Sounds of St. Asaph
Nicolaus Bruhns (1665-1697)
in E minor  [8:36]
François Couperin (1668-1733)
Three Movements from Messe Pour Les Paroisses: Et In Terra Pax / Benedicimus Te / Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi
  (c.1690) [5:16]
J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Wir gläuben all' an einen Gott BWV680 (c.1739) [3:33]
J.D. Edwards (1805-1885)
Rhosymedre (?) [0.53]
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Prelude On Rhosymedre (1920) [4:51]; Romanza: The White Rock (1956) [2:13]
Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
Master Tallis's Testament (1940) [6:30]; Psalm Prelude Set 2 No 1 Ps 130 v1 Out Of The Deep Have I Called Unto Thee, O Lord (1938-39) [8:39]
William Mathias (1934-1992)
(1964) [3:35]; Chorale (1966) [3:45]; Recessional (1964) [4:47]
Camille Saint SaËns (1835-1921)
Fantaisie in D flat op101 (1895) [12:01]
Petr Eben (1929-2007)
The Wed
ding In Cana: No 4 of Four Biblical Dances (1990-91) [6:27]
Dates of works given where known
Alan McGuinness (organ)
rec. St. Asaph Cathedral on 14-16 April 2008. DDD
REGENT REGCD287 [71:03]


Experience Classicsonline

The CD opens with an impressive piece. Nicolaus Bruhns’ surprisingly modern sounding Praeludium is actually quite a substantial piece lasting some eight minutes and explores a lot of ground. A friend hearing this piece imagined that it was by Max Reger!  Perhaps it is the chromatic harmonic shifts and big gutsy ‘North German Style’ writing that confused her?

François Couperin is relatively rarely heard at organ recitals, which is a pity. I had not heard his Messe pour Les Paroisses before this recording. Apparently, Couperin wrote two complete organ masses – one for parochial needs and the other for use in convents. This recording presents three parts of the Mass from the former – Et in Terra Pax, Benedicimus te and Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi.

Although the programme notes do not mention the fact, I understand that these pieces would have been played whilst the priests and deacons were celebrating: it was in the days before congregational participation in the words of the Mass. The music was meant to encourage the laity’s private devotions. These three numbers are very beautiful and deserve to be better known.

Most recitals have to have a little touch of J.S.B. And this one is no exception. Wir gläuben all' an einen Gott BWV680 is from the collection of keyboard works called the Third Part of the Clavier Übung.  The present chorale prelude is based on a tune used in the setting of the creed: the English translation of the title is We all believe in one true God. Alan McGuinness is well able to balance the restrained power and the surprising suavity of this  work.

One of the little treasures on this CD is the hymn tune Rhosymedre. Probably better known in its incarnation as Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Prelude, it is nice to hear the original tune that was written within the bounds of the Diocese of St. Asaph. The Parish of Rhosymedre was established in 1844 and is situated in the River Dee valley. The first vicar of the parish, a certain Rev. John David Edwards wrote this tune during his time at the parish.

RVW wrote comparatively few works for the organ - or piano for that matter. Most impressive is the Prelude and Fugue in C minor. However his Prelude on Rhosymedre is probably the most popular and best known: it was the second of his Three Preludes founded on Welsh Hymns. This is surely one of the loveliest pieces of organ music in the repertoire. It sounds surprisingly easy to play, but the simplicity belies a subtlety and poise that is near perfect. The other work by Vaughan Williams on this CD is the lesser known Romanza "The White Rock" which is the first of Two Organ Preludes founded on Welsh Folk Songs. The melody is based on ‘David of the White Rock’ and is an eighteenth century tune. Once again, this is a short but well wrought piece of self-possessed music.

I must confess that Herbert Howells's Master Tallis's Testament is not one of my personal favourites from his catalogue. To my ears it can appear a little bit stodgy. However McGuinness does bring a certain magic to this piece that has made me wonder if it is time I revisited my opinion of this work. Certainly he is well able to bring out the contrast between the Tallis’s Tudor influence and the composer’s 'characteristic harmonic idiom'. On the other hand the Psalm Tune Prelude Set 2 No. 1 is one of my favourite pieces of Howells. The music has a biblical superscription from Psalm 130 – ‘Out of the deep I have called unto thee, O Lord'. In spite of this music lasting for only eight minutes or so, this has the appearance of a massive and powerful statement of religious faith - which covers many emotions from anguish to perfect peace. It was dedicated to John Dykes Bower who had been appointed the organist of St Paul’s in 1936.

William Mathias, the founder of the North Wales International Music Festival in St. Asaph is well represented on this disc with three fine pieces. I have always been a great fan of his Processional, which was written in 1964. I can recall just about getting my fingers round this work when I used to play the church organ. Unlike Alan McGuinness I was hardly note perfect and the pedal part was largely ‘faked’. It is well performed here, even if a little restrained. The Choral which was written at Easter 1966 is introverted and quite mysterious: I guess it has more to do with a misty Welsh landscape than anything Anglican or churchy. Perhaps the most impressive of Mathias’s ‘warhorses’ is the colourful Recessional. This work, as its title implies, would be played at the end of a service as the congregation leaves the Cathedral. I would probably hang on until the organist finished! After an impressive tuba solo, the piece develops contrasting moods of ‘dark brooding’ material with a much brighter tune that nods back to the Processional.  The tuba solo at the conclusion banishes all care.

One of the best known pieces of organ music is Camille Saint-Saëns’ superb Fantaisie in Db. This is a work that explores a variety of musical sections that include a fugato, an impressive maestoso and the opening and closing ‘rippling’ arpeggios. Altogether this is the ideal organ masterwork. It is given a fine performance on the St Asaph organ, which is remarkably suited to this music.

The most modern and demanding work here is that by Petr Eben. The Wedding in Cana is the last of his Four Biblical Dances. The music is meant to be a meditation on the ‘party’ at Cana: dance rhythms and toccata-like figurations develop into quite a complex and joyous event. This is not my favourite piece and I guess that the concept of a family knees-up and the Miracle at Cana may be a little incompatible to some believers!

This is an interesting CD with a well-balanced and well-thought out programme. I am glad that Alan McGuinness included some Welsh music and the Rhosymedre hymn tune before the RVW chorale prelude is well judged.

Excellent sound and interesting programme notes by the performer make this a good buy for organ enthusiasts. There is a first-class description of this excellent four-manual Hill organ and its successive restorations and the usual specification.

My only gripe is the ghastly front cover and the illegible notes on the back page of the sleeve-notes. I wish record producers would realise that not everyone has perfect eyesight and that printing blue text on a ‘rainbow’ background is hard to read. In fact I may not have bothered to read it all – and would have missed a great CD.

John France



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