About this Recording
8.120832 - LOUGH, Ernest: Wings of a Dove (1927-1938)

& The Choir of the Temple Church, London
‘Wings of a Dove’ Original 1927-1938 Recordings

While the clarity and precision of his treble voice may have braved the rigours of early electrical recording to make him a legend in his own lifetime, Ernest Lough may in retrospect be regarded as an exemplar of a lost tradition whose vocal virtues were (by his own acknowledgement) not so much unique as akin to accepted standards. Circumstances conspired to create the world’s most famous boy soprano, and in later years Lough was not shy to admit that at the time of the first recording of O For The Wings Of A Dove he was chosen in preference to two other regular soloists simply because the choral director thought he was in the best voice on that particular day.

When Ernest Arthur Lough was born in London, on 11 November 1911, the ‘choral revival’ initiated in the 1840s had undergone its protracted Victorian re-establishment. As a child he sang in the choir of St. Peter’s, Forest Gate and later auditioned, unsuccessfully, for Southwark Cathedral, where his uncle Albert was a chorister. Albert, however, had a greater confidence in young Ernest’s talent and introduced him instead to the Australian-born organist George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987), who had recently assumed choral directorship of the Temple Church on the resignation of Sir Henry Walford Davies (1869-1941) its long-standing choral reformer and organist. Ball took him under his wing and in January 1924, with a choral scholarship to the City of London School (prerequisite to all Temple choristers) Ernest started a ‘new life as a very small, Eton-suited probationer’ and soon, by dint of age as much as of voice (at twelve he was the eldest) found himself elevated to principal treble soloist of the Temple Choir.

Technical difficulties had frustrated early attempts to record the Temple Choir acoustically (in December 1922 and February 1924) which had had to be discarded, but by early 1927, after two years’ experience with the new processes of electrical recording and having during 1926 successfully captured fragments by relay of ‘live’ performances at Covent Garden and the Three Choirs Festival, HMV were venturing to outside locations, armed with mobile recording vans and landlines. At Temple the first successful results, of small works by Walford Davies and Ball,were obtained via a van parked in adjacent King’s Bench Wharf and, following a few initially unnerving interruptions, these too were adjudged suitable for issue, on HMV’s plum label B 2439 (Tracks 2 & 3). On these Lough’s voice is clearly discernible from those of his colleagues.

After his oratorios easily the most popular of Mendelssohn’s choral works, Hear My Prayer; O For The Wings Of A Dove, a ‘hymn for soprano, Chorus and Organ’ dates from 1844. An eventual million-seller in its various re-issues, during the first six months following its release the original Lough recording of the piece (for which, it was reported, the boy soprano had stood on two bibles for greater proximity to the microphone!) sold in excess of 300,000 copies. Several metal stampers were utilised to meet the demand for copies, but eventually the original masters were badly worn and by early 1928 HMV had decided to re-record the work.

Only too aware of the outstanding success of these pioneering choral landmarks the Gramophone Company were quick to record other similar works (including I Waited For The Lord, duet for two sopranos from Mendelssohn’s Hymn Of Praise (1840) and to exploit the commercial possibilities of Thalben- Ball’s fine Temple Choir and its boy soprano ‘star’ in a broader more secular repertoire. A range of other recordings was commissioned – some of which effected by relay from the Temple Church, others in the HMV studio venues – including Lough solo versions of two Schubert songs of 1826: Hark! Hark! The Lark,D.889 (Shakespeare – Cymbeline, III), Who Is Sylvia?,D.891 (‘An Sylvia’: Shakespeare – Two Gentlemen Of Verona, IV, 2) and Ball’s noted concerted arrangements of the 18th century musical setting of Ben Jonson’s 1616 poem Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes.

When Ernest reached puberty and his voice changed, for a time he attempted a comeback (HMV released his records of a few ballads and sacred songs: see Track 16). The grown-up Lough’s voice was by any standards a pleasant baritone, but the success of his new venture, however,was to be short-lived. Prevailing competition and the artist’s polite, unassuming disposition may have been factors, but the common fate of more recent trebles attempting the transition also hampered his progress – insufficient development of the chest register caused by his earlier training precluded any real ‘opening’ of the mechanism. In his mature years Ernest pursued a career in advertising instead, although he continued his membership of the Temple Choir (as a baritone) until well into his seventies. With his son Peter, he sang in the choir at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, in June 1953. In January 1963 Ernest Lough and Thalben-Ball were jointly awarded a golden disc in recognition of their recording of O For The Wings Of A Dove, sales of which had exceeded the million mark several years previously. Having already been available for several years via various CD re-releases, its overall sales are now estimated at well over six million.

Ernest Lough died in Watford, Hertfordshire, on 22 February 2000, aged 88 years.

Peter Dempsey, 2005

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