Whitlock’s two substantial Fantasie Chorals
were composed in 1931, soon after his arrival at St Stephen’s – a church which John Betjeman described as ‘a lofty hall of stone-vaulting providing view after view as you walk round it, each lovelier than the last, and worthy of a vast cathedral’. The (almost) French title perhaps suggests a tribute to the three expansive Chorals
of César Franck, and the leisurely developments of the Fantasie Choral No 1
certainly require big resonant spaces in which to bloom: this is concert music conceived for the church. The serene, hymn-like chorale theme in D flat major is contrasted with a more fluid and passionate second subject in F sharp minor, and then developed through a sequence of three very free variations (the last a wonderfully delicate scherzo). The second subject inspires a definitive climax, and this finally evaporates into a concluding reprise of the hushed antiphonal writing from the opening bars.
from notes by David Gammie © 2004