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Fourteen tracks—one from each volume of Hyperion’s complete Organ Fireworks series—combine to take the listener on a spectacular ‘world tour’ of the organs and repertoire championed by Christopher Herrick over the decades. Released in honour of his seventy-fifth birthday, this is a must for anyone yet to encounter these wonderfully life-affirming performances.
From my personal perspective this was perfect timing to take up Hyperion’s challenge. Since my 1969 debut recording at St Paul’s Cathedral I had made numerous albums for various companies, and had also recorded regularly for the BBC, including three major projects on large organs abroad: Marcussen organs in Scandinavia, the Ladegast organ in Merseburg Cathedral, Germany (Liszt and Mendelssohn) and the van den Heuvel organ in Katwijk aan Zee, Holland (Guilmant’s eight organ sonatas). Not least I had been playing the gargantuan organ at St Paul’s Cathedral for seven years, followed by ten years at the Westminster Abbey organ.
When Ted Perry asked me whether I would like to make a second Organ Fireworks album I was up and ready with suitable repertoire on the single day that the Royal Albert Hall organ was available. Paul Spicer guided me brilliantly through a harrowing day and he has produced nearly all my Hyperion recordings ever since, 44 in all. Over the years I have also been blessed with some fine recording engineers, notably Paul Niederberger and Simon Eadon. The fabulous organs I went on to record were usually instruments I had come across in my recital travels. Cathedrals, churches and concert halls were invariably delighted to be part of what had become a prestigious series, and organ builders were often equally generous with tuning and maintenance.
It has been a fantastic odyssey. I feel very fortunate to have had the firm backing of Ted Perry and now his son Simon in my recording peregrinations.
Organ of Westminster Abbey
David Johnson (1922-1987) Trumpet Tune in D
The Organ Fireworks series was born in Westminster Abbey—at the console that had been Christopher Herrick’s second home for the best part of a decade. As was to become the norm for the series, the ranged far and wide, both geographically and temporally.
Here we thrill to the Trumpet Tune in D by David Johnson, of which Stephen Westrop wrote in the booklet accompanying the album:
Trumpet tunes are frequently found in theatre and church music of the seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries. They were used for ceremonial occasions, royal pomp or scenes of battle and many fine examples exist by Purcell. Perhaps one of the most widely known is the prelude to the Te Deum of Charpentier, which gained wide currency as the signature tune for the Eurovision organization. The Texan-born organist David Johnson, who was Professor of Music at Arizona State University for many years, produced no fewer than nine affectionate tributes to the genre, the present one, in D major, dating from 1962. For the solo lines he generally restricts himself to the diatonic notes which would be available on the natural trumpet while allowing a little more spice in the accompaniment. The piece is in ABA form, with each trumpet phrase of the opening section being repeated orchestrally, as it were. A contrasting middle section in the minor leads back to a reprise of the whole first section.
Organ of The Royal Albert Hall
Edwin Lemare (1865-1934) Concert Fantasia Op 91
Three years passed before a second volume was added to the series. The chosen instrument was the Willis–Harrison & Harrison of London’s Royal Albert Hall, and the was similarly inspired. Of Edwin Lemare’s fantastical Concert Fantasia, Ian Carson wrote:
This must be one of the few compositions to have been written on an Edison phonograph cylinder, although its gifted composer had really no need to make use of such a device to capture his inspiration.
Edwin Lemare was a highly trained musician, and his skill at the organ was that of the virtuoso. He was born and brought up at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, and although his father was an organist it was his mother who pushed him to develop his musical abilities. By the time he was nineteen he made front-page news in the London papers with his astonishing organ recitals at the International Inventions Exhibition. It was not too long before he was organist at the highly fashionable St Margaret’s, Westminster.
Unfortunately the incumbent who brought him to St Margaret’s departed in a hurry and his successor had little time for music: exit Lemare, to the life of a travelling virtuoso and to his first divorce. He travelled in Britain, Australia and the USA, commanding huge audiences. His adventures included missing the San Francisco earthquake by a day, and returning there when the city was rebuilt as the world’s highest paid organist.
Harvey Grace, one-time organist of Chichester Cathedral, pointed out an aspect of Lemare’s genius in this piece, namely his use of the technique of counterpoint to the extent of combining all three themes on the final pages. He went on: ‘Most of us would be satisfied when we had done this, even after the consumption of midnight oil, but Mr Lemare, with a casual “while-I-think-of-it” air, plays at the same time Auld Lang Syne with the pedals’ … and that is just what happens in this music as published, transcribed by Lemare from his own improvisation to the phonograph.
Organ of St Eustache, Paris
Marco Enrico Bossi (1861-1925) Pièce héroïque in D minor Op 128
Volume 3 was the first to be recorded as an ‘away match’, engineer, producer and organist winging over to France (the Channel Tunnel being little more than an expensive hole in the ground at the time). The took on a decidedly Francophile air to mark the occasion, Lemare and Bossi thrown in as contrast. Enrico Bossi was born in Salò, a town in the province of Brescia, Lombardy, into a family of musicians. His father, Pietro, was organist at Salò Cathedral, and he received his musical training at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna and the Milan Conservatory. In 1881 he became director of music and organist at Como Cathedral, nine years later being appointed professor of organ and harmony at Naples Conservatory. Throughout his career, Bossi made numerous international organ recital tours, which brought him in contact with well-known colleagues such as César Franck, Marcel Dupré, Alexandre Guilmant, Joseph Bonnet and Camille Saint-Saëns. In November 1924, Bossi embarked on a recital tour to New York and Philadelphia. At Philadelphia he played the world’s largest pipe organ, the one in the Wanamaker department store. He died unexpectedly at sea while returning from the United States on February 20, 1925, and was interred at Como. Ian Carson wrote of the piece included here:
Enrico Bossi borrowed the title Pièce héroïque from César Franck, and his piece gradually transforms the cautious tread of the beginning into a theme of epic grandeur, though the vast empire in sound it creates suddenly vanishes, leaving only the vestiges of the atmosphere in which the saga opened.
The Herrick/Hyperion team visited France twice more, the first time to capture Daquin’s delicious Noëls in the church of St Rémy in Dieppe on the faithfully restored 1739 Parizot organ, the second time to record one of the volumes in the complete Buxtehude organ works series on the new Aubertin organ in St-Louis-en-l’Île, Paris.
Organ of St Bartholomew’s Church, New York
Louis-James-Alfred Lefébure-Wély (1817-1870) Sortie in E flat
For the fourth album in the series Christopher and the team travelled to New York City and the wonderful St Bartholomew’s Church, nestled in between the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan. The Aeolian-Skinner organ inspired a particularly vivacious . Ian Carson introduced the concluding flourish, Lefébure-Wély’s (in)famous Sortie in E flat, thus:
Lefébure-Wély was something of a child prodigy as an organist, giving his first recital at the age of eight. He followed his father as organist of St Roch, then was at the Madeleine church from 1847 to 1858 before becoming organist of St Sulpice in 1863. He took a particular interest in the harmonium, writing a number of pieces for it, and was famous in Paris for his organ improvisations with which he could draw the crowds. His skills as a composer were influenced by the music of the opera house, a 1938 music dictionary describing them as follows: ‘From the piquancy of his harmonies, the fertility of his imagination which pervaded all he did, he might be called the Auber of the organ’ Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (1782–1871) is best known as the composer of the comic opera Fra Diavolo.
Lefébure-Wély flourished in an era when the streets of Paris could be charged with a politically explosive atmosphere, but as the faithful left at the end of the mass they could face the conflagrations uplifted by the joyous musical feux d’artifice of which this exuberant Sortie is a giant firecracker.
Organ of Turku Cathedral, Finland
Jehan Alain (1911-1940) Litanies
Erkki Alikoski, Turku’s cathedral organist, was a wonderful character and a very generous man, living, it seemed, entirely on coffee and cigarettes. Watching him tuning the horizontal forest of Trompeteria pipes, hanging backwards in a harness with his feet on the organ case, was one of many Finnish excitements! At the head of the came Jehan Alain, and his heartfelt Litanies, which Ian Carson introduced thus:
Jehan Alain was a near contemporary of the great composer and organist Olivier Messiaen, possibly rivalling his vision and genius, but Alain’s life was cut short when he was killed in action at the age of twenty-nine, just five days before France withdrew from World War II. He had received his first organ lessons from his father, and then progressed to the Paris Conservatoire. He became a brilliant keyboard player and a compulsive composer, who saw music as revelatory of states of the soul, and who was drawn to music’s power to create a sense of mystery rather than express emotions.
Litanies began as an organ piece called Phantasmagorie from which Alain drew some material for the later work which he originally called Supplications. The plainsong phrase which opens the music is repeated continually, propelled by a locomotive rhythm to an ecstatic climax. Alain once wrote about how to play Litanies: ‘You must create an impression of passionate incantation. Prayer is not a lament but a devastating tornado, flattening everything in its way. It is also an obsession. You must fill men’s ears with it, and God’s ears too! If you get to the end without feeling exhausted you have neither understood [Litanies] nor played it as I would want it.’
The score itself is headed with a quotation which can be related to the death of one of Alain’s sisters in 1937, the year in which it was written: ‘When the Christian soul is in distress and cannot find any fresh words to implore God’s mercy, it repeats the same prayer unceasingly with overwhelming faith. The limit of reason is past. It is faith alone which propels its ascent.’
Organ of Wellington Town Hall, New Zealand Norman Cocker (1889-1953) Tuba Tune
The historic organ of Wellington Town Hall drew the team to New Zealand for volume six, and Christopher Herrick’s added a hint of spiced Kiwi to the usual mix.
Norman Cocker’s Tuba Tune, composed at the time when this kind of Edwardian organ was at its most fashionable, is heard here. Ian Carson summarizes:
Norman Cocker returned to his native Lancashire as sub-organist then organist at Manchester Cathedral, becoming a much-venerated figure. He had been born at Ripponden, but became a chorister at Magdalen College in Oxford, the city which saw the early stages of his organist career. He served Manchester Cathedral for over thirty years, and wrote a number of hymn tunes, of which Ryburn and Ripponden are still in regular use. His Tuba Tune was published in 1922, and is played from an edition by his teacher, Henry G Ley. The tuba is given a confident swaggering tune but, more than this, it later appears in chorus, pure and dazzling twenty-four-carat gold in sound.
The blind organist and composer Alfred Hollins and the superstar Edwin Lemare knew exactly how to bring the best out of the typical Edwardian north of England town hall organ. Most of the population never got the chance to hear a live or recorded symphony orchestra so the staple of concert programmes were arrangements of the classics, from Beethoven to Wagner, along with new original compositions that showed off a range of imitative stops available on these unashamedly extrovert instruments. As a colonial power Britain routinely shipped large organs to places such as Johannesburg, Sydney and Wellington. In New Zealand, Wellington is lucky to have retained the 1906 organ more or less intact. (Auckland was less lucky. In the ’60s their 1911 Norman & Beard instrument had much of its pipework sold off or sawn in half to make way for a lot of second-class pipework which was supposed to turn it into a more ‘Baroque’ organ. Faced with such irreparable vandalism a century later, the Council wisely decided to ask Klais to build a new organ epitomizing the Edwardian ideal. It has been said that Auckland Town Hall now has the best English Town Hall organ in the world, but with a very slight German accent!)
Organ of the Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík, Iceland
Julius Reubke (1834-1858) Sonata on the 94th Psalm—Fugue
The 1992 installation of a glorious new Klais organ in Reykjavík’s Hallgrímskirkja prompted Christopher and the team to face the cold of Iceland (carefully choosing to record in July …). The drew its inspiration both from the possibilities opened up by such an instrument and from the island’s maritime history, and at its centre was Reubke’s mammoth sonata, lasting some twenty-five minutes. Chosen for this programme is the impressive closing fugue. Stephen Westrop writes:
Julius Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm is one of the cornerstones of the concert organist’s repertoire and a work of extraordinary maturity and accomplishment for a young man of twenty-three. Along with his equally astonishing Piano Sonata in B flat minor, this work shows a technique of remarkable assurance springing to life fully formed. Born in 1834, the son of a noted organ builder, he studied at the Berlin Conservatory where he came under the influence of Hans von Bülow. After a brief spell of teaching he went to Weimar in 1856 and became one of Liszt’s favourite pupils. Here he produced the two sonatas in a burst of white-hot creativity and also, interestingly, contemplated writing an opera. Reubke gave the first performance of the sonata in Merseburg Cathedral in June 1857 before his failing health forced him to move to Pillnitz near Dresden, where he died one year later.
Clearly modelled on Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’, Reubke’s score is prefaced by some verses from Psalm 94. These are not meant to be taken as a literal programme, but rather to provide the emotional colouring of each of the three major sections. In the final transformation the initial theme becomes the subject of the freely constructed Fugue which follows its course through to the terrifying and vengeful climax.
But the Lord is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge.
And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness.
Organ of The Hong Kong Cultural Centre Franz Liszt (1811-1886) Prelude and Fugue on BACH S260
The year 1997 saw much ink spilt over whether the British or the Chinese organized the more spectacular fireworks to mark the handover of Hong Kong; Christopher Herrick’s on the Rieger organ of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, the eighth Organ Fireworks excursion, made a third strong contender. Stephen Westrop contributed the accompanying notes to the original release, writing of Liszt’s great tribute to Bach:
Dedicated to the organist Alexander Winterberger, the Prelude and Fugue on BACH was intended for performance at the inauguration of the new organ in Merseburg Cathedral in September 1855, but as it was not ready in time Winterberger gave its premiere the following year and played instead the Fantasia and Fugue on ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’. In the true spirit of Romanticism, Liszt was continually searching for the means to express his vision with the greatest clarity and effectiveness and this quest led him constantly to revise and recast his music, so that many of the works in his already large catalogue come down to us in several versions. Thus the Prelude and Fugue on BACH is generally known in the revision of 1870; he also made a version for piano at the same time which is more than just an arrangement, the texture being opened up considerably and made more pianistic. The revisions of 1870 generally involved cutting in order to give the piece greater cogency, although occasionally a passage will be extended in order to achieve the same objective. Although the 1870 version is undoubtedly a masterpiece precisely because of the ease with which ideas flow in and out of one another, the original version, with its more disjunct construction and sharper contrasts, makes an exciting and refreshing alternative. Indeed, Christopher Herrick unashamedly plays Liszt’s first version which he feels to be the most suited to the organ (as opposed to the piano or orchestra) and has the greatest ‘shock value’ harmonically.
Organ of Berner Münster, Switzerland
Patrick Gowers (1936-2014) An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary
Switzerland had become one of Christopher’s regular stamping grounds thanks to the brilliant support of Dr Andreas Gautschi who, in particular, helped to facilitate the arrangements for recording all of Bach’s organ works, a project which took about ten years to complete on Metzler instruments in Switzerland. Also, the huge encouragement that Metzler’s Manager, Dieter Utz, gave to the Bach recordings led directly to the Berner Münster organ being chosen for an Organ Fireworks album when Dieter became the new CEO of Kuhn Organ Builder Ltd. The is framed by the Gowers piece at the beginning, with its reference to Widor’s extraordinarily popular Toccata, and Widor’s Toccata itself at the end. Bach and Switzerland had become intertwined in the Herrick/Hyperion mindset, so it was natural to include Reger’s awesome arrangement of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in this volume, tailor-made for the Kuhn organ. Stephen Westrop wrote about An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary:
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.
Organ of The Winspear Centre, Edmonton, Canada
Joseph Bonnet (1884-1944) Matin provençal Op 3 No 2
The organist at Edmonton’s Anglican Cathedral, Jeremy Spurgeon, had frequently invited Christopher to give recitals, and thus being so well known in the city, it wasn’t surprising that he was asked to play at the Winspear Organ Inauguration Concerts, two concertos (Guilmant and Jongen) with orchestra and a full solo recital. This led naturally on to the Organ Fireworks recording. Relf Clark wrote of Bonnet’s Matin provençal, one of the lighter items in the :
Joseph Bonnet was born in Bordeaux. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1901 and gained the Premier Prix for organ and improvisation in 1906, in which year he was appointed Organist of St-Eustache and of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. He was, also, a much-travelled recitalist, abandoning the organ-loft in order to undertake recital tours. The present work, Matin provençal, is the second of his Poèmes d’automne, Op 3, a collection dating from around 1908. At the outset, flutes’ gentle figuration suggests the play of light upon water, and a modal melody, played on the oboe and based on the flute music, sets the rural scene. The oboe tune is developed, much use being made of the repeated notes in its first bar; chromatic notes invade the modal calm; the music becomes increasingly animated; and, as the sun rises to its zenith, the resources of the organ are gradually brought into play. The oboe tune is heard, maestoso, on full organ, and Bonnet’s magical evocation concludes with the transformation of the flutes’ opening notes into a toccata suggestive of morning ending in a fiery blaze of noon.
Lay Family Concert Organ, Dallas, Texas
Mons Leidvin Takle (b1942) Festmusikk from Våg å leve (Dare to live)
Relf Clark wrote of the infectious Festmusikk:
Based in Stavanger, Norway, Mons Leidvin Takle is an organist–composer who studied in Stockholm, Copenhagen and New York. Festmusikk stands at the end of his collection Våg å leve (Dare to live), a set of extrovert, mostly jazz-inspired works (which includes the Blues-Toccata). Some of this programme plants the listeners on the parade-ground; some of it plunges them into the smoky depths of the jazz cellar; here, with repeated notes and chords, ostinato-like figures, and ever-increasing animation, they enjoy a tour of a superb fairground.
Organ of Haderslev Cathedral, Denmark Petr Eben (1929-2007) Hommage à Buxtehude—Finale
It was Svend Prip, the revered longstanding Cathedral Organist at Haderslev, who first introduced Christopher to the joys of Danish organs when he invited him in 1981 to play a concert on the magnificent Haderslev Marcussen, so what a thrill it was to return to record on this truly great organ.
The mini Buxtehude Fest at the beginning of thiswas featured deliberately. There is uncertainty as to whether Buxtehude is a Danish or a German composer, so what better place to celebrate him than in Haderslev/Hadersleben with its mixed history? Of Petr Eben’s magnificent tribute to Dieterich Buxtehude, Relf Clark wrote:
The Czech composer Petr Eben’s Hommage à Buxtehude, subtitled Toccatenfuge, was commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs of Schleswig-Holstein, who clearly plumped for Oldesloe as the place of Buxtehude’s birth and regarded ‘circa 1637’ as justifying 350th anniversary celebrations in 1987, to which year the work belongs. The score has a preface comprising quotations from the two works with which this programme begins, i.e. the first bar of BuxWV137 and the first fugue-subject of BuxWV148.
The finale, Tempo I, is a stunning toccata based on the rhythm of Buxtehude’s pedal solo, the outline of the G minor fugue-subject contributing increasingly powerful commentaries from the pedals. Buxtehude’s musical vocabulary was such that he would almost certainly have been bewildered by Eben’s work, fine though it is; but he could hardly fail to be moved by the highly inventive use it makes of his material, or fail to see in the work as a whole something of his own apparent joie de vivre.
Two of the five albums in the Herrick/Hyperion production of Buxtehude’s complete organ works were appropriately recorded in Denmark; in Helsingør Cathedral on a P G Andersen organ and in Mariager Church on an Aubertin organ.
Organ of Västerås Cathedral, Sweden
Guy Weitz (1883-1970) Grand Chœur ‘Benedicamus Domino’
Sweden is full of beautiful cathedrals and Västerås Cathedral is one of the most delightful and interesting of them all. The symphonic instrument recorded here was restored in 1998 by the British organ builder Harrison & Harrison, and sounds mostly into the back half of the building. When the front half of the Cathedal is in use for big services, there is also a large Baroque-style instrument to accompany the choir and the congregation. Three pieces in this are based on plainsong themes. ‘Benedicamus Domino’ pervades Weitz’s Grand Chœur, ‘Credo in unum Deum’ is woven through the musical texture by the Swedish organist and composer Otto Olsson in the first movement of his vast three-movement work Credo symphoniacum, and Duruflé’s masterpiece brings us to the very heart of the ‘Veni Creator’ melody. Relf Clark once again provided notes to accompany the album:
A native of Belgium, Guy Weitz studied in Paris with Guilmant, Widor and Vincent d’Indy and went on to become Professor of Organ at Liège. In 1914 the outbreak of war caused him to move to England, and after a few years’ association with the music of Westminster Cathedral, in 1917 he became organist of the Jesuit Church, Farm Street, in London’s Mayfair, a post he held for some fifty years. His Grand Chœur ‘Benedicamus Domino’, written in 1939, is based on a fifth-mode melody. Fanfare-like chords are prominent in the opening section, and a brisk, one-in-a-bar fugue leads by way of a dominant pedal to the brilliant, toccata-like writing with which the work concludes.
The Herrick/Hyperion team are no strangers to Sweden, having recorded both the fourth volume of Organ Dreams in Halmstad on the glorious Pels & Leuven organ as well as the album of Sweelinck’s organ music in Norrfjärden near Piteå on a copy by Grönlund of the 1684 Stockholm German Church organ.
Organ of Melbourne Town Hall
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) arr. Edwin Lemare (1865-1934) & Christopher Herrick (b1942) Grand March from Aïda
Another trip down under, this time to put Melbourne’s spectacular Anglo-American organ through its paces. The organ has a special corridor going through its heart so that the general public can see the inner workings of the instrument and be amazed, astonished and educated. Verdi comes at the head of the —the narrative behind this most famous of marches is told by Relf Clark:
Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) was writing traditional grand opera at a time when his exact contemporary Richard Wagner was going down the radically different paths that led him to ‘music drama’, a conception of opera in which all its elements are fused into a seamless, integrated whole. Aïda, whose first performance took place in Cairo in 1871, post-dates by some twelve years the completion of Tristan und Isolde. Its Grand March, heard here as arranged by Edwin Lemare and Christopher Herrick, is taken from Act II Scene 2, which is the stunning centrepiece of what must surely be one of the grandest of all grand operas. On-stage trumpets mark the return of Radames, the commander of the Egyptian army, triumphant after achieving victory over the Ethiopians, and the spectacle at this point includes both the victorious army and its captives. The march’s central section is based on one of the most famous of Verdian melodies: heard at first in A flat, grandioso, its elevation to B major leads to the reprise and a splendid coda.
Christopher Herrick © 2017