Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Alan BUSH (1900-1995)
The Complete Works for Organ
Three English Song Preludes
Two Occasional Pieces (1960)
Prelude and Concert Piece (1988)
Suite (1988)
Sonata (1989)

Robert Crowley (organ)
St Mary's Church, Hitchin
rec Sept 2000, recorded and produced by Stephen Lewis Jones.
PIPEWORK SCS655 [66.20]

Alan Bush is of that generation of composers which was grievously written off as 'anonymous' by mainstream leaders of cultural thought during the 1950s and 1960s. These composers (including Christian Darnton, Franz Reizenstein, Peter Racine Fricker, Alfred Corum, Bernard Stevens and Benjamin Frankel) had some attention in the 1940s and 1950s, especially at Cheltenham and on the BBC, but their time was on a short lease. The upward grade towards fresh exposure began in the 1970s but it has always been a shallow-grade ascent. This is by no means a specifically English phenomenon either. Similar trends deprived us of a whole generation of American music as well. However in the case of Alan Bush his unashamed and unrepentant communism has also woven a malign enchantment over the progress of his music.

What of the music? It is rootedly tonal. That much is clear from the present disc. Despite the naturally ecclesiastical setting for the grand organ the music is not driven by any religious or (as far as I can tell) anti-religious motive. On the other hand there are no ingratiating surfaces to these pieces. Bush does not flatter you with easy conquests. Bush's music speaks with stability and sincerity amid a hubbub of criticism and fawning praise. Strip away this chattering background and there it is. If you must have the glamour of the marketplace you will need to walk away from this disc.

Whether in the shepherds' roughened piping, in sober reflection or in a dour taciturn splendour Bush has an undeniable grip. There is a Rubbra-like solemnity about some of this music as well a touch of the reverential Herbert Howells. The second of Two Occasional Pieces is in a festal major key - Waltonian with splendid harmonic aspirant collisions. The Organ Suite in Dorian; Phrygian, Aeolian and Mixolydian movements is typically structured: emotional stasis, a quiet serenade, the steady amble of the Aeolian movement and the sinewy singing of the Mixolydian finale. The five movement Organ Sonata takes in introspective rhapsodising, the dance (so beloved of Alan Bush as in his Dance Overture and opera The Sugar Reapers - the latter a work of immediate popular appeal if only given a chance. I would put this forward for recording well ahead of the other less obscure Bush operas ), a fugue with a pleasingly recessed tone echoing Howells' Take Him Earth, an adagio severe and stricken but from it rising a lambent 'singer''s voice (1.47 - this is the track to hear) and an angular awkward dance finale amid floods of light worthy of Widor.

The liner notes surprised me by revealing that Bush considered Chopin one of the greatest of composers. I would never have guessed this of Bush.

There is no surface glamour about this music, no sheen, only a forthright honesty accessible to the persistent.

Rob Barnett


The organ at St Mary's Hitchin is a J W Walker instrument built in 1871 - 3 manuals, 47 speaking stops. In 1957 John Compton fitted electro-pneumatic action and more recently still a computerised combination piston system has been added. The slight hiss to be heard on this recording is said to come from the instrument itself.

Pipework can be contacted at 48 Compton Ave, Leagrave, Luton, BEDS LU4 9AZ UK +44 (0)1582 503806.

The Alan Bush Trust who sponsored this recording are at 7 Harding Way, Histon, CAMBS CB4 9JH UK +44 (0)1223 232659.

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