> John Ellis - Serenity [PLS]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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John ELLIS (b.1943)
Serenity: A Song Sequence and Organ Meditation (Celtic Prayers;
Psalm 23; Psalm 130; Farewell; Meditation (organ solo); Three Prayer Meditations) (1997-2000)
Mary Hitch (Soprano)
John Ellis (organ)
Rec. Parish Church of St.Mary the Virgin,Prestwich, Manchester on September 20th, 2002


£10-00 + 95p p & p, from 2 Park Close, Glossop, Derbyshire SK13 7RQ (e-mail: sales@dunelm-records.co.uk; web site www.dunelm-records.co.uk)

Dr John E Ellis was born in 6 June 1943. He is a well-respected composer of choral and vocal pieces as well as organ music. He is Organist at the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Prestwich, Manchester, where this recording was made. His aim in the music recorded here was to expand the repertoire for voice and specifically organ accompaniment. The whole programme indeed makes a satisfyingly varied sequence. Dr. Ellis’s idiom is accessible and basically tonal though not without its astringencies. He has a distinctive voice and that voice is of, and for, today.

The four Celtic Prayers (2000) vary in mood from the jubilant opening "Let us Praise God" to the quieter restraint of the remainder. I liked the subtle variations of the setting of the verses of Psalm 23 (1999) which, in itself, contrasts strikingly with the intensity of Psalm 130 (also 1999).

The three songs constituting Farewell (1997) are different again, perhaps the most memorable musical experience on the disc. The mood of the poetry and the musical responses thereto range from the starkness of "I feel" (Elizabeth Jennings) to the consolatory "Indian Prayer" (Anon.), though it is the setting of the linking central poem (by Anne Brönte), itself entitled "Farewell", though short – a mere minute and a half – which is the highlight here, and hence, arguably, of the entire disc. Most serene of all are the Three Prayer Meditations (2001), designed for use in church services and as such probably within the compass of relatively inexperienced singers.

Inexperienced is what Mary Hitch is not! With her poise and firm, strong, clear line she is a splendid advocate for this music. The composer accompanies with sympathy and plays the Meditation, written in memory of a friend and revised for this recording – a quiet, lyrical, six-minute miniature – with much feeling. One hopes that it might achieve greater currency as a recital piece.

Recording is excellent and, as always with Dunelm, presentation is faultless; the notes on the music are by the composer himself and all the words are printed in the booklet. Warmly recommended, despite the relatively short playing time.

Philip L. Scowcroft

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