Berg. The beautiful and rapt Adagio in E major, a great favourite for memorial services, is the second of Three Pieces published in 1905.

Unlike his contemporaries Saint-Saëns, Widor and Dubois, Alexandre Guilmant was not interested in making his name as a composer in the fields of chamber and orchestral music, nor in the theatre, but concentrated his efforts almost exclusively on organ and choral works. Born into an organ-building family in Boulogne he was largely self-taught, apart from a brief period with the celebrated Lemmens in Brussels in 1860. He was one of the first to enjoy an international career as a recitalist, being particularly popular in Britain and the USA. His eight sonatas, a body of work equivalent to the symphonies of Widor, were written for his recitals both abroad and on the celebrated Cavaillé-Coll instrument at the Trocadéro in Paris. The Seventh Sonata, written in 1902, is described as a suite in six movements. The second and shortest – ‘Lento Assai’ – is subtitled Rêve and is a brief interlude of calm in an otherwise boisterous and extrovert work. After a series of unresolved seventh chords the songlike movement hovers between different states of consciousness, expressed in music which is sometimes stable and diatonic and at others shiftingly chromatic.

Edward Elgar came into contact with the organ at an early age through his father’s duties as organist at St George’s Catholic Church, Worcester, and in his typically thorough way he taught himself to play from the tutors of Rinck and Best. In 1885 he succeeded his father in the post and it was probably during this time that he began to sketch the Vesper Voluntaries. In their final form they were one of the first fruits of his, in the event ill-fated, move to London from his beloved Worcestershire. In the autumn of 1889 he and his new and adored bride Alice moved into a house in Norwood, near the Crystal Palace. Here he could hear orchestral concerts more or less daily, an important feature in the process of his growth as a composer. It was a difficult period in his development; the eventual master of the symphony, concerto and the oratorio was just beginning to emerge from the provincial writer of salon pieces and light orchestral scores. His first major choral work, The Black Knight, was already sketched out and gently simmering inside his head, while the overture Froissart had been commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival for performance in September 1890. However, in spite of a few successes, he failed to make much headway and in 1891 the Elgars moved to Malvern, where he at last found the contentment that enabled him to blossom into the composer of the ‘Enigma Variations’ and all that was to follow.

Early in January 1890, shortly after the move to London, Elgar sold the Vesper Voluntaries to the publishers Orsborn & Tuckwood for five guineas – hardly great riches but rather more generous than the terms offered by Novello & Co. at the start of their relationship with the composer – and they appeared as Book 26 of The Vesper Voluntaries for the Organ, Harmonium, or American Organ. They are designed to be played on a two manual instrument without pedals but Elgar provided indications where they could be used if available. The latent grandness of many of the ideas makes them eminently suitable for expansion onto a larger canvas. The set comprises eight voluntaries with an introduction, an interlude between the fourth and fifth numbers and a coda; although designed to be played separately the pieces make a thoroughly satisfying continuous sequence, full of characteristic melodic and harmonic touches. The use of the same theme in the introduction, interlude and coda binds the work together and Elgar already adopts the quasi-orchestral approach to organ writing which was to be such a feature of his magnificent Sonata in G major a few years later (recorded by Christopher Herrick on ‘Organ Fireworks VI’, Hyperion CDA66778).

Herbert Howells was possibly one of the most self-effacing composers of the century, seemingly content to devote his energy to encouraging others through his teaching, in particular at the Royal College of Music and St Paul’s Girls’ School, rather than to promoting his own composing career. And yet he developed a style and language which are intensely personal and immediately identifiable. Although he spent only a short part of his working life as an organist he left a substantial body of music for the instrument, including two sets of Psalm-Preludes, four Rhapsodies and two Sonatas. Siciliano for a High Ceremony was written in 1953 and is one of his last works for the instrument. It has that lilting rhythm so typical of the old dance, but with three beats to the bar rather than the usual two or four. After a brief, harmonically enigmatic preamble the right hand plays a long-breathed melody marked to be played tenderly. This is immediately repeated with the addition of the pedals and subtle alterations in the harmony. From then on the piece takes off in a free-flowing rhapsodic way demonstrating Howells’ ability to spin seemingly endless melody from a few telling shapes. The most curious thing about this piece is that the high ceremony of the title was a wedding, possibly of an old flame, in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Clearly the composer felt the need to concentrate on the serious aspect of the occasion, rather than provide a piece of musical confetti. In any case, this is one of the composer’s most gravely beautiful and expressive works.

The years 1841 to 1844 were remarkably productive for Robert Schumann, yielding a large number of songs, orchestral works and chamber music. In spite of this prodigious outpouring of masterpieces, including Dichterliebe, the first and fourth symphonies, the first movement of the Piano Concerto as well as the Piano Quartet and Quintet, he became increasingly depressed, feeling himself to be in the perpetual shadow of his wife’s career. In 1843 he took a position at the newly opened Leipzig Conservatory teaching piano and composition. However, by 1844 his nerves were in such a state that he suffered a complete breakdown and so, in December of that year, the whole family moved to Dresden. Schumann took with him a pedal attachment for his piano – he had first encountered the device at the Conservatory, where it was introduced as an aid for the organ students – and here he set about honing his contrapuntal skills. In 1845 he produced three sets of pieces for the pedal piano or organ: Six Studies in Canon Op 56, Four Sketches Op 58 and Six Fugues on B-A-C-H Op 60. Although his encounters with historic Silbermann instruments in 1841 kindled a desire to study the organ seriously – he keenly promoted the instrument to his students – this never actually came about and the writing in all of these pieces is somewhat pianistic. This is particularly so in the A flat major Study Op 56 No 4; the searing intensity of the melodic line, in canon at the fifth, is set against chugging chords, creating a texture which would not be out of place in one of his lieder. A more agitated middle section, combining rapid passagework with the characteristic rising motif from the main theme, is followed by a harmonically enriched reprise of the first section.

Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings has become one of the most popular and frequently performed works of the twentieth century. Starting life as the second movement of his String Quartet in 1936, he transcribed it two years later for string orchestra. It was played in this form for the first time under Arturo Toscanini. Barber had been rather taken aback when the conductor, having expressed an interest in his music, returned the manuscripts of the Adagio and his First Essay for Orchestra without any comment. He later discovered that this was not a sign of rejection, but simply that Toscanini, whose memory was phenomenal, had no further need of the scores. The seemingly effortless invention of the Adagio displays his extraordinary gift for melody, perhaps not so surprising in a trained singer, as well as his ability to make a basically consonant harmonic style sound fresh and original.

In August 1861 Franz Liszt left Weimar where, for the last thirteen years, he had been court conductor. After visits to Berlin and Paris he settled in Rome which was to be his home for the rest of his life. The Weimar years had been particularly productive ones for Liszt the composer and, in addition, as a conductor he had been tireless in promoting the music of others, particularly that of Wagner and Berlioz. The move to Rome was in part prompted by his wish to marry the Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, his mistress for the past fourteen years, but the Pope’s last-minute decision not to allow an annulment of her meaningless existing marriage put paid to this plan. The disappointment of this, as well as the devastation caused by the death of his daughter Blandine, meant that he produced little of substance in 1862. The music he did write, including the Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen as well as the present work, evinces a troubled and brooding aspect showing a desire to search for a deeper sense of spirituality. The Evocation à la Chapelle Sixtine is akin to the operatic paraphrases for piano in that it takes other people’s music and reinterprets it in a thoroughly Lisztian way, although the writing here is obviously considerably more subdued than in those virtuosic essays. The music falls into four sections which metamorphose alternately the Miserere of Allegri and the motet Ave verum corpus by Mozart, both of which were in the repertoire of the Sistine Chapel Choir. The first and third sections, taking merely the essence of the Allegri, work it up into ever more tortured and searing climaxes and represent, in the composer’s words, ‘the misery and anguish of mankind’. This is contrasted with the second and fourth sections where, through the medium of Mozart’s exquisite motet ‘the infinite mercy and grace of God’ reveals itself in song.

Samuel Wesley was widely regarded as one of the finest organists of his generation and yet he was never able to acquire a major post and spent most of his life in financial impoverishment, often having to rely on the assistance of friends and supporters such as Vincent Novello. When William Boyce visited the Wesley household in Bristol and heard the eight-year-old Samuel play, he said to his father “Sir, I hear you have an English Mozart in your house”. In 1778 they moved to London and he and his equally gifted brother, Charles, began to give a series of subscription concerts at their home in Marylebone. An injury to his skull, the result of an accident at the age of twenty-one, left him for the rest of his life subject to recurring bouts of depression and doubts about the validity of the music profession. And yet, in spite of all this adversity, his music, as demonstrated in these four short pieces, has a deftness and lightness of touch which betokens a much sunnier disposition. Samuel Wesley was a fervent advocate of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, publishing an edition of the Well-Tempered Clavier as well as one of the Trio Sonatas, in an arrangement for three hands. English organs of the period rarely had an independent pedal board. The set of Twelve Short Pieces and a Full Voluntary from which these four little gems are taken was published in 1815 and is for manuals only. Numbers 8 and 9 acquired the titles of ‘Air’ and ‘Gavotte’ in an arrangement published by John E West in 1905.

Stephen Westrop © 2000


Other albums in this series
'Organ Dreams, Vol. 1' (CDA67060)
Organ Dreams, Vol. 1
'Organ Dreams, Vol. 3' (CDA67317)
Organ Dreams, Vol. 3
'Organ Dreams, Vol. 4' (CDA67436)
Organ Dreams, Vol. 4
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