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Green and Pleasant Land - Volume 3
Kevin Bowyer (organ)
rec. 2018, King’s Lynn Minster, Norfolk, UK PRIORY PRCD1202 [78:28]
Here are 20 more short pieces which appeared in The Organ Loft between 1900 and 1915. The title of the series is slightly misleading, for while it is drawn from William Blake’s famous visionary words speculating on Jesus Christ once setting foot on English soil, this music has nothing to do with either Christianity or England. True, a lot of it was doubtless intended to be played in English Christian churches, but that is not how Kevin Bowyer clearly sees this music. It was – and is – a series of usually delightful, often charming, occasionally memorable (Bowyer describes George Young’s Andante Maestoso as being “a bit of an earworm”) and invariably colourful snapshots of the kind of stuff organists were playing at the dawn of the 20th century. More recent obsessions with organ music by French and German composers have led to this area of the repertory being almost wholly forgotten.
We have a couple of pieces here by French composers. Charles Octave Edouard Mignan was born in Orléans and was organist at La Madeleine in Paris from 1935 until 1962. Whether the birds chirping in the background of this recording of his Pastorale are there by accident or design, they do add a lovely touch of verisimilitude to this lovely little piece. Paul Joseph Hillemacher was born in Paris in 1852 and studied at the Paris Conservatoire (although I am not sure there is evidence that he ever studied with Franck, which is claim made in the booklet notes) where he was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1876 for his dramatic work Judith. The Prélude Archaïque was composed in 1914, by which time Hillemacher had largely given up composing the operas and large-scale dramatic works by which he had become best known in his day. This is a fine, dramatic work, which builds to a stirring climax before resolving back down into the quietude with which it started. It is also an ideal vehicle to display the 2015 Wordsworth organ of King’s Lynn Minster, which can trace its heritage back to an organ built by Johannes Snetzler in 1754 (interestingly the commission had come from the great music historian, Charles Burney, who was then organist at the church), although perhaps that which follows it on the disc, a Toccata in C by the English vicar, Andrew Freeman, takes us across an even greater range.
There is something from a German composer too. Johann Pachelbel had been dead for 200 years when this arrangement of his Chorale Prelude on Gott Vater, der du deine Sonn appeared in the Organ Loft. Perhaps in the spirit of the times, with anti-German sentiment high on the agenda and the Church of England unwilling to accept the legitimacy of other Christian communions, the work was published as simply “Choral Prelude”. In keeping with the spirit of the original publication, Bowyer (who once recorded the complete organ works of Bach as they appeared in the Novello editions during the late 19th century) makes no attempt to present this work in anything other than an early 20th century English style, complete with very English-sounding foundation stops.
The bulk of the programme, however, is made up of forgotten trifles by largely forgotten English organist/composers (although to be pedantic, Charles Littlejohn, who is represented on this disc by a pompous Postlude, was from Broughty Ferry in Scotland); as Bowyer so eloquently puts it, the disc “represents a third wheelbarrowful of unjustly forgotten gems…Let’s stroll amongst these cuttings of yesteryear”. Yesteryear is certainly the spirit evoked by Roland Diggle’s Twilight Reverie, although if John Henderson’s Dictionary of Composers for the Organ is anything to go by, Diggle was one of the more prolific composers of the age who emigrated to the USA in 1904 after which organ pieces seemed to pour from his pen with astonishing fecundity. Bowyer describes Robert Elliott’s Canzonet in B flat as “slightly tipsy”, which seems the perfect description for this curiously circuitous showpiece for the Oboe stop (which, appropriately here, is not always perfectly in tune).
There are some composers featured whose names should be familiar to modern-day English organists. Purcell Mansfield gives us a big, bold and substantial Concert-Allegro which certainly withstands much repeated hearing, while both Alan Gray and Alec Rowley offer music of a more intensely reflective vein. Gray’s Elegy (do you think he was aware of the potential literary confusion?) is a sorrowful piece in which sad flecks of part-melodies emerge from a fog of celeste tone and rumbling pedal notes, its palpable misery, although largely prompted by the death at Gallipoli in June 1915 of the composer William Dennis Brown, is perhaps indicative of the fact that this was the very last piece of organ music published in the Organ Loft in its December 1915 edition. Rowley’s Sursum Corda also dates from 1915 and has a decidedly nostalgic character to it, with its moments of introspection giving way to outbursts of stirring majesty, as if pondering on the imminent collapse of Empire.
One cannot but admire Kevin Bowyer not only for rooting out all these pieces but performing them with such unflagging enthusiasm and total dedication. He gives us a fine tour across this excellent, but largely under-recorded instrument - lovers of true English Tubas will not be disappointed as the King’s Lynn one gets a good work out in Herbert Ellingford’s Recessional March with its basis in that great tune indelibly associated with English empirical ambitions, “Oh God, our help in ages past” – but while the organ is as much on display as the music, Bowyer is always conscious of the need for the organ to serve the music and nothing in his excellent kaleidoscopic registrations seems anything but ideally suited to the music he plays.. Marc Rochester
Harold Arthur Jeboult (1871-1925): Postlude alla Marcia [4:34]
Frederick James Massey (1883-1953): Melodie in E flat [3:28]
Robert Wilkinson (1874-?): Fugue in B flat [2:29]
Paul Joseph Hillemacher (1852 -1933): Prélude Archaïque [4:33]
Revd. Andrew Freeman (1876 -1947): Toccata in C [3:37]
Roland Diggle (1885-1954): Twilight Reverie [3:24]
George Coleman Young (1875 - 1931): Andante Maestoso [2:45]
James Lyon (1872-1949): Festival March [2:35]
Edouard Mignan (1884-1969): Pastorale [2:25]
Harry Cracknel (1876 -1951): Grand Chorus [3:41]
Robert Bernard Elliott (1869 - 1954): Canzonet in B flat [3:17]
Ernest Halsey (1876 -1939): Scherzo in F, Op. 22 No.5 [3:50]
John Arthur Meale (1880-1932): Cantilene, Op. 25 [3:15]
Purcell James Mansfield (1889-1968): Concert-Allegro in G, Op.4 [5:25]
Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706): Choral Prelude [2:25]
Charles Edward Scott Littlejohn (1879-1959): Postlude [3:33]
Eugene W Wyatt (1880-1927) : De Profundis (Prelude) [5:40]
Alan Gray (1855-1935): Elegy [5:35]
Alec Rowley (1892-1958): Sursum Corda, Op.7 [3:06]
Herbert Frederick Ellingford (1876-1966): Recessional March [6:34]