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Hyperion Records

CDA67228 - Organ Fireworks, Vol. 9
CDA67228
Recording details: November 2000
Berner Münster, Switzerland
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Paul Niederberger
Release date: August 2001
Total duration: 71 minutes 58 seconds

'Another feast of organ music played on a fine instrument. Herrick’s playing … can only be described as unfailingly brilliant … Hyperion has found … the key to the continued success of this hugely enjoyable and, at times, downright spectacular series of Organ Fireworks. Herrick is a musician with a powerful urge to communicate. And communicate he does, drawing on his enormous technical and intellectual resources to turn out performances which sometimes amaze, often astound but never fail to stimulate' (Gramophone)

'A definite recommendation for this latest Fireworks CD is in order' (International Record Review)

Organ Fireworks, Vol. 9
Stick dance  [1'20]
Sash dance  [0'33]
In one spot  [0'59]
Horn dance  [1'00]
Romanian polka  [0'34]
Fast dance  [1'06]
Fantasia  [6'21]
Fugue  [5'53]
Ljod 'Sound'  [2'15]
Line dance  [4'44]

One has only to read a selection of the glowing reviews from the previous eight CDs in this series performed by the musical genius that is Christopher Herrick to realise the potential enjoyment to be had from hearing this CD. The repertoire includes the majesty that is Widor's celebrated Toccata, a transcription of Bartók's extremely attractive Roumanian Folk Dances, and Bach's grandiose Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor.


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Patrick Gowers’ relatively small output includes several virtuoso works for the organ, music for the Three Choirs Festival, and a guitar concerto for John Williams. He is perhaps most widely known for his film scores, including those for a memorable series of Sherlock Holmes stories for television. This sizzling opening to Christopher Herrick’s programme treats Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary in the manner of a French toccata with a rumba rhythm thrown in for good measure.

By the age of five, Béla Bartók already displayed an aptitude for the piano and had begun to compose small pieces for it. Although the family had been left in straightened circumstances by the early death of his father, his mother devoted all her energies to ensuring that his talents were fully developed. In the course of his studies at the Gymnasium in Nagivárad he played the organ, gaining insight into the music of Bach and Brahms, but he never produced any solo music for the instrument. (It does, however, make a thrilling impact at the opening of the fifth door in his opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle.) He began collecting folk music at the age of twenty-three, spurred on by meeting his contemporary Zoltán Kodály, as well as by his burgeoning sense of Hungarian nationalism.

Bartók wrote his set of Romanian Folk Dances for the piano in 1915 and orchestrated them two years later. Ever the practical musician he often played them in a version for violin and piano and recorded some of them with Josef Szigeti; it is in the spirit of this willingness to adapt the music for different performing circumstances that has encouraged Christopher Herrick to make the present version. (In the process he has revived happy memories of playing a large amount of Bartók on the piano in his youth.) The composer makes use of seven tunes originally intended for fiddle or flute, from four different areas of Transylvania. Once part of southern Hungary, Transylvania was ceded to Romania in 1920. The melodies are by turns energetic and melancholic and the composer finds a harmonic context for each which, although often far away from the simple harmonies of the originals, stays true to their spirit. The final piece consists of two exuberant fast dances, the second being marked by an increase in speed.

Max Reger’s all too brief creative life saw not only the composition of a vast number of original works in many genres, but also a long list of arrangements and editions of other composers’ music. Like the even more prodigious Liszt he was always interested in promoting the work of others. This was particularly so during his directorship of the Meiningen Court Orchestra, which he took over in 1911, where he conducted works by, among others, Debussy, Grieg and Wolf. He arranged a large number of Bach’s organ and orchestral works for piano, both solo and duet, as well as many of the solo keyboard works for the organ. These include preludes and fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier and several of the toccatas. It was only natural that he should be drawn to the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, where even the look of the music on the page reminds one of his own music. The process of expansion to the larger medium includes the addition of an elaborate dynamic scheme, giving us a tantalising glimpse of a performing tradition from a bygone age, and the addition of a chordal elaboration of the implied harmonies of Bach’s virtuoso keyboard figuration. The Fantasia, whose many different ideas grow organically out of each other, includes a highly elaborate instrumental recitative, a style undoubtedly learnt from the string concertos of Vivaldi with which Bach became acquainted during his Weimar years. The Fugue remains faithful to the texture of the original while reflecting the dynamic growth inherent in the music.

Christopher Herrick, to whom the work is dedicated, gave the first performance of Sverre Eftestøl’s Seven Allegorical Pictures on the Frobenius organ in Kingston Parish Church, Surrey, in June 1996. It can be heard as a musical quest for the tune Kling no, klokka (‘Sound the bell’) which appears in its most explicit form in the final variation, although it has been present, albeit somewhat hidden, from the second movement onwards. Eftestøl studied piano and organ in Kristiansand and Oslo in his native Norway and composition with George Crumb and Mauricio Kagel in Salzburg. While the influence of both can be felt in the present work, the composer has crafted for himself a distinctive and personal language. The nineteenth-century Norwegian poet Elias Blix wrote his Christmas hymn ‘Sound the bell from every tower!’ to go with the traditional tune, and the sound of bells is present throughout the work. We should remember, however, that bells are not only associated with times of rejoicing but can also denote death and danger. Much of this piece is tinged with the melancholy of long northern nights.

The work is permeated by a three-note rising phrase, derived from the opening notes of the tune. The second variation, ‘Tonal Tide’, makes two different uses of this fragment: melodic, as in the scurrying figuration in the manuals or harmonic, underpinning the chordal refrains that punctuate the piece. The gently tolling bell of the first variation ushers in isolated melodic fragments, this music is the most remote from the final goal of the piece. The attentive ear may hear the tune as the bass line in ‘Playful Call’ or nestling in the accompanying harmonic back­ground of ‘Angels Sing’. The wistful melody of this variation is an elaboration of an old Norwegian children’s song. ‘Hark the Joy’ takes us back to the world of Bartók’s folk dances, while ‘Hidden Treasure’ is an original and inspired study in texture and colour. The toccata finale cleverly suggests the build-up of overtones redolent of pealing bells, moving easily from precisely notated pitches to exuberant tone clusters running up and down the keyboard.

Like his classmate and lifelong friend Olivier Messiaen, Jean Langlais was profoundly influenced by the work of Charles Tournemire, whom he was to succeed as organist at Sainte Clotilde in Paris and with whom he studied improvisation from 1930 onwards. It was the deeply spiritual quality in Tournemire’s work, as well as the intensely personal use of plainsong, which attracted them. The formal freedom and reliance on the imagination which he encouraged came as a breath of fresh air after the highly structured and rigid teaching of Dupré. Langlais summed up his debt to Tournemire most eloquently when he said, ‘From him I learnt the true poetry of the organ’.

Like Reger, Langlais was enormously prolific and the Trois Paraphrases Grégoriennes, written between 1934 and 1935, remain not only one of his earliest works of real maturity but also one of his most enduringly popular. Mors et Resurrectio is prefaced by words of St Paul to the Corinthians, ‘Death, where is thy victory?’, and proceeds inexorably in three mighty waves. The composer identifies two themes: the first, which is of his own invention, represents death and builds gradually from the depths; the second, based on the Introit from the Mass for the Dead, represents life and is first heard on a trumpet stop. After a double exposure of these two ideas the plainsong theme is treated more extensively and develops into an all-engulfing climax. The music has a sense of grandeur, conjuring up the vast and imposing spaces of a Gothic cathedral. It is worth bearing in mind that had it not been for the loss of his sight at the age of two, Langlais may well have followed his father into the family trade of stonecutter.

The second movement is also based on two themes, in this case Gregorian chants, each of which is presented separately. In the third section, one of the most exquisite moments in his entire output, fragments of the two themes float by over sustained chromatic harmonies. The Te Deum is a joyous paean of praise—a rhapsodic treat­ment of the thirteenth-century hymn, with an extended middle section based on the text ‘In Thee have I trusted’.

As only the second blind musician after John Stanley to take the B.Mus degree at Oxford, William Wolstenholme had no less a person than Edward Elgar as his amanuensis. They had met when Elgar taught him the violin at the Worcester College for the Blind Sons of Gentlemen. In October 1887 he received a desperate summons from Wolstenholme in Oxford, who found himself unable to get on with the official assistant assigned to him. (The senior musician did not endear himself to the examiner, Sir Frederick Bridge, when he pointed out a mistake in the examination paper.) Wolstenholme enjoyed a warm friendship with another noted blind organist, Alfred Hollins, and the two often tried out their new works on each other and performed the other’s music in concert. When in January 1916 Hollins was travelling to South Africa for the opening of the organ in Johannesburg Town Hall he asked his friend for a new piece. The present Bohemesque was the result. It is a scherzo with two trios and shows that the composer was clearly well acquainted with the dance-band music of his day. When Wolstenholme told Hollins that it was going to have a time signature of 15/8 (five compound beats to the bar) the dedicatee was somewhat taken aback. As he later wrote: ‘At first I thought he must be joking about the 15/8 time, but there it was in black and white, or rather, in Braille dots, as clear as day’.

Noel Rawsthorne’s career has been inextricably linked with Sir Gilbert Scott’s gigantic Anglican cathedral in Liverpool, first as a chorister, then as sub-organist to Reginald Goss-Custard, and finally, from 1955, as organist. ‘Line Dance’ is the fifth and final movement from Dance Suite which he wrote for the opening of the newly restored Willis organ in Huddersfield Town Hall in 1997. It was inspired by the verve and energy of Michael Flatley’s dance spectacular ‘The Lord of the Dance’ and begins with the Shaker tune ‘Simple Gifts’, also known by the same title. The pace hots up as we are taken on a whirlwind tour of several popular tunes, set in an infectiously toe-tapping style. The work ends with ‘On Ilkley Moor baht ’at’, an affectionate tribute to Yorkshire, the location of the first performance.

The disc began with Patrick Gowers’ homage to the French toccata and ends with what is surely the grandfather of them all. In the game of ‘What If?’ it is interesting to speculate whether ‘The Widor’ would be so ubiquitous if Princess Alexandra had not chosen it as the recessional at her wedding in Westminster Abbey. Clearly the composer had a soft spot for it as he recorded it in 1932 (sadly rather late in his career when his technique was no longer really up to its demands). He had given the premiere of the complete Fifth Symphony some fifty-three years earlier, on 19 October 1879, on the organ of the Trocadéro in Paris, one of Cavaillé-Coll’s most celebrated non-liturgical instruments. It is a considerable test of stamina for even the finest virtuosos, combining swirling manual figurations and stabbing chords, all underpinned by a broad rolling theme in the pedals.

Stephen Westrop © 2001


Other albums in this series
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 1' (CDA66121)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 1
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 2' (CDA66258)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 2
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 3' (CDA66457)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 3
MP3 £6.00FLAC £6.00ALAC £6.00Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66457  Archive Service   Download currently discounted
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 4' (CDA66605)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 4
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 5' (CDA66676)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 5
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 6' (CDA66778)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 6
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 7' (CDA66917)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 7
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 8' (CDA66978)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 8
MP3 £6.00FLAC £6.00ALAC £6.00Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66978  Archive Service   Download currently discounted
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 10' (CDA67458)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 10
MP3 £6.00FLAC £6.00ALAC £6.00Buy by post £10.50 CDA67458  Download currently discounted
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 11' (CDA67577)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 11
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 12' (CDA67612)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 12
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 13' (CDA67734)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 13
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 14' (CDA67758)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 14
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