I regularly play Percy Fletcher’s Parisian Sketch
No. 2 ‘Bal Masque’ on the piano. It is the sort
of piece that sounds impressive without really stressing my
‘Grade 6½’. Other music by this composer
is often hauled out of the ‘piano stool’ and given
an occasional airing. However, it was not until I heard his
Elgar-inspired Epic Symphony for brass band that I came
to realise that there is more to this composer than a string
of ‘light’ musical numbers ideally suited for the
‘end of the pier’.
A few years ago I came across Fletcher’s fine ‘Festival
Toccata’ (which is included on this CD). I heard it with
an innocent ear, and admitted surprise at discovering who the
composer was. So it came as a minor revelation to discover that
he had also contributed an important -if not major - cantata
called The Passion of Christ. This is a work that transcends
the usual church cantatas that used to fill the choir cupboards
of so many churches. It is something else to perform in Holy
Week other than John Stainer’s great - but hackneyed -
A few brief notes on the composer may be of interest. Percy
Eastman Fletcher was born on 12 December 1879 in Derby. His
father was a professor of music and his mother was competent
on the violin, piano and church organ. Fletcher naturally learnt
much from his parents, but then continued with a private musical
education before moving to London. There he worked at a variety
of theatres including the Savoy, Drury Lane and The Prince of
Wales. For some seventeen years he was musical director at His
Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket. His works composed
at this time included completing the score of Frederic Norton’sChu
Chin Chow, writing a sequel called Cairo and then
The Good Old Days which ran at the Gaiety Theatre during
Other compositions included a variety choral music including
interesting-sounding pieces such as The Walrus and the Carpenter,The
Enchanted Island and The Shafts of Cupid. The library
catalogues show a great deal of songs and ballads. I have noted
the Epic Symphony; however he did compose other pieces
for that medium including Labour and Love.
It is a well-known aphorism that Percy Fletcher wrote more ‘light’
orchestral suites than the better-known Eric Coates. Certainly
there seems to be plenty to explore amongst such titles as Six
Cameos for a Costume Comedy, Rustic Revels, Sylvan
Scenes, Woodland Pictures, Three Frivolities
and At Gretna Green. I await an album of some of these
pieces from an enterprising record company!
Percy Fletcher, although working in London, lived in Farnborough,
Hampshire for many years. He died from of a cerebral haemorrhage
in Holloway Sanatorium, Virginia Water on 10 September 1932.
The present CD includes music that is a million miles away from
the ‘end of the pier’. The opening ‘Festal
Offertorium’ is a case in point. This is a big, gutsy
piece that deserves to take its place alongside organ music
by Harwood, Stanford and Harris as a powerful and confident
example of the Edwardian style. I am not convinced that the
dating of this piece is necessarily correct. I believe that
it could be earlier than 1926 when it was published in an album
of organ pieces.
I loved the ‘Prelude, Interlude and Postlude’ Op.27
which dates from 1910. This is a truly gorgeous piece. It does
seem to be easier to play than some of the big war-horses presented
on this disc. However, they are well written, with lovely tunes
that are never dull.
The ‘Grand Choeur Triomphale’ is another great piece
for use as a recessional. It is a rousing flourish that fairly
romps along; however there are considerable contrasts between
the different sections of ‘choeur’ and these are
well reflected in the organ registration. It also dates from
1910. The ‘Andante con Moto’ is really a hymn tune
prelude: however the liner-notes omit to say which tune! It
is a lovely piece, full of spine-tingling harmonies and beautiful
voicings on the organ.
The last of the organ works is the relatively well-known ‘Festival
Toccata’. It was published by Novello in an album called
A Wedding Bouquet. Even I have had a go at this - however
with very little success. It is impressive and should take its
place with the great ‘toccatas’ of the world. To
my ear it is certainly as good as the better-known examples
by Gigout or Whitlock. Dating from 1915, it was dedicated to
Edwin Lemare - composer and sometime organist of Sheffield Parish
Church - now the Cathedral.
The main event is the abovementioned cantata The Passion
of Christ. This was written in 1922. Philip Scowcroft, who
writes the excellent liner-notes, suggests that this ‘is
one of those shortish sacred cantatas designed for smaller,
perhaps less-experienced church choirs.’ I agree with
him that there were hundreds of these products - I seem to recall
something by a chap from Warrington called T. Mee Patison (The
Miracles of Christ?) being sung at my Parish Church back in
the nineteen-seventies. It was a wee bit average.
The mood of Fletcher’s Passion is unbelievably
far away from the ‘Bal Masque’ and the orchestral
suites. There is nothing ‘light’ or ‘whimsical’
about this well-wrought, deeply felt exploration of Christ’s
sufferings. The obvious referential marker is Elgar however,
I am with Scowcroft when he warns us not to expect another Gerontius.
The work is scored for chorus and organ with soprano, tenor
and bass/baritone solos. Fletcher has made use of congregational
hymns; however he has followed Bach’s practice of using
pre-existing tunes. They are heard here in Fletcher’s
I enjoyed this Passion. There are many passages that
are exquisitely beautiful. It is a deliberately introverted
and hugely spiritual offering that deserves the occasional revival.
The CD has been well-produced with good sound quality reflecting
the atmosphere of St. Ann’s Church in Manchester. The
liner-notes are excellent - if a little short on information
on the organ pieces. The words of the Passion are given in full.
The booklet also includes a detailed profile of Ronald Frost
B.Mus, FRCO, FRMCM, FRSCM, FGCM, FNMSM, FRSA and a shorter note
about Philip Asher the current Pilling Organ Scholar at St.
Ann’s Church. Asher plays the organ for the Passion.
Of importance to all organ enthusiasts is the essential history
of the instrument, complete with facts and figures and the all
important ‘spec’. I have noted before that the organ
was not constructed by a Mancunian firm, but the Salfordian
Glyn & Parker in 1730. Such distinctions are important in
‘Lancashire’; I loathe saying ‘Greater Manchester’.
The St Ann’s Singers are largely drawn from the ranks
of the regular church choir. They have devoted themselves to
much music-making in the Manchester area and have recently given
performances of Fauré’s Requiem, and works
by Elgar and Bairstow.
Finally, the booklet includes a useful discography of Dunelm's
Organ Recordings. Many are on the present instrument in St.
Ann’s however Frost has also been active in other Lancastrian
and Derbyshire churches.
This is a CD that deserves success. It has bravely explored
uncharted territory with The Passion of Christ; the organ
pieces by Fletcher are not available together on any other CD.
I concede I have a soft spot for St Ann’s Church for a
variety of personal and family reasons however it is good to
see this pillar of Manchester music-making contributing to the
revival of one of the lesser-known composers from the first
half of the twentieth century.
1. From the Divine Art website (distributors of Dunelm) (August
We regret that due to serious illness at the Dunelm branch,
we are currently unable to produce any Dunelm titles in CD format,
but hope that in due course they will be restored to circulation.
2. From the editor
The excellent booklet notes that John France mentions are not
available from the download stores.