About this Recording
8.550773 - English Organ Music, Vol. 2


Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Sonata No.2 in B Flat Major, Op. 87a
(from Severn Suite, arr. Ivor Atkins)

Hubert Parry (1848-1918)
Choral Fantasia on an old English tune

Edward Elgar(1857-1934)
Cantique, Op. 3

Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
Siciliano for a High Ceremony

Percy Whitlock (1903-1945)
Plymouth Suite

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
3 Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes

Herbert Sumsion (b. 1899)
Intermezzo / Ceremonial March


The music on this recording is taken from the vast corpus of organ music written by West Country composers during the twentieth century. Elgar was never in the forefront of organ composers, even though he had himself been organist at St. George's Catholic Church in Worcester. His one major contribution to the repertoire had been the symphonic-style Sonata in G, which had been written for performance in Worcester Cathedral in 1895. Cantique was dedicated to Hugh Blair, organist of the Cathedral, who had given the first performance of the Sonata. It is an unpretentious piece, which had first appeared as a movement in an early Suite for Wind Band. Elgar arranged it for the organ in 1912. Elgar's so-called Second Sonata is actually a transcription by his friend -and successor of Blair-Ivor Atkins. The movements represent Worcester Castle (a noble introduction): a Street Fair and Tournament (here given the sale ecclesiastical title of Toccata); Worcester Cathedral - a reflective fugal movement, which did have its origins as an organ piece; a cadenza, written by Atkins with Elgar's approval, leading to are turn of the grand opening theme. The Sonata was first heard in London in 1933.

By contrast Parry was a fairly prolific writer for the organ. Some of his works for the instrument are among the most significant of the time, bearing favourable comparison with their European counterparts. The Three Choral Fantasies, dating from 1915, have been described as Parry's 'most perfect work for the instrument'. The middle of the three is a beautiful elaboration of the dignified little masterpiece from the 18th century - the hymn tune Eltham, associated with the words 'When I survey the wondrous Cross'.

Herbert Howells had received his early training from the organist of Gloucester Cathedral and, although he never claimed to be a proficient executant, it is not surprising that, with his particular gifts of flexible, expressive writing, he should frequently turn to the organ in his compositions. Siciliano for a High Ceremony, written for a wedding in 1953, is typical of his distinctive style and feelings for dance forms of an earlier period.

Percy Whitlock comes from a rather different background, his work tending to be associated more with the 'concert organ'. He was a very distinguished recitalist, who spent the last fourteen years of his short life as borough organist at Bournemouth, but he was also much appreciated as a composer of approachable music for the organ. The Plymouth Suite, written during the late 1930s, is typical of his writing; it consists of five movements, which are dedicated to organist friends. Allegro risoluto with its modal language and passacaglia -like repetitions was written for Harvey Grace, organist of Chichester Cathedral, whom Whitlock described as 'very garrulous and rather exalted', characteristics which are certainly portrayed in this vigorous movement. Lantana is in complete contrast. The ambling nature of the music gives the movement its title, which means 'a wayfaring tree'; it was written for the monk and organist of Buckfast Abbey. Dom Winfrid, described by the composer as a 'raving organ enthusiast'. Dr Reginald Dixon of Lancaster is the inspiration behind Chanty. This nautical movement was written in response to a similar piece by Dixon, who was considered to be 'the naughty boy at any party'. Salix ('The weeping willow') a lovely movement with folk-song overtones, was written for Henry Austin Dewdney, a Bournemouth musician of some note. The French-style Toccata ends the Suite in fine style. It was dedicated to Dr Harold Moreton, borough organist of Plymouth - 'a sprightly old fellow'.

Like Elgar, Vaughan Williams wrote little for the organ, a Prelude and Fugue and the Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes being his only contribution to the repertoire. The angular Bryn Calfaria and the forthright Hyfrydol are interesting enough, but the gentle flowing Rhosymedre has been a favourite with organists since it was written in 1920.

Herbert Sumsion was organist of Gloucester Cathedral from 1928 until 1967 and conductor of the Three Choirs Festival during that time, in which he came into close contact with most of the composers represented on this disc. His own music for the organ, of which there is a great deal, consists largely of miniatures - ideal for before and after Services. Intermezzo, an early work, is a serene movement which has been arranged from its original form for string orchestra, while the triumphant Ceremonial March, dating from a much later period in his long and fruitful working life, makes a fitting end to a set of pieces from composers of the West Country, who have made such a notable contribution to the life and music of Britain, especially through their writings for the church.

1993 Donald Hunt

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