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?
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
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