The original organ in St Ann’s Church, Manchester was built and installed in 1730 by the Salford firm of Glyn and Parker. Major
rebuilds were first carried out in 1955, by Jardine and
Co. of Old Trafford, and then in 1996, by George Sixsmith
& Son of Mossley. A fourth manual was added in the most
recent overhaul; all that was best in the old organ has
been retained. Little remains of the old Pedal Organ, however,
and the Positive Organ is almost entirely new. The present
organ has 50 stops; the manual compass is CC to A (58 notes),
the pedal CCC to F (30 notes); the pitch has been brought
up from the very low A = 437 to A = 440 (C = 523.3).
Ronald Frost, who was born in Bury, became Organist and
Choirmaster at St
Ann’s Church in 1978 and, since then,
has given nearly 900 lunchtime recitals. Other notable appointments
include, at various times, accompanist to the Hallé Choir,
Chorus Master of that Choir and Principal Organist to the
Hallé Orchestra. In 1955, the year he achieved his FRCO,
Ronald Frost was appointed to the staff of the Royal Manchester
(now Northern) College of
Music and became Principal Lecturer
in Organ, Keyboard Musicianship and Harmony and Counterpoint
in 1971, retiring in 2001.
A reprise of the programme for the Inaugural Recital by
Ronald Frost, which took place on 26 November 1996, was subsequently released on
CD by Dunelm Records (DRD0166) in 2001. Also, the first
volume in the Music for Organ series was recorded
in 2001; this series has recently reached Volume 5. The
latest addition is devoted to organ music by Manchester composers, a novel venture.
The theme and six attractive and contrasting variations
on Veni Emmanuel by John E. Ellis comprise the first
item on the CD. Dr Ellis, a former paediatrician, is organist
at St Mary’s Church, Prestwich. An entire CD devoted to
organ compositions by John Ellis has already been recorded
by Ronald Frost (DRD0152). On this CD, the introductory
Theme is followed, in turn, by a rather strident
Allegretto, a bright Scherzetto, a doleful
Molto moderato, a rather fast Poco largo in
which a rippling accompaniment supports the melody, a meandering
Adagio and, finally, a more substantial and urgent
Allegro giacosa which ends with a splendid restatement
of the original theme.
Norman Cocker, who was organist of Manchester Cathedral
for many years and also an accomplished cinema organist,
is best known for his ubiquitous Tuba Tune, which
Ronald Frost included in the Inaugural Recital programme.
Here, tracks are devoted to five of Cocker’s pieces, Interlude
and Paean followed, in a later section, by Angelus,
Trio and a gentle Cradle Song. The first four
short pieces were published by Stainer and Bell in 1922 and are typical examples
of Cocker’s easily-recognised lyrical style. The more substantial,
episodical (ABA) Cradle Song was composed
in 1927 but, surprisingly, never published; the middle section
uses contrasted thematic material to the outer ones.
Passacaglia for the birthday of St Ann’s was composed in 1979 by Ronald
Frost. The melodic shape for the passacaglia (C, D, B flat,
D flat, D, A, B, C, D, D flat) was translated from the dedication
date of the church (1712) and the birthday date (1979),
separated by the number of years in between (267). This
sequence has a somewhat mournful effect which is relieved
by an increasingly bright overlay. The piece gradually builds
to a violent climax and ends with a lengthy, unresolved
In 1958, Novello published Three Lyrical Pieces,
typical of the period in style and harmonic idiom, by Ernest
Tomlinson, a former chorister of Manchester Cathedral who
became best known as a composer and conductor of light music.
A fairly short Quiet Prelude is followed by a delightful
Rondoletto (rather reminiscent of Percy Whitlock)
and a rousing Paean.
On Gibbons’ 'Angel’s Song' – Chorale Prelude was written by Douglas Steele,
who was assistant organist to Norman Cocker at Manchester
Cathedral, and published by Novello and Company in 1947.
Gibbons’ tune emerges in separate phrases in the left hand
with a gently flowing accompaniment; a four-bar coda brings
the piece to a peaceful conclusion.
Ronald Frost is the dedicatee of Vetrate di Ricercata
(2002) by David Ellis, who studied at the Royal Manchester
College of Music and later became a BBC producer and Head
of Music with responsibility for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
before retiring to Lisbon. The three sections comprise Hommage à FMB (Mendelssohn), Hommage
à SKE (Karg-Elert) and Hommage à CTC (a reference
to an unfulfilled commission from the Merseyside organist
and choirmaster Cyril Colvin). As stated in the composer’s
comments on the first component, ‘there is ambiguity implied
in the destination of the chord sequence – major or minor?’
Any resemblance to the works of Mendelssohn in this discordant
movement appears to be quite accidental. In the second section,
a fast-changing scherzo of tone colours, and a repetitive
chord, sound rather like meanderings around an unanswered
telephone. The final section includes various contrasting
minor/major components lacking any clear direction. Although,
no doubt, very well-constructed and played, this complex,
virtuosic work is not easy on the ear.
Overall, this CD makes a worthy addition to what one hopes
will be a continuing series.
by Philip Scowcroft