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Patrick GOWERS (b. 1936)
1. Veni, Sancte Spiritus (2000) [6:31]
2. Cantata (1991) [28:02]
3. Adagio for organ [10:08]
4. Chester Lullaby [4:00]
5. Toccata for organ (1970) [9:06]
6. Fugue for organ (1988) [6:23]
7. Libera me [2:14]
8. An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary for organ [3:20]
David Davies (1), Stephen Farr (2,3,5,6,8) (organ)
Guildford Camerata/Guildford Cathedral Choir (1)
Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra/David Hill (2), Stephen Farr (1,4,7)
rec. 9 May 2005, 4, 5, 31 January 2006, Guildford Cathedral
LAMMAS LAMM196D [69:48]



Patrick Gowers turned seventy last year and this CD, mostly recorded during his birthday year, is a nice tribute. That said, it doesn’t attempt to give a full musical portrait for I learned from the biographical note that Gowers’ wide range of musical compositions includes concert works for orchestra, chamber music and film scores. He’s also well versed in jazz and that, perhaps, comes across in the joyful, dancing rhythms of the opening piece on this disc, Veni, Sancte Spiritus. This is a delightful, celebratory piece with a rich organ part and it features a splendid broad tune. It’s excellently performed by the cathedral choir and I’m sorry that this is their sole contribution to the disc.
 
The other short choral works are entrusted to Guildford Camerata and they do them very well. I particularly enjoyed Chester Lullaby, which includes a haunting soprano solo, beautifully sung by Camerata member Jennifer Snapes. This is a Christmas piece, the text of which is a set of sixteenth century words by the nuns of Chester. Unfortunately, the words are not supplied and, in fact only the words of Cantata are printed in the booklet. This seems perverse since it’s the only vocal work in the collection to an English text, albeit those words are in seventeenth century English.
 
Cantata is the most substantial offering in the programme. In a way I’m surprised that Gowers chose such a utilitarian, almost unappealing title. However, the title does underscore the debt to Bach’s chorale cantatas – a debt acknowledged in the use of an original chorale, which appears when first the choir sings. Perhaps the title’s plainness suits the rather austere tone of much of the music. The work was commissioned for the 1991 Southern Cathedrals Festival at Salisbury and Gowers chose some of the Psalms for his text. The work is scored for SATB chorus, accompanied by an orchestra consisting of, I think, strings, organ and timpani.  There are five movements, of which the first, which takes 11:52 in this performance, is easily the longest. The movement begins with what is aptly described in the notes as a “dark, searching and intense” orchestral prelude. Not until 6:22 do we hear the voices but when the choir does come in their hushed entry has been most effectively prepared by the orchestra. The music is gravely beautiful and Gowers varies the vocal textures intelligently: at times soloists from the choir – all of them good – are deployed, while in other places the choir is divided into as many as twelve parts.
 
The second movement sounds more dramatic through the use of dotted rhythms, especially near the start, and more dissonant harmonies. Towards the end the music becomes a “lively, haunted dance” but the volume is subdued and this imparts a strangeness to the music. The third movement builds almost remorselessly to a majestic climax at the words “He bow’d the heav’ns”. By contrast, the succeeding movement, which is mainly slow in tempo, is quiet and contemplative for the most part though a powerful climax is achieved near the end, at “and laid thine hand upon me.” Finally, the chorale with which the choir began is sung in a forthright fashion for the fifth and final movement. Cantata is a fine if rather restrained work and its appearance on disc is welcome.
 
The four organ works are, for the most part, all well worth hearing. I make that qualification because it did seem to me that the Adagio is a bit dull. In a note the composer says it should be played “remote but bright a la cathedral sound.”  The work contains some interesting harmonies and registrations. However, I didn’t really feel it gets anywhere. The music is mainly quiet, though the volume increases for about a minute around 7:00, but there isn’t a real climax and that, for me, is a structural handicap.
 
I enjoyed the other pieces much more. Toccata was written for Simon Preston and Gowers relates, amusingly, that Preston expressly asked him to include some (Count) Basie chords but the programme annotator for the London première, assuming this to be a misprint, described the chords as “basic”. Well, basic the music certainly is not. The piece is a brilliant, effervescent display piece. Though there are some exuberantly loud passages there’s also a good deal of effective writing in a quieter vein. The piece receives a dashing performance from Stephen Farr.
 
The Fugue is a companion piece, even though it was written eighteen years later. It proceeds slowly and the dynamics gradually decrease until we reach a quiet ending. Anyone coming new to the piece, as I did, might be forgiven for expecting that the fugue in a Toccata and Fugue would end loudly but Gowers is his own man in this respect and in others and I’m glad he doesn’t do the blindingly obvious. To close, Stephen Farr gives us An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary, which might be described as “by Jeremiah Clarke out of Widor”. It’s great fun and it provides a most effective ending to the whole programme.
 
All the performances here are excellent and the music is well worth getting to know. I suspect that most, if not all the pieces are receiving their first recordings. The recorded sound is very good and my only cavil concerns the documentation. This is something of a curate’s egg. As I’ve remarked, the text of Cantata is provided but we get neither texts nor translations of the other vocal works. Richard Seal, the retired organist of Salisbury Cathedral, who commissioned Cantata, writes a good and perceptive note about the piece. The notes about the other works are by Gowers himself, who gives varying amounts of information about his pieces. Only some of the dates of composition are supplied.
 
I enjoyed this collection of music by Patrick Gowers and I’m glad that such a generous selection of his music has been gathered together so conveniently in one very recommendable CD.
 
John Quinn

 



 


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