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Percy WHITLOCK (1903-1946)
Sonata in C Minor for Organ (1935-6) [46:09]
Six Hymn Preludes (1945) [23:00] (Darwall’s 148th [2:50]; Song 13 [4:19]; Deo Gracias [3:58]; St. Denio [2:41]; Werde Munter [4:03]; King’s Lynn [5:04])
Charles Hylton STEWART (1884-1932)
Five Short and Easy Pieces founded on Hymn tunes (1928) [10:27] (Caithness [2:50]; Babylon’s Streams [2:14]; Croft’s 136th [1:22]; St. Peter [1:47]; Aberystwyth [2:10])
Philip Rushforth (organ)
rec. 2-3 March 2010, Chester Cathedral
PRIORY RECORDS PRCD1070 [79:36]

Experience Classicsonline


This disc can almost be described as a “family affair”. First, Charles Hylton Stewart’s father was Precentor of Chester Cathedral when Charles was a boy receiving his musical education. Secondly, after a couple of church positions the younger Stewart became Organist and Master of the Choristers at Rochester Cathedral, where one of his choristers and his eventual assistant was Percy Whitlock, who referred to Stewart as “my father in music”. When Stewart returned home to Chester Cathedral he assumed that his friend Whitlock would succeed him at Rochester, but this did not occur and Whitlock moved to Bournemouth. The two men remained friends until Stewart’s death in 1932, three months after taking over at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. Finally, Stewart’s musical descendant at Chester, Philip Rushforth, is the soloist on this recording.
 
Stewart is perhaps best known for his Anglican chants, but here we have five organ pieces based on hymn tunes, the first two of which are dedicated to Percy Whitlock. They are simple works, but with a fair measure of charm, especially those based on the tunes Caithness and St. Peter. Babylon’s Streams andCroft’s 136th are more lively, the latter being the highlight of the set.

Whitlock’s Hymn-Preludes are decidedly more complex works than Stewart’s. They make great use of the organ’s reeds and also feature the mutation stops. Darwell’s 148th has the hymn tune in the Solo Tuba, accompanied by imitative passages also based on the hymn tune, while Song 13 has its tune beautifully elaborated between the solo horn and the mutation stops. Very different are St. Denio, with its fugal introduction, and Werde Munter (a Lutheran tune), an evocation of the Baroque. Deo Gracias is the Agincourt Song, which Whitlock had used five years earlier in his Music for Orchestra. Here he treats it “in military style” and it is appropriately triumphant. It is interesting to note at this time that Walton was similarly using the Agincourt Song in his music for the Olivier film Henry V. The last Prelude, on King’s Lynn, again uses the Solo Tuba, this time to build to a grandiose finale.
 
Along with his Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, the Sonata for Organ is Whitlock’s largest work. Until recently its length and complexity meant comparatively few performances, in spite of its being highly regarded. Fortunately, this situation has begun to change. The spirit of Whitlock’s favourite Rachmaninoff hovers over much of the music and there are influences of Elgar and Delius. As is quickly demonstrated in the first movement, Whitlock’s thematic material and its handling are all his own, with a large emotional range in the bargain. The second movement is gentle and nostalgic in contrast to the first and the Scherzetto, with no time signature, demonstrates the humour and joie de vivre that are never far below the surface in Whitlock. The giant final Choral’s magnificent main theme and its development are the highlight of the Sonata. Some may find this movement too long but none will be able to deny the skill with which the composer sums up all that has come before, only to exceed himself in the quiet coda that ends the work. The movements are: Grave-Animato [13:54]; Canzona [6:52]; Scherzetto [4:47]; Choral [20:33]. 

The organ at Chester has an interesting history, but unfortunately, is not as powerful as some of its counterparts. On this disc it receives a variable recording, with the Stewart pieces sometimes sounding very distant and the Whitlock Preludes having too much bass. Philip Rushforth’s playing is occasionally a little too deliberate, but he frequently demonstrates a great colouristic sense and rhythmically is quite shipshape. The only other recording of the Six Hymn Preludes is on Vol. 3 of Graham Barber’s complete set of Whitlock’s organ music. I found Rushforth’s version more varied and interesting. With the Organ Sonata we have five other in-print recordings, including Barber’s excellent version (also on Vol. 3 of his series) and John Scott’s less exciting rendition [see review]. One should also mention the out-of-print recording on ASV with Philip Gower. Rushforth’s performance excels in its use of organ colouring and in his overall conception of the work. Perhaps some listeners will prefer the Barber recording, but given the addition of the Stewart pieces, this disc is highly desirable overall.
 
William Kreindler 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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