Thursday 29 May 2014

500 years of organ music for Royal occasions

500 years of organ music for Royal occasions
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation in 1953, The Lord Mayor and City of London commissioned a new organ. Ultimately it was to sit in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey, but initially it was placed in the Egyptian Hall of the Mansion House where it was used for charity recitals. Whilst at the Mansion House, the organ was recorded for this new disc played by Catherine Ennis, Director of Music at St. Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall. This recital of music with Royal connections has been issued in support of the City Music Foundation. Ennis's varied programme includes music by JC Bach, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Louis-Claude Daquin, William Walton, WA Mozart, JA Lefebure-Wely, John Stanley, Alfred Hollins and Handel.

The new organ is a two manual English style organ. based on 18th century models. As such, Ennis's recital is heavily based on the music that might have been played on such an organ.

She opens with JC Bach's Concerto VI from a set dedicated to Queen Charlotte. The concerto opens with a bright and perky Allegro, with Ennis providing some lovely crisp articulation. A triple time Andante follows, but it has a slightly unevenly paced theme quite gives the movement its charm. Finally, as might be expected in a set dedicate to a British Queen, a set of variations on God Save the King.

Next comes William Byrd's The Queenes Alman from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, quietly elegant and rather seductive set of variations. Orlando Gibbons The Queen's Command was written for a compilation book presented to James I's daughter Elizabeth when she married the Elector Palatine Frederick V in 1623. It is a delightful dance, which Gibbons makes progressively more elaborate as it progresses. Originally a harpsichord piece, Louis-Claude Daquin's Le Coucou was written for a French King, Louis XV. A charming work, played with lovely fluent fingerwork by Ennis.

Sir William Walton's music for the film version of Shakespeare's Richard III, with Lawrence Olivier in the title role, referred back to earlier English music. As such the suite of three pieces works well on the two manual organ with a brilliant March given with vibrant registrations, a gentle and elegantly evocative Elegy and a perky, dance-like Scherzetto. More surprising is Walton's Spitfire Prelude from the film The First of the Few, but it works well in this guise.

Mozart's Variations on Ah vous dirai-je Maman have a more tenuous Royal connection (to do with Mozart first hearing the tune in Versailles). But they are attractive variations given a delicate clock-like registration by Ennis. She also uses one of the organ's novelty stops, the Nightingale stop which involves the pipes playing in water but which makes a delightful sound. Though Ennis cannot disguise the fact that at nearly nine minutes long, the piece outstays its welcome The 19th century French composer and organist LJA Lefebure Wely is best known for his lighter organ pieces written for the Madeleine. His fantasy on themes from Mozart's The Magic Flute is a salon piece, very much a pot-pourri with a selection of well known themes forom the opera, ending with Papageno's aria complete with the Nightingale stop again.

John Stanley composed a number of New Year and Birthday Odes for King George III (though none survive). Ennis playes one of Stanley's multi-movement voluntaries. A sober, contrapuntal Adagio leads to a perky Andante complete with a lovely trumpet stop. The slow movement is very characterful with a sinuous melody, whilst the final Allegro is quiet but lively.

Alfred Hollins started out as a concert pianist, performing for Queen Victoria when he was in his early teens. His Trumpet Tune is a vibrant period-style piece. Finally we reach Handel, with his Fireworks Suite based on the music Handel wrote for the fireworks in Hyde Park to celebrate the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1649. Ennis makes the Ouverture bit and bold, with a bright zingy sound and crisp rhythms. La Rejouissance is full of infectious bounce, and Bourree is gently stylish. She gives a nice lilting, relaxed feel to La Paix whilst the Menuet-Finale is big, brilliant and grand.

This is a lovely disc with some superb playing from Ennis showing of a very fine new organ. My only complaint is that we never seem to get to hear the other novelty stop, the thunder pedal!

The CD is available for £10 direct from the City Music Foundation.

Johann Christoph Bach (1735 - 1782) - Concerto VI
William Byrd (c1540 - 1623) - The Queens Alman
Orlando Gibbons (1583 - 1625) - The Queen's Command
Louis Claude Daquin (1694 - 1772) - Le Coucou
William Walton (1902 - 1983) - Three pieces from Richard III
William Walton (1902 - 1983) - Spitfire Prelude
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) - Variations
LJA Lefebure-Wely (1817 - 1869) - Fantasy
John Stanley (1712 - 1786) - Voluntary No. 1 in C
Alfred Hollins (1865 - 1942) - Trumpet Tune
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) - Fireworks suite
Catherine Ennis (organ)
Recorded in The Egyptian Hall of the Mansion House, April 27, 28 2013
CMFR20131 1CD [68.40]

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