The Complete Works for Organ
Three English Song Preludes (1952)
Two Occasional Pieces (1960)
Prelude and Concert Piece (1988)
Robert Crowley (organ)
St Mary's Church, Hitchin
rec Sept 2000, recorded and produced by Stephen Lewis
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.
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.