Sir Nicholas JACKSON (b.1934)
Chamber and Organ Music
Overture The Reluctant Highwayman [0:54]
Four Temperaments  [8:24]
Venetian Serenade [16:19]
Six Elizabethan Songs  [11:39]
Sextet for wind quintet and harpsichord: The Reluctant Highwayman [14:12]
Three Hymns  [7:00]
Four Images for Organ [11:50]
Mary Bevan (soprano) 
Florian Mitrea (piano) 
Viv McLean (piano) 
Nicholas Jackson (organ and harpsichord)
Concertante of London (Jane Gordon (violin); Liv Marie Fletcher (violin); Eniko Magyar, (viola); Adi Tal (cello); Jan Zahourek (bass); Graham Jackson (glockenspiel))
Galliard Wind Ensemble (Kathryn Thomas (flute); Rebecca Wood (oboe); Rachel Brown, (clarinet); Matthew Gunner (horn); Helen Simons, (bassoon))
rec. St Paul’s School, Barnes, London, September 2014 and Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris, 1972 (Four Images).  DDD/ADD.

I had had only a nodding acquaintance with Nicholas Jackson as a composer before I received this CD for review, though I was well acquainted with his qualities as an organist and as director of his own Concertante of London (Bach Musical Offering, etc., SOMM077 – review).  I may even have got him confused in my muddled brain with fellow organist Francis Jackson and fellow composer Gabriel Jackson.  At the very least reviewing this recording has helped me sort out who’s who, but it has done a great deal more than that.

Jackson’s 1977 RCA LP recording of the organ works of Richard Arnell is no longer available but the style of his own music is not greatly dissimilar to Arnell’s.  I mention that not because it sounds in any way derivative but for those trying to place him: both write music with a melodic basis and with both feet in the mainstream of British music.  Some would probably class the style of both as dated, but each has a quirkiness of its own which I find very attractive.

The perky overture to The Reluctant Highwayman sets the mood of this recording very well.  It’s an opera about a ‘black sheep’ of Jackson’s family who was hanged in 1751, and it’s also been arranged as a 13-minute suite for trumpets and organ on an attractive collection of Jackson’s music for those two instruments on Naxos which might well be your next stop in exploring his compositions (8.554773 – review).  For one thing the Naxos notes are more informative than the skimpy and hard-to-read set which come with the Nimbus CD. Having listened to that Naxos album as streamed from Qobuz, which is also the least expensive source to purchase it, as a lossless download at £4.79, I’m surprised to see that it appears to be available now in download form only.  More recently Naxos have recorded some of Jackson’s choral music (8.570959 – review and review).

The Four Temperaments, described as a concertino for piano and small orchestra, is based on Hippocrates’ theory, as developed by Galen, of the temperaments which govern human health, based on different combinations of the elements of earth, air, fire and water, a theory which held sway until well into the renaissance.  As the title implies, several moods are evoked – sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic and choleric – in this short and attractive work.

The Venetian Serenade for wind quintet and harpsichord is the longest work on this recording.  The movements are descriptive of Carnival, Venice at Night, Discovering Venice, a Song heard in a Gondola, and two composers who famously had a keyboard competition in Venice in 1708, Handel and Domenico Scarlatti: spot the echoes of their music.  Handel won the organ contest, Scarlatti the harpsichord.

We began with the overture from The Reluctant Highwayman and two other sections of this recording are also derived from that work: the Six Elizabethan Songs, to words by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and a jaunty Sextet for wind quintet and harpsichord, keyed to various sections of the opera.  The Elizabethan Songs are winningly sung by Mary Bevan.  Like the rest of the programme, this is the only available recording.  If I were to be pedantic, Robert Herrick’s Fair Daffodils (track 14) is not Elizabethan but Jacobean.

The Three Hymns are the Song of the Draper’s Company, set to the music of the Agincourt Carol, and the English Hymnal translations of the two hymns associated with Benediction, Tantum ergo and O salutaris hostia, all beautifully sung by Mary Bevan.

With Nicholas Jackson himself involved in the making of this recording we can assume authoritative performances all round.  More to the point, all concerned have done their part to make it enjoyable.

I’ve placed Jackson’s music firmly in the British tradition but his Organ Mass on Naxos shows receptiveness to the style of Duruflé and Langlais, as do the Four Images which round off the Nimbus CD, recorded in 1972 on the organ of Notre Dame, Paris, with his wife-to-be turning the pages.  This is the oldest recording on the album and I presume that it’s ADD – Nimbus don’t specify – but it captures the sound of this great organ, from quiet beginning to surging climax, very well.  If I were to choose a Desert Island work from this CD it would be these powerful organ pieces.

The notes are just about my only reservation about this attractive and varied recording: they are printed in a small, light font, partly in red, on a coloured background and exceedingly hard to read.  We don’t even get a total playing time for the CD.  On a positive note, however, it’s helpful to have the composer’s notes, especially his links between the various movements of the Sextet and the opera.  If I were including this review in my Download News I would award it the Discovery of the Month accolade, for that’s what it is.

Brian Wilson

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