PHI CD 160: Selections from EMI Great Cathedral Organ Series Volume One Recorded 1964-1970
Noel Rawsthorne Liverpool Anglican Cathedral: Percy Whitlock: Fanfare (No. 4 of Four Extemporizations).
Arthur Wills Ely Cathedral: Eugène Gigout: (Toccata (No. 4 of 10 Pièces).
Herbert Sumsion Gloucester Cathedral: Hubert Parry: Chorale Fantasia on O God our help .
Samuel Sebastian Wesley: Choral Song & Fugue. Herbert Howells: Rhapsody Op.17 No.1.
Christopher Dearnley Salisbury Cathedral: Camille Saint Saëns: Fantaisie in D flat.
Heathcote Statham Norwich Cathedral: Sigfrid Karg - Elert: Pastel No. 3 in F sharp, Op. 92 Heathcote Statham: Lament.
Roger Fisher Chester Cathedral: Julius Reubke: The 94th Psalm Sonata.
The EMI Great Cathedral Organ Series remembered by its producer
Brian B. Culverhouse
I have always had a special prediliction for 'The Organ'. My Father was an organist and choirmaster first of all in Bristol and then in a town on the beautiful peninsula, the Gower, South Wales. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing stops and turning pages for him at the console.
I received my principal education at Ellesmere College, Shropshire, which had a fine musical tradition and where I became head chorister and vocal prizewinner.
After doing national service in the Grenadier Guards, I then in December 1948, applied and was successful in joining the International Artists Department of the then Gramophone Company (His Master's Voice), later to become EMI. Here I was able, amongst my duties, to listen to many of the great artists who were recording at the Abbey Road Studios and to study the way in which producers and engineers carried out their various functions.
After two years, I was entrusted with producing recordings and one of my first assignments was to produce a series of the complete organ works of J.S. Bach with Fernando Germani at the Willis organ at All Souls, Langham Place, London. Henry Willis IV was also present at some of the sessions. I tried wherever possible, to produce recordings which did not only involved the organ but organ and orchestra such as Elgar's Enigma Variations and the Saint Saëns Symphony No. 3.
I wished to persuade the company to let me embark on a series devoted to Cathedral Organs in this country, so I made a test recording, choosing Noel Rawsthorne at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral which had the magnificent Willis organ, the largest Cathedral organ in the world. It proved to be a considerable technical challenge as the amount of pipework is vast and located very high up, so we had to suspend the microphones in order to focus on the various divisions of the instrument, also further down the Nave to capture the complete sound in the building. It turned out to be very successful and impressed all who heard it in the company and so I was able to commence The Great Cathedral Organ Series. Incidentally, the working title for this LP was The King of Instruments and that was how it was released in the USA. The international sales of this first recording exceeded 20,000 copies in the first twelve months which amazed everybody.
To follow on, I engaged organists of the famous Cathedrals and Abbeys of this country and tried to ensure that the programmes chosen had a particular association with the venue, instrument and sometimes the performer. In the case of the latter, I make special mention of Herbert Sumsion at Gloucester recording the Elgar Sonata, he was a personal friend of the composer and had played it to him on several occasions, receiving comments from Elgar as to its interpretation.
Each recording in the series presented its own technical problems with ranks of pipes in different locations and very often at great height which meant suspending microphones across large areas as in the case of St. Paul's and its Dome. As with all these buildings, one cannot record in the daytime, so after each evening session, of which there were usually three, the microphones had to be withdrawn as they were potentially a risk to the public during the opening hours, in any case the Dean and Chapter insisted on this. Regarding St. Paul's I went to see the legendary Dr. John Dykes Bower, then advanced in years, to discuss his participation in the series but he declined, saying at this stage he did not think that his playing was up to the standard required! Hence Christopher Dearnley appeared twice, first at Salisbury and then at St. Paul's, London.
Of course I had to include Francis Jackson at York Minster,* a famous recitalist, composer and broadcaster in his own right, also a fine instrument rebuilt by J.W. Walker & Sons with some fascinating stops. To demonstrate this we included Cocker's Tuba Tune which produced a sound unique in the whole series. When Francis started to play it during the balance period, we had to retreat towards the west door with the microphones, the needles on the mixer were flying in all directions!
Other memories are of Conrad Eden at Durham having to record with hot water bottles strapped to his midrift and wearing mittens, so cold was the building. "It never reaches above 50 F. in here" he said. Of the ancient Heathcote Statham at Norwich with his doctor at the console giving him medication from time to time. We had to return some weeks later to complete the programme, etc.
Some of the critics found the programmes in the series not serious enough, so I asked Christopher Dearnley to include Nielsen's Commotio which he had performed on several occasions, the resultant sales were disappointing as happened on other occasions when I included this type of repertoire. This was not meant to be a 'serious' organ series but one to be enjoyed, demonstrating the prowess of the performer and the instrument, the sales and public acclaim generally bore this out. We did not quite achieve LP No. 20, which would have been from Peterborough Cathedral, but I think produced something unique in recorded history and not likely to be repeated. For me it was a fascinating project.
© Brian B. Culverhouse, Northwood, Middlesex, April 1999
The Performers by Malcolm Riley
The recordings on this volume feature organists of two distinct generations, Statham and Sumsion being late Victorians trained in the 'teens of this century, whilst Wills, Rawsthorne, Dearnley and Fisher were all born within a ten year period between 1926-1936.
NOEL RAWSTHORNE was born in 1929. From 1949 he was assistant to Harry Goss Custard at Liverpool Cathedral, succeeding him as Organist in 1955 and retired from this post in October 1980. Rawsthorne studied first with Harold Dawber, Caleb Jarvis and later with Marcel Dupré and Fernando Germani, having begun his cathedral career as a Chorister. His career as a recitalist has taken him to the USA, Germany, Italy and the former USSR. In recent years he has become a prolific composer of organ music.
ARTHUR WILLS OBE (born in Coventry in 1926) was Director of Music at Ely Cathedral from 1958 to 1990 (having been previously the assistant there from 1949). He also held a professorship at the Royal Academy of Music in London from 1964-1992. A prolific composer in many genres, his output includes an Organ Concerto, a Concerto for Guitar and Organ, an opera 1984 based on George Orwell's novel, and a Symphonic Suite The Fenlands for brass band and organ. He has also produced an outstanding transcription for organ of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
HERBERT WHITTON SUMSION CBE (known as John) was born in Gloucester in 1899. From 1908-14 he was a Chorister at Gloucester Cathedral under Sir Herbert Brewer with whom he became an articled pupil from 1914-1917. He held a commission in the Queen's Westminster Rifles from 1917-1919 before returning to his home city as Brewer's assistant. Later on, he studied piano and composition at the Royal College of Music. From 1922-1926 Sumsion was Organist of Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, London and from 1924-1926 Director of Music at Bishop's Stortford College. In 1926 Sumsion accompanied R.O. Morris to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia where he spent two years teaching harmony and counterpoint before returning to Gloucester in 1928 to succeed Brewer as Organist of the Cathedral. As one of the leading figures in the Three Choirs Festivals he worked with Sir Edward Elgar and enjoyed close friendships with Gerald Finzi and Herbert Howells. The latter dedicated his Six Pieces for organ to Sumsion in 1940 and the former his In Terra Pax in 1954. Among Sumsion's own distinctive compositions are the Introduction and Theme for organ, a Fantasy for Strings, a Cello Sonata and a late Piano Trio. He retired as organist of Gloucester Cathedral in 1967 and died aged ninety-six in 1995.
CHRISTOPHER DEARNLEY was born at Wolverhampton in 1930. He had the distinction of being the only British cathedral organist to appear twice in EMI's Great Cathedral Organ Series, first at Salisbury in 1966, towards the end of a fourteen year association with the Cathedral, which began with his appointment as Assistant Organist in 1954, and then from 1957-1968 as Organist. From 1968-1990 he was Organist of St Paul's Cathedral, London, where he played for the wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. In 1990 Dr Dearnley and his wife Bridget moved to Australia, since when he has held various organist appointments in Sydney, Hobart, Melbourne and Perth.
HEATHCOTE DICKEN STATHAM CBE (1889-1973) was organist of Norwich Cathedral from 1928 to 1966. His life's work was devoted to music in Norwich and for many years he was leader of the city's music-making. He was educated at Gresham's School, Holt and at Caius College, Cambridge. Dr Statham later became a student at the Royal College of Music in London. Before his move to Norwich he held organist positions at Calcutta Cathedral and St Mary's Church, Southampton. As a composer Statham is best-known for the Rhapsody on a Ground for organ which dates from 1944. He conducted the Norwich Philharmonic in 130 concerts from 1928-1961 and appeared at the Norwich Triennial Festival from 1936-1961. During World War Two he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra. This recording from Norwich was one of his final duties as organist and was released shortly after he retired, where upon he was made Organist Emeritus of Norwich Cathedral.
ROGER FISHER was born at Woodford, Essex in 1936 and educated at Bancroft's School. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London with Harold Darke and Herbert Howells, later becoming organ scholar at Christ Church, Oxford where he studied with Sydney Watson and H K Andrews. He moved to Hereford Cathedral as Assistant Organist in 1962 and then on to Chester Cathedral in 1967 as Organist. After twenty-nine intensive years at Chester, Roger Fisher took early retirement in September 1996 and moved to North Wales. He now concentrates on making recordings, giving organ recitals and is a teacher of piano and organ. He is also active as an organ consultant and is Features Editor of the British quarterly journal Organists' Review.
© Malcolm Riley, Staplehurst, Kent, 1999
© Malcolm Riley, Staplehurst, Kent, 1999