had not come across the Canadian composer Walter Lynnwood Farnam
until hearing this CD. Yet this work is a great concert-opener.
Based on a tune called ‘O Filii et Filiae’, first published
in a seventeenth century hymn book, it exploits some fine virtuosic
writing and use of registration. I agree with the author of
the sleeve-notes, Dr Michael Nicolas, that there is an air of
improvisation about this piece. It is an exuberant and powerful
work that possibly deserves a place in the list of popular ‘toccatas,’
the only problem being that it is a touch short – lasting only
just over two minutes.
cannot now recall just where I first heard Christopher Steel’s
Six Pieces for Organ. I think it was a church
in the West End of Glasgow. But I do remember being seriously
impressed and rushing out to buy the music. I hasten to add
that they were and are still well beyond my playing! They seemed
to be so different from much of the organ music that was being
played at that time – whether it was Messiaen or The Village
Organist! These are moody – sometimes almost smoochy numbers
- which somehow seem out of place in a church. The six pieces
are: Intrada, Flourish, Nocturne, Dance, Meditation
and Postlude. The heart of the work is in the third
and fifth movements. This is a sophisticated piece that defies
categorisation. The movements are consistently interesting and
are often extremely beautiful. I note that Steel wrote much
music for a variety of media including seven symphonies and
chamber music. It would be an interesting by-way to explore.
Hollins wrote a great deal of fine organ music, much of it being
frankly popular in style. The Maytime Gavotte and the
Intermezzo in Db are an excellent introduction to his
art. Both of these pieces are more at home in the concert hall
than in church. Both pieces reveal Hollins as a master craftsman.
Maytime Gavotte nods to an earlier age of music although
the melodies owe more to the ‘light music’ of the early twentieth
century. The Intermezzo is quite an involved little work
that finds its inspiration in some of Vierne’s quieter moments.
It is actually quite lovely.
Whitlock wrote a large amount of high quality organ music –
so I am not too sure why William Saunders has chosen to play
some transcriptions of the composer’s orchestral pieces. These
four pieces have been transcribed by the doyen of Whitlock studies
Malcolm Riley. The opening number – a Fanfare - was
dedicated to a local Home Guard Band in Bournemouth. To Phoebe
is quieter and much more meditative: there is an almost Elgarian
feel to this music. This is the sort of tune to bring a tear
to a glass eye. Lovely!
am not happy about the Elegy – which is extracted from
Whitlock’s masterpiece – the Organ Symphony. This is
a major concerted work that deserves to be heard in its entirety.
It is not well served by hearing an extract however beguiling.
The last piece is the March ‘Dignity and Impudence’.
Now this not only nods at Elgar – it beats him at is own game!
It by and large follows in the traditional form of a march,
with the big tune repeated. However the minuet theme is more
complex than many marches: it combines two contrasting elements
that work together exceptionally well. The trio is quite gorgeous:
it is a really big tune, perhaps one of the finest that any
composer has written for a march. Whenever I listen to it I
cannot help feeling that if this work were well known it would
be widely loved and performed. However, I must confess to preferring
it in its orchestral incarnation.
Basil Harwood is probably best known for his hymn tune Thornbury
“Thy hand, O God, has guided”. However he wrote much music for
both choir and organ including a Second Organ Sonata and
an Organ Concerto. His collected organ works fill some
If the listener is looking for a comparative model for this Sonata
then I guess that they must look to Rheinberger and Vierne.
Yet Harwood wrote his Sonata some years before Vierne penned
the first of his masterpieces. This form was particularly
popular in Victorian times with essays by Alan Gray, William Wolstenholme
and Edward John Hopkins. But Harwood’s First is possibly
first movement, an Allegro-appassionato has all the formal integrity
of Beethoven. It is impressive music that is well constructed
and has a focused direction. Perhaps Schumann is the inspiration
behind the andante although there seems to be a hymn tune lurking
behind the ‘fluid harmonic style’. The final movement opens
with a strong chordal passage – marked maestoso. This leads
into a somewhat academic fugue and references to another hymn
tune – Beata nobis gaudia. The work ends with the characteristic
use of the tuba stop – but not before a moving quiet passage.
It is perhaps the weakest movement of this otherwise impressive
is great to hear the organ in St Mary’s Redcliffe. A complete
history of the instrument and its specification are given in
the CD booklet. William Saunders playing complements this fine
instrument and the impressive ecclesiastical setting.
is a great CD that explores some little known repertoire. For
my money though, it is Christopher Steel’s Six Pieces
takes the first prize!