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Lyrita New Recording
Sarah Beth Briggs
|Charles WOOD (1866-1926)
St. Mark Passion (1920) [58:10]
Edward BAIRSTOW (1874-1946)
Organ Voluntary, Toccata - Prelude on ‘Pange
of Jesus College, Cambridge/Daniel Hyde
Simon Wall (tenor); James Birchall (baritone); Edward Grint
(bass); Ruth Jenkins (soprano); Jonathan Vaughn (organ)
rec. 8-10 January 2008, St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge,
NAXOS 8.570561 [61:46]
Naxos have released a setting of the St. Mark Passion from
the Irish-born composer Charles Wood; a pupil of Stanford
and Parry at the Royal College of Music (RCM). Also included
on this attractive release is a short organ voluntary from
Sir Edward Bairstow. The inspired choice of the Choir of
Jesus College under the direction of Daniel Hyde, singing
the music of Charles Wood in the chapel of St. John’s College
Chapel maintains the strong Cambridge connection.
Born in Armagh in 1866 Charles Wood became one of the inaugural class
of fifty students at the newly-founded RCM. In 1883 Wood
was awarded an organ scholarship to Selwyn College, Cambridge
later transferring across the city to Gonville and Caius.
Appointed as a teacher at the RCM in 1888, Wood, the next year, became a lecturer at Caius College and
was later made a fellow of the college. For several years
Wood served as assistant conductor to Stanford with the Cambridge
University Musical Society (CUMS). After Stanford’s death
in 1924 Wood succeeded him as CUMS conductor and was appointed
professor of music at Cambridge but served in the role for
only two years until his death in 1926. In a respected
teaching career Wood’s most notable pupils were Ralph Vaughan
Williams and Herbert Howells.
According to the great Irish baritone Harry Plunket Greene, of all
Stanford’s pupils Wood was the closest in style to the great
teacher, “…both were Irishmen with thoughts alike on politics,
religion and all outside things that had no direct dealings
with music; both full of humour, one a Southerner,
the other a Northerner, but with the romance of their country
in every breath they drew. Wood’s settings of old
Irish airs are so steeped in the Stanford idiom that it is
hard to tell them apart ….” (Charles Villiers Stanford by
Harry Plunket Greene, publ. Edward Arnold & Co. London
(1935), p. 97). Plunket Greene, a friend of Stanford,
considered Wood to be, “… a masterly song writer and part-song
writer … He had the Irishman’s versatility and was equally
successful as a writer of chamber music. His technique
by all accounts was near perfect. He had learned the
secrets of economy from his fellow-countryman and, as with
him, his sense of humour showed in everything he did, filling
his sails and steering him clear of the shoals of sentimentalism. Shy
and gentle-voiced as he was, he was a delightful companion,
with the stories and the twinkle in his eye which belonged
to the country of his birth.” (pp. 252-3).
Wood composed prolifically in several genres, writing a large number
of choral works, part-songs, a piano concerto and six string
quartets. Today he is principally recognised as a composer
of sacred music for the Anglican church, some of which has
remained in the cathedral repertoire. This includes: Magnificat
and Nunc Dimittis (Collegium Regale) in F major; Glory
and Honour and Laud; ’Tis the day of resurrection; Hail,
gladdening light and the Short Communion Service in
The Phrygian Mode.
The substantial St. Mark Passion was completed
by Wood in 1920 in response to a request from Eric Milner-White,
Dean of King’s College. It was premiered on Good Friday in
1921 at King’s Chapel by the college choir directed by A.
H. Mann. It seems that Milner-White thought that J.S. Bach’s
settings of the Passion were too difficult for his choir
and he wanted an alternative to Stainer’s ubiquitous Crucifixion (A Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer).
The score of the St.
Mark Passion, performed
in English, comprises six hymns for choir and congregation,
interspersed with five excerpts from the Gospels. Commencing
with a blazing organ solo the first hymn Sing, my tongue contains
moments of robust exclamation of faith expertly conveyed
by the mixed voiced choir. Hymn
two, The Heavenly Word is exultantly sung and the
contrasting hymn three, Lord, when we bow is calm
and reverential. The fourth, My God, I love Thee is
a beautiful and intimate expression of thanksgiving for
Christ’s suffering. The highlight of the disc is the serene
final verse sung so stunningly and gloriously by soprano
Ruth Jenkins. The Faithful Cross! above all others is
a reflective and gentle piece for female voices. The concluding
hymn, Bend thy boughs, O Tree of Glory! is given
a rousing and elated rendition by the mixed voices of the
choir. The five Gospel excerpts, with organ accompaniment
and occasional choir contributions, are all magnificently
sung by Simon Wall (tenor) as the Evangelist; James Birchall
(baritone) as Christ and Edward Grint (bass) in the roles
of the High Priest, Judas and Pilate.
Edward Bairstow, the renowned Yorkshire-born organist, teacher
and composer is represented by his organ voluntary Toccata - Prelude
on ‘Pange lingua’. Bairstow was a student
of John Farmer at Oxford’s Balliol College, later
studying with Frederick Bridge and Walter Alcock at Westminster
Abbey. Bairstow gained prominence with his appointments as
organist at All Saints church, Norfolk Square, London in 1893,
Wigan Parish church in 1899, Leeds Parish church in 1907, organist
to the Leeds Festival in 1907 and 1910 and at York Minster
in 1913, the latter a post he held until 1946. Bairstow became
conductor of the York Musical Society and the Leeds Philharmonic
Society, together with numerous other conducting engagements
throughout the country. In 1929 he was appointed professor
of music at Durham University, a non-resident post that enabled
him to continue his duties at York.
The majority of Bairstow’s compositions are liturgical
such as Services and Anthems and numerous peices for organ.
He also wrote secular works, for example the Variations
on an Original Theme for two pianos (1908) and Six
Variations on an Original Theme for violin and piano (1916).
He is represented on this disc by his organ voluntary Toccata and Prelude on ‘Pange lingua’ (Sing
my tongue) to words by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Organist
Jonathan Vaughn provides a splendid performance of the Toccata
and Prelude on ‘Pange lingua’ that contrasts
sparkling drama with lilting good humour.
The sound quality provided by the Naxos engineers at St. John’s College
Chapel is of the highest standard. In the booklet the essays
by Keith Anderson and Daniel Hyde about Charles Wood and
the St. Mark Passion are informative but they mention
nothing about Bairstow.
Lovers of sacred choral music will be delighted with this quite superbly
sung and recorded setting of the St. Mark Passion. The disc is worth obtaining alone for Ruth Jenkins’s soprano
solo on the hymn is My God, I love Thee.
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