I was reminded of Cullercoats a few years ago when
I was in New York. One of the most impressive pictures in the Metropolitan
Art Gallery collection is Winslow Homer’s ‘Inside
which features a feisty woman commonly known as the
‘Cullercoats Fish-lass’. This was painted in 1883. For personal
reasons, Homer had ended up in this Northumberland village situated
near Tynemouth on the North Sea coast. He remained there for nearly
two years. At that time Cullercoats attracted artists and photographers
who were captivated by the rugged way of life of the fisher folk and
wished to capture it for posterity.
Unfortunately, Winslow Homer could not have attended St George’s
Church as it was not consecrated until after he departed for the States.
However, he is likely to have witnessed its construction. The church
is situated on an impressive site above the beach. The architect was
John Loughborough Pearson who was a native of Durham and is best known
for designing Truro Cathedral. The organ was built by the Thomas Christopher
Lewis in consultation with William Rea who at that time was the Organist
to the City of Newcastle. It was dedicated just a few months after the
consecration. The instrument has some 26 speaking stops over two manuals
and pedals. According to the church webpages
it is the only unaltered Lewis organ remaining in the Diocese of Newcastle
and one of only a handful in the entire country. The main bellows can
still be hand-blown although a Discus blower has been fitted. The instrument
was restored in 1987 by Harrison and Harrison. In spite of its relatively
small scale this organ creates a hugely impressive sound.
Most of the pieces on this CD are by Victorian gentlemen. The two exceptions
are Sir William Mackie and Gordon Phillips who were both born during
Edward VII’s reign. I have listened to and played some dire Victorian
organ music over the years: I will not mention any names, just in case
I malign someone’s favourite ‘discovery’. Listeners
will know the type of ‘grind and strain’ that I allude to.
except any of this third rate music on this CD. I have
always known that there was a wide range of achievement in this period;
alas, some organists have usually chosen to provide just one facet of
This CD gets off to a great start with Alan Gray’s Fantasia in
D minor. Gray was born in York, studied with E.G. Monk at the Minster
and latterly taught at Wellington College before succeeding Stanford
as organist at Trinity College, Cambridge. This long Fantasia is really
a ‘prelude and fugue’ which takes as its model similar works
by Joseph Rheinberger and Gustav Merkel. It is a satisfying piece that
skilfully exploits the tone-colours of the organ. The work was composed
in 1894 and is better for having used a Germanic model. There is nothing
sentimental or sugary here.
Sir William McKie was born in Melbourne, Australia but later moved to
England: he studied at the Royal College of Music and at Worcester College,
Oxford. He held major appointments as organist at Magdalen College,
Oxford, and at Westminster Abbey. McKie directed the Coronation of Her
Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and had also composed an anthem for the Royal
Wedding of 1948. He is not a particularly well-known composer but is
occasionally recalled by some for his choral music. His single contribution
to the organ repertoire is the present Romance in B flat. It is a short
piece that has modal inflections: it is not a great work, but it is
an attractive, short voluntary that would be suitable at almost any
It is always easy to take a pot-shot at Sir John Stainer, mainly by
folk who know little of his music. There was a time when every church
choir battled through his cantata The Crucifixion
Week. My very first organ tutor was written by Stainer - I still have
it somewhere. Included in this primer was a short Prelude and Fugue,
which I struggled to master. It was, alas, one of the few organ pieces
that Stainer composed. The present ‘Andante Pathetique’
has a memorable tune and is skilfully harmonised. I guess it is one
of those pieces that ought to be heard with an ‘innocent ear’
so as to give it a chance of being appreciated rather than derided.
It is good to have it here.
Gordon Phillips is recalled by many organists as being the editor of
Tallis to Wesley
- a comprehensive series of musical publications
exploring early organ music including the complete voluntaries of John
Stanley. Phillips studied with John Ireland at the Royal College of
Music and latterly with Sir Ernest Bullock. For many years he was organist
at ‘Tubby’ Clayton’s church of All-Hallows-by-the-Tower.
I can certainly recall attending his recitals there in the late 1980s.
The present ‘Postlude’ was published in 1957. It is a good,
gutsy piece that can be played as an imposing recessional after High
Mass or Matins.
Sir Walter Alcock’s ‘Introduction and Fughetta’ will
be known to countless generations of organists who studied the instrument
with the help of ‘The Organ’ which was published in 1913.
At the back of this tutor are a number of pieces in varying styles.
Daniel Cook has suggested that in this relatively short piece, the composer
has ‘distilled all of the techniques needed for the performance
of the large romantic literature for the organ into an exquisite miniature
masterpiece’. Certainly, this is an excellent work that transcends
its genesis as a teaching piece. Interestingly Sir Walter has the distinction
of having played the organ at the coronations of three monarchs - Edward
VII (1902), George V (1911) and George VI (1937).
Many years ago, I found a bound album of organ music by Alec Rowley
in a secondhand bookshop. I was surprised at the depth of some of these
pieces. Up until then I had always assumed the Rowley was a ‘didactic’
composer writing piano music for ‘grades’ and ‘amateurs’.
Do not misunderstand me: I love his music and often play through some
of his piano suites. The ‘Second Benedictus’ shows a profound
side to the composer that I scarcely imagined. In spite of the title,
and its inscription, ‘In quiet contemplation shall peace guide
your ways’, this is a truly romantic piece of music that seems
to ‘crossover’ from the chancel to a garden on a late summer’s
evening. It is heartbreakingly beautiful. Rowley’s ‘Soliloquy’
has an equally reflective, questioning nature. It is written in the
ubiquitous arch-form, with a forceful climax. Once again this beautiful
piece is effective in or out of ‘places where they sing’.
York Bowen is now regarded as a composer of fine orchestral and piano
music: unfairly dubbed the ‘English Rachmaninoff’. Only
two of his organ works were published: the Fantasia op.136 as part of
the Novello collection ‘Retrospection’ and the present Melody
in G minor. Interestingly, Donald Cook states in the liner-notes that
Bowen also wrote some concerted works for the instrument: alas these
remain unpublished. The present work is beautifully written: it is both
romantic and reflective. This is no sentimental melody, but an ‘ingeniously
contrived’ exploration of a beautiful theme.
Arthur Milner - do not confuse with Anthony Milner (1925-2002) - was
originally a Manchester lad who spent most of his life in the county
of Northumberland. He held academic posts at Durham University and at
Newcastle Royal Grammar School. He was organist at various churches
including St George’s Newcastle. The notes state that he wrote
much music including a symphony, works for string orchestra, chamber
music and piano. There is also a deal of organ music. Three works are
presented on this disc. The striking ‘Introduction and Fugue’
written for Reginald Alwyn Surplice (1906-1977) organist at Winchester
Cathedral. The ‘Prelude on a theme of Palestrina’ is a commanding,
introverted arch-shaped piece that makes use of a tune from the Italian
composer’s ‘Missa Brevis’. The final Milner contribution
is the tricky Toccata. It was dedicated to Arnold Richardson, organist
at Southwark Cathedral. This is a fine example of the genre, spicily
dissonant with a driving, dominant melody. There is a quiet middle section
that lulls the listener into a false sense of calm. The ‘Toccata’
concludes with a reprise of the complex figurations supported by huge
chords. This work should be a part of all organists’ ‘warhorse’
The most important work and the most surprising was the High-Victorian
Organ Sonata in D minor by Charles Harford Lloyd. The notes do not let
on, but this work was published in 1886. The Sonata is dedicated to
(Father) Henry Willis. This is in three movements, lasts for about 18
minutes and has an interesting formal construction. The opening ‘allegro’
appears to be written in a fairly ‘classical’ sonata form.
This is wide-ranging, full of energy: the slower ‘second subject’
is particularly attractive. There are some typically Victorian melodic
and harmonic clichés, but also some passages pushing towards
something a little more ‘French’ in their sound-world. The
second movement is a very brief, but quite delicious ‘andante’
which has surprisingly ‘remote’ modulations in its middle
section. I would have expected a fugue to conclude; however, Lloyd surprises
us by providing what is effectively a ‘dance’ or as it is
signed in the music ‘quasi minuet’. The reviewer in The
(March 1886) suggests that the composer has not produced
a prohibitively virtuosic piece: he has ‘not piled up difficulties
unnecessarily, and his work is therefore within the means of ordinarily
competent players.’ The listener will be agreeably impressed by
this generally restrained and dignified Sonata. It demands to be in
Daniel Cook has an impressive career. At present he is Organist and
Master of the Choristers at St David’s Cathedral as well as having
an involvement in the Cathedral Festival. He is also director of the
Dyfed Choir, artistic director of the Mousai Singers. He has a busy
programme of recitals, concerts and recordings. Cook has made a number
of CDs for Priory, including having in hand the complete works of Herbert
Brewer, Herbert Sumsion and Stanford. This year Cook was elected an
Associate of the Royal Academy of Music. In September he moves to Westminster
Abbey as Sub-Organist.
The sound quality of this CD is perfect. I felt that I was actually
sitting listening in the nave of St, George’s Church, Cullercoats.
The playing of all these pieces is sympathetic and well-balanced. The
notes are exactly what is needed with a good paragraph or two for each
work. However, a little more information about some of these composers
would have come in handy. What about giving the dates of all
the works? There are photographs of the console and some pipework. Included
are the usual organ specification and a detailed biography of Daniel
The present CD is a truly imaginative exploration of British music.
There is not a single piece on this record that is ‘hackneyed’
or is a ‘pot-boiler’ yet every work is impressive and demands
our attention. It is an opportunity to walk the less-trodden paths of
British organ music.