Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Bursts of Acclamation : Organ Music and Transcriptions
David Briggs (organ)
rec. October 2014, Sacred Heart Church, Wimbledon, London
Full track-listing below ALBION ALBCD021-22 [60:06 + 63:00]
Though one may not associate Vaughan Williams with the organ, he took lessons from none other than Walter Parratt at the Royal College of Music as well as Alan Gray at Cambridge – the latter wrote to Parratt about VW that he felt ‘some dread as to what he may do’ during simple services. The bugbear here was unpredictability, not technical failure. Nevertheless VW became an organist at St Barnabas in Streatham, London in 1895 and was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists by examination three years later. One of the examiners was W Stevenson Hoyte, who taught another budding church organist, a certain Leopold Stokowski – as well as composer George Dyson.
There is a small body of original compositions and a larger sequence of transcriptions made by others in this 2-CD set. All will have some interest, in some way, for the composer’s admirers. Perhaps of most interest are the original works, but I’ll briefly point out the transcriptions of the slow movements of A Sea Symphony and A London Symphony which were made by Henry Ley (1887-1962) a close friend of VW and George Butterworth and a real organ virtuoso - in one of those serio-comic phrases the ‘Paderewski of the organ’. VW asked Ley to make a transcription of the Tallis Fantasia in 1953 but Ley turned down the assignment and Peter Beardsley did the honours much more recently. Given the other Ley transcriptions in this set and the existence of his own original piece, the Fantasia on Aberystwyth, I don’t think it’s exaggerating too much to suggest that the VW-Ley axis is the one that drives this box, and it’s worth reflecting on the work of this close friend, and his acutely perceptive transcriptions, as one listens. He was, after all, professor of organ at the RCM from 1919 and few, if any, were better placed than he to transcribe these works and the others too, notably the Alla Sarabanda from the Phantasy Quintet for Strings and the memorable and rousing Antiphon – Let all the World, cannily programmed to conclude the set.
Both the symphonic transcriptions work well. The slow movement of the London is predictably evocative, and whilst A Sea Symphony might seem freighted with problems it survives the loss of Whitman rather impressively. The Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes (1920-21) and the Prelude and Fugue in C minor are at the heart of the collection. Rhosymedre the beautiful central movement of the three hymns was played at VW’s funeral whilst Hyfrydol proves a splendid close. The Prelude and Fugue is by common consent his greatest single organ piece, written in 1921 but revised successively in 1923 and 1930, and dedicated to Ley – though the première was of the orchestrated version. David Briggs’s transcription of the overture to The Wasps captures its robustness as well as its drollery whilst Herbert Sumsion’s perhaps unexpected choice of the transcription of two movements from the Suite for viola and orchestra actually succeeds rather splendidly – such deft registrations here as well. There are smaller pieces including Stanley Roper’s work on the Fantasia on Greensleeves for instance and some occasional pieces by VW himself, mostly of lesser import – the wedding pieces from 1943 and 1947 are not really at all characteristic.
Naturally all the pieces from OUP’s A Vaughan Williams Organ Album can be found here. Amidst these works, as noted earlier, don’t neglect Ley’s solitary original composition. If, as the notes suggest, this is the first recording of a Ley organ piece I very much hope it won’t be the last.
Playing on the 1912 Walker organ of the Sacred Heart Church, Wimbledon, David Briggs plays with great refinement, reserving full power for the most apposite moments, such as the Antiphon, but always phrasing with care and sensitivity. Albion also provides one of their sumptuous booklets, packed with information and with full organ specifications. This is an excellently produced set, opening up under-explored vistas, and with it Albion Records adds handsomely to its already important Vaughan Williams portfolio.
Full track-listing CD 1
Prelude 'The New Commonwealth' (1943) [2:29]
Overture: The Wasps (1909, orch suite 1912) (transcribed David Briggs) [10:03]
Two Organ Preludes founded on Welsh Folk Songs (pub. 1956): Toccata 'St. David's Day' [2:09]; Romanza 'The White Rock' [2:26]
Two Movements from the Suite for Viola and Small Orchestra (1934) (transcribed Herbert Sumsion): Carol [3:06]; Musette [4:34]
A Wedding Tune for Ann (1943) (edited Christopher Morris) [2:23]
Wedding Canon for Nancy (1947) [2:13]
Largo Sostenuto from A Sea Symphony (1909) (transcribed Henry Ley, 1922) [11:46]
Prelude and Fugue in C minor (1921 rev 1923 and 1930) [9:59] Henry LEY (1887-1962)
Fantasia on Aberystwyth (1928) [8:56]
Three Preludes founded on Welsh Hymns (1920-21): Bryn Calfaria [3:33]; Rhosymedre [4:24]; Hyfrydol [2:30]
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) (transcribed Peter Beardsley) [16:34]
Dirge for Fidele (1895) (transcribed Alec Rowley) [4:34]
Passacaglia on BGC (1933) [5:52]
Fantasia on Greensleeves (1928) (transcribed Stanley Roper) [3:16]
Land of our Birth (Song of Thanksgiving) (1944) (transcribed Stainton de B Taylor) [4:11]
Alla Sarabanda (Phantasy Quintet for Strings) (1912) (transcribed Henry Ley) [3:21]
Slow Movement from A London Symphony (1914) (transcribed Henry Ley) [11:42]
Antiphon – Let all the World (1911) (transcribed Henry Ley) [3:02]