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Dunelm Records

Music for Organ: Volume 5 - Ronald Frost at St. Ann's Church, Manchester
John E. Ellis (b. 1943)

Variations on 'Veni Emanuel' (2002) [11:13]
Norman Cocker (1889-1953)

Interlude (1922) [2:13]
Paean (1922) [2:24]
Ronald Frost (b. 1933)

Passacaglia for the birthday of St Ann's (1979) [7:04]
Ernest Tomlinson (b. 1924)

Three Lyrical Pieces (1958) [15:08]
Douglas Steele (1910-1999)

On Gibbon's 'Angel's Song' - Chorale Prelude (1947) [3:50]
Norman Cocker (1889-1953)

Angelus (1922) [1:45]
Trio (1922) [2:30]
Cradle Song (1927) [7:45]
David Ellis (b. 1933)

Vetrate di Ricercata (2002) [14:47]
Ronald Frost on the Organ of St Ann's Church, Manchester
Recorded November 2002 and January, February, July 2003

I enjoyed reviewing this CD – for a number of reasons. Firstly there is a family connection with Manchester and I can recall my father talking about St Ann’s Church. I understand that my grandfather conducted concerts there in the years before the last war. From my own point of view it was one of the very first churches I discovered when I began to explore the city back in the early 1970s. I always found it a haven of peace and tranquillity in the midst of the ‘shop till you drop’ surroundings. And then it was only a few months ago that I was in church listening to Ronald Frost playing at the end of a Saturday service: I managed to have a chat with him for a few moments. The final reason I enjoyed this CD is the fact that it is a recording of music by Manchester composers. So it is real home-grown talent.

Most organ enthusiasts know at least one work by Norman Cocker - and that is most likely to be the redoubtable Tuba Tune. However, here we have five delightful pieces that I have not consciously heard before. Of course organ enthusiasts will know that Malcolm Archer has recorded Paean and Interlude in his survey of Lancastrian Organ Music on the Priory label (Priory 400) However, in addition to these numbers, Frost introduces us to three delightful and as yet unpublished miniatures. They are from a set of 13 pieces still in manuscript and in the possession of the organist. The Angelus is a lovely, short musing for strings – ideal for filling an awkward moment during Mass. The Trio is surprisingly well wrought and again could be best described as a ‘voluntary.’ However the gem is the Cradle Song. I am not sure whose cradle is being invoked, however I see it a being a ‘Mancunian Berceuse’ - looking over the shepherds’ shoulder at Our Lord’s Nativity. It is the longest and most interesting of these three ‘miniatures’ and is certainly a rare and quite delicious discovery.

John E. Ellis provides a nice opening to the programme, I must confess that the tune Veni Emanuel is a little hackneyed – especially the final Tierce de Picardie! However Dr. Ellis manages to avoid making this piece sound contrived: the six variations are well contrasted and never loose interest.

Ronald Frost suggests that he has made use of a tone row for his Passacaglia for the Birthday of St Ann’s. He then immediately points out that, actually there is little 12 tone harmony in this work. He makes use of a kind of musical code to translate the years 1712 and 1979 along with 267 years into musical notes. I do not know if 267 years is special in any way but it makes for an attractive birthday present for the Saint and her great church.

Douglas Steele was assistant organist to Norman Cocker at Manchester Cathedral. So it is fitting that one of his works appears on this CD. ‘On Gibbons’ Angel’s Song- Chorale Prelude’ is one of those lovely heart-warming English organ works that sounds so typical of the Anglican Church. It is so easy to imagine the choir and clergy processing in from the vestry at the start of Evensong for St Swithun. There is a slight climax in the middle, but typically this is a restrained work that ends peacefully.

Ernest Tomlinson is best known for his ‘light music’ works. However he was an ex-chorister at Manchester Cathedral so was well acquainted with the tradition of ecclesiastical music. The Three Lyrical Pieces have all the charm one would expect although they are very much in the more conservative style of their years (1958). However, there is nothing light about them – approachable as they are. I was reminded of Percy Whitlock whilst listening to these pieces. The three numbers are a Quiet Prelude, a Rondoletto and a Paean. The concluding piece is all that a song of praise should be – a great tune with some fine harmonies.

The Vetrate di Ricercata is the work I least enjoyed. Much of it seemed to be clichéd organ writing that was perhaps a little more fashionable a few years ago. There are three movements dedicated to Mendelssohn, Karg-Elert and a lesser known character (at least to me) called Cyril Colvin. There is much diversity – maybe a bit too much- in this music, including contrapuntal writing and even a waltz! However the text states that this is Ellis’s first organ composition. For a first work in the medium it is not at all bad!

The programme notes are a little light on the music (with the exception of the Ricercata) but excellent for information on the instrument. There is a full history of this fine locally built organ. I hasten add that it was not a Manchester firm that built it, but Glyn & Parker who hail from the City of Salford. One must be careful about these details! It was originally installed in 1730. Of course it has been moved and restored over the years, most recently in the late 1990s.

This is an excellent CD by an extremely talented and competent organist on a fine instrument. And the Manchester connection makes it of interest to all those of us who know there is musical life outside of London!

John France


see also reviews by Geoffrey Hallas and Philip Scowcroft


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