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Music for Organ Volume 5
John E. ELLIS (b. 1943)
Variations on Veni Emmanuel (2002) [11:13]
Norman COCKER (1889-1953)
Interlude, Paean, Angelus and Trio (1922) [8:52]
Cradle Song (1927) [7:45]
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)
Chorale Prelude on Gibbons' Angel's Song (1947) [3:50]
David ELLIS (b. 1933)
Vetrate di Ricercata (2002) [14:47]
Ronald Frost (organ)
rec. St Ann's Church, Manchester, England, Nov 2002 to Jul 2003. DDD
Music for Organ vol. 5: Organ Music by Manchester Composers



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 final chord.

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.

Geoffrey Hallas

see also Review by Philip Scowcroft








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