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Sir Henry WALFORD DAVIES (1869-1942)
Solemn Melody (version for cello and organ, arr. comp. rev. Fisher) (1), Jesu Dulcis Memoriae, Interlude in C, Fugue in B flat, Memorial Melody in C, Reverie for Organ and Two Voices – "O Jesu, King most Wonderful" (2, 3), Chorale, Solemn Melody

Prélude élégiaque, op. 47
Harold DARKE

Chorale-Fantasia on Darwall's 148th

Elegy in B flat (arr. Fisher) (1)

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY

Chorale-Fantasia on the Old 100th
Roger Fisher (organ), Andrew Fuller (violoncello) (1), Simon Stiggear (treble) (2), Michael Wakeham (baritone) (3)
Also two broadcast talks by Walford Davies recorded in 1937 (from BBC Archive Recordings)
Recorded on the Rothwell organ at St. George's Church, Headstone, Harrow, 24-26/10/2000
DUTTON Epoch CDLX 7108 [79.29]
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The name of Walford Davies has tended to stay around. Those who play for services in a Protestant church of almost any denomination will know, idly flipping through the pages during a dull sermon, that he wrote a lot of hymns no one ever sings (I can’t understand why some people prefer his tune to "O Little Town of Bethlehem" in place of "Forest Green" but I must say "Pentatone", his tune to "It came upon a midnight clear", is quite gorgeous). Some reference books will tell you that "Solemn Melody" is still popular but I must confess that, though I knew it from a piano score, I had never heard it played until now. Older people still remember his broadcast talks, of which two are added as a postscript to the programme proper. The Welsh accent and (especially) the Welsh intonation will be enjoyed by anyone who likes listening to Sir Anthony Hopkins but the content sounds a little twee today. He is also remembered for saying "the chord of C major is the voice of God" and for telling Vaughan Williams that he wrote the Solemn Melody on his knees, to which the more down-to-earth RVW retorted that he wrote his Mass in G minor on his backside.

This record is a demonstration that a little imaginative programming does more to make a successful CD than a mere wealth of high class material. What can you do if you’re an organist and you want to pay tribute to a composer who published just one tiny piece (the Prelude on Jesu Dulcis Memoriae) for your instrument? Quite a lot, it turns out. For one thing there is actually another mature unpublished piece, the Interlude in C, and a rather interesting one. After some quiet fanfares whose harmonic sideslips create a slightly French effect there swings in a quintessentially English theme in the manner of Eric Coates. My first reaction to hearing such plainly light music on the organ was to laugh but I enjoyed every minute of it. There are also two student efforts, the Fugue and the Chorale, and arrangements by Walford Davies himself of the Solemn Melody and the Memorial Melody (in the same vein but not really so good). There is also a group of pieces dedicated to Walford Davies. Of these, Jongen’s Prélude has some fascinating harmonies, and Fisher’s registrations extract a wealth of colour that is worth hearing for itself, but a little more melodic distinction might have helped it along its weary way. Darke’s spirited Prelude is made to seem ramshackle beside the grand inevitability of Parry’s work. This is a noble piece, and a very complicated one; the acoustic of the Headstone Church (where Walford Davies himself sometimes played) is warm but short by ecclesiastical standards and for once we hear all the details of the contrapuntal writing.

The Thalben-Ball Elegy is quite a find. Written in memory of Walford Davies it is not only a beautiful piece, but it intriguingly takes the Solemn Melody as its starting point, quoting a few notes here, a few notes there, and just at the point where you’re saying "ah, it’s the Solemn Melody" it goes its own way for a bit, then back to the Solemn Melody again. We get it in two versions, one an arrangement for cello and organ, and this is brings me to a rather endearing feature of the programme, the way in which certain themes keep recurring, binding it together like leitmotifs. The Solemn Melody is a case in point, and Fisher goes along with the soloist’s very long-drawn tempi while revealing later on that he prefers to play it considerably faster on his own (on the whole I prefer the cello version, but might the right answer not lie in the middle, avoiding both stagnation and loss of dignity?). With the two versions of the Thalben-Ball this means four references to this theme strategically spread over the CD. Also, the very beautiful Jesu Dulcis Memoriae Prelude has a companion in the lovely duet which Walford Davies wrote much later in life, reworking the same material.

I suppose this disc doesn’t answer the question whether, say, the Symphony in G would be worth a hearing. Sooner or later we need a chance to assess the once immensely popular oratorio "Everyman". But congratulations on the imaginative planning which has made a real listening experience out of what, on paper, looks like an exercise in barrel scraping.

Christopher Howell

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