PHI CD 219: Organ Music from the Parish Church of St Laurence, Ludlow Roger Fisher - organ

[1] Richard Francis (born: 1946):
[2]-[3] William Walond (1725-1770):
Voluntary no 1 in E major
(from 10 Voluntaries for Organ or Harpsichord - 1758)
[4]-[15] Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750):
Chorale Partita "Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig" (BWV 768)
[16]-[17] J.S. Bach:
Prelude and Fugue in D major (BWV 532)
[18] Herbert Howells (1892-1983):
Psalm-Prelude no 1 (opus 32, no 1)
[19] Max Reger (1873-1916):
Benedictus (opus 59 no. 9)
[20] Percy Whitlock (1903-1946):
Divertimento (from Four Extemporisations of 1932)
[21] Richard Francis:
Solemn Prelude on the hymn tune "Hereford" (2002)
[22]-[24] Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901):
Sonata no 14 in C major (opus 165) Präludium, Idylle, Toccata

Released 15/04/07
Recorded & produced by Martin Monkman, Amphion Recordings
Console assistant: Gillian Fisher
Recorded 21 & 22 January 2007

Roger Fisher and Amphion Recordings express their thanks to Richard Francis, whose sponsorship and support have made this CD possible. Thanks also to the staff at the Parish Church of St Laurence, Ludlow for their help and cooperation during the recording of this CD. Donald Beattie has kindly provided the photographs of the organ.

By Richard Francis

It is quite possible that a large church like St Laurence's Ludlow would have been using an organ by about 1400. The earliest churchwardens account dates from 1472/3. It appears that whatever kind of organ there was in the church up to 1644, it certainly did not survive the Commonwealth and there was a period of twenty five years without an organ. In 1671/2 a new organ was erected, but absolutely no evidence remains to this day as to who built it. By 1761, there were moves afoot again to replace the organ. Records show that the Corporation of Ludlow received a handsome gift of the sum of £1000 from Henry Arthur, Earl of Powis, to erect a new organ, and the work was placed in the hands of John Snetzler. The work was completed by 1764. The organ was placed on a stone or wood gallery in front of the rood screen. It consisted of 3 manuals ­ Choir, Great and Swell (to fiddle G).

As part of a major restoration of the Church in 1860, it was decided to move the organ from its position near the rood screen and to rebuild it on a platform of brick pillars in the north transept where it stands today. A process of continual enlargement took place during the remainder of the 19th century under the auspices of Messrs Gray & Davison. Few of Gray & Davison instruments survive (Chippenham Parish Church, Usk Parish Church) and Ludlow is very fortunate to possess much fine pipework by this famous English firm of builders. The first rebuild in 1860 saw the instrument enlarged to four manuals and pedals, including the famous Tuba stop mounted "en chamade". Another rebuild in 1883 saw further stops added. In 1891 an attempt was made to increase the blowing power and to introduce pneumatic action to the Solo organ (now increased to seven stops). William Hill & Son provided a completely new pneumatic action to all departments as well as a new detached console (the outer shell and stop knobs remain today). This pneumatic action lasted some eighty years, but, by 1981 it was clear that a complete overhaul was necessary. It was decided to restore three of the four manuals and pedals, and the restoration work went to the firm of Nicholson & Co (Worcester) Ltd under the guidance of Managing Director Dennis Thurlow and Dr Roy Massey of Hereford Cathedral. Thanks to a generous gift from Ran Ogston, who was honorary assistant organist at Ludlow for over twenty years, the Solo organ was finally restored in 1985, and as a result of a further gift, the Pedal organ was enlarged in 1987.
As a result of a Heritage Lottery grant of £50,000, the organ was thoroughly cleaned and overhauled in 2006 by Nicholsons together with the provision of a new 5 rank Cornet (designed by Guy Russell), new General pistons and a Sequencer.


The organ of Ludlow Parish Church has just been splendidly restored by Nicholson and this disc, recorded in loving memory of Ran Ogston, is intended to display its very considerable resources and to celebrate the fine musicianship of Richard Francis, who retires from his post of organist and choirmaster of the church at Easter 2007, after 30 years distinguished service. The programme is designed to demonstrate this instrument both in classical and romantic music and, not least, to display the splendid new Cornet, which has been added to the Great and which is featured in William Walond's Voluntary in E major and variation 10 of J.S.Bach's Sei gegrüsset partita.
[1] Richard Francis (born: 1946): Jubilation
The programme opens with a celebratory piece, which Richard wrote for his wedding in 2004 to Barbara Kalman. After Tuba fanfares, dignified processional material frames a central dance in compound time, which is full of intriguing syncopations. The piece ends on a note of triumph, with another airing for the Tuba.
[2]-[3] William Walond (1725-1770): Voluntary no 1 in E major
(from 10 Voluntaries for Organ or Harpsichord - 1758)

Walond is known for the 16 Voluntaries which he composed in 1752 and 1758. He was an Oxford musician, but little seems to be known about the posts he held, although he may have been Assistant Organist of New College. A Grave for the Diapasons is followed by an Allegro in which right hand passages for the Cornet are alternated with passages for a solo Flute. Sometimes in the 18th century these Flute passages were intended for a wide scale 4ft stop, but, as no pitches are marked in the score, there is no evidence as to what is required here. The Harmonic Flute 8 on the solo seems entirely appropriate on this organ.
[4]-[15] Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Chorale Partita
"Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig" (BWV 768)

Where the organ is concerned, movements based on the chorale form the largest part of Bach's output. There are numerous short examples in the Orgelbüchlein, the Clavierübung, part III, the Schübler Chorales and the Neumeister Chorales, as well as individual examples which form no part of any particular collection. More extended chorale settings appear in the 18 Great Chorales and The Clavierübung, part III. In addition Bach wrote a number of Chorale Partitas, which are, in fact, extended sets of variations. The Sei gegrüsset ("Welcome to Thee, Sweet Jesu") set is one of the best known and very rewarding musically. At the outset it was a relatively unpretentious set of six variations for manuals only, to which Bach added a further five, which are not only more substantial, but also make a feature of the pedal part.
Variation 1 has an elaborate and melismatic RH part, over an ostinato-type LH.
Variation 2 is a contrapuntal movement with the chorale theme in the treble.
Variation 3 is a duo, which only hints at the outline of the chorale, it's a kind of scherzo, while
Variation 4 is more meditative and has the chorale in the treble over scale passages in the under-parts.
Variation 5 has the chorale in a largely chordal form, over a vigorous ostinato-type LH part, while
Variation 6 has an elaborated version of the chorale in the treble, over an imitative and contrapuntal dance in the lower voices.
Variation 7 breaks new ground, and has a melismatic duet in the upper parts, over the chorale, solemnly stated on the pedals.
Variation 8 is a 12/8 dance, strangely marked as being in 24/16. It doesn't appear in all manuscripts and Spitta suggested that it was composed separately, after all the other variations.
Variation 9, is a trio, in which the LH is really the bass, engaged in an elaborate imitative discussion with the RH, while the pedal part states the chorale in the middle of the compass, while
Variation 10 is a 5 part elaborate contrapuntal meditation in which the pedals supply an ostinato rhythm and the LH parts engage in much imitative interplay. The RH part is interesting in that it has an elaborated form of each line of the chorale before each statement of the same line in long notes. In this performance, the elaborated lines are played on the Swell Cornopean and the long notes on the Cornet.
The final variation has the chorale triumphantly stated in the treble, over elaborate contrapuntal and often dissonant writing in the lower part.
The entire Partita may be liturgical in origin, but suggests that Bach may have had concert or recital use in mind. The writing demonstrates, not only his contrapuntal skill, but also his vivid imagination and emotional resource.
[16]-[17] J.S.Bach: Prelude and Fugue in D major (BWV 532)
In his youth, Bach undoubtedly liked to demonstrate his considerable skill as a player and many of his early works gave the opportunity to do just that, albeit sometimes in music of no great maturity. Scholars will no doubt have historical evidence as to the dating of these two movements, but one instinctively feels that the Fugue may perhaps have preceded the Prelude, which has a fanfare-like opening which is reminiscent of the Prelude in D major in the second book of the 48 Preludes & Fugues. This prelude has a tri-partite structure in which opening fanfares soon give way to a dissonant tremolando section, with its vivid reminders of some of Buxtehude's writing and the opening section of this prelude concludes with a gloriously exuberant upward scale, triumphantly affirming the home key. The Alla breve middle section of this movement is full of implied echo effects and rising sequences which lead to sudden interruption of what promises to be a perfect cadence. Instead Bach, again perhaps imitating Buxtehude, gives us a highly dramatic final section, featuring dissonant writing over a double pedal - a master stroke, which can only help to enhance the simple brilliance of the fugue.
The fugue is an early example of Bach's desire to set himself compositional problems and his skill in solving them. In this instance, the subject is a simple three-finger exercise, followed by sequential writing based on simple implied harmonies. The joke is on the listener here, as one's expectation is that the piece will be something conventional, or even quite boring. Bach's inventiveness takes him to the related key of B minor, and eventually to a wild exultation in the dominant key of A major, but not before he has set himself the technical challenge of playing the subject on the pedals in the more remote F sharp minor! Bach's original attempt at working out his subject was quite short and it was only later that he felt that he could intrigue the listener still further in a more extended piece of writing. 18th century listeners might have been surprised by the speed and dexterity required of the player in the earlier parts of this extravaganza, but they must have been astounded to hear Bach's final cadenza, in which the opening motif is extended at high speed over a span of two octaves from bottom to the top of the pedal board.
[18] Herbert Howells (1892-1983): Psalm-Prelude no 1 (opus 32, no 1)
Howell's compositions ranged widely and were not by any means all liturgical, but his music often evokes the liturgical ecstasy which is so characteristic of Anglican Cathedral worship, even though it is said that he himself was an atheist. This latter point may well be true, but, in my lessons with him, I never heard him express any lack of Christian faith, although he frequently expressed profound and lasting grief over the loss of his son at a very young age. What was very evident was his love of great Christian buildings and their associated liturgical poetry; not least The Psalms of David.
His first Psalm-Prelude is not based on any ecclesiastical melody, but is an evocation of the emotions expressed in verse 6 of Psalm 34: Lo, the poor crieth and the Lord heareth him: yea, and delivereth him out of all his troubles. At the start the music is lugubrious and grief-laden, but the marking affannoso soon implies a state of increasing anxiety, as the pulse gradually and, almost relentlessly accelerates. In the middle section, the words doppio movimento imply, not only a quicker pace, but also an intensity which verges on panic, and the almost manic rapid left hand scales at the climax can only presage a gradual lessening of tension as an increasing sense of peace steals over the psalmist and the listener as the music concludes in a mood of the utmost tranquillity.
[19] Max Reger (1873-1916): Benedictus (opus 59 no. 9)
Reger's music is highly romantic in style and he often demonstrated a virtuosic contrapuntal skill as he composed organ music of increasing complexity in a vain attempt to compose a work which would be too difficult for his friend Karl Straube to play! Of course, not all his compositions were long, complex, or elaborate and many of his shorter choral preludes and freely composed pieces may well have been intended for use in church and not least the Marktkirche in Wiesbaden where he was organist. Reger's Benedictus follows a frequently explored form, as, like many of Howells' works of a later period, it begins quietly and rises to a huge climax and then subsides to a mood utter tranquility. What sets a problem for the performer is the difference between Reger's tempo indications and metronome marks and those of Karl Straube in his 1949 edition.
There is no doubt that Reger's markings giving minim = 96 and minim =130 are misprints, as they are not only ridiculously fast, but also virtually unplayable - the composer must have meant crotchet = 96 and crotchet =130, which, taken in the context of his other markings, fit perfectly. At the opening Reger (in the 1901 Peters, edition) ask for Adagio (crotchet = 64). In the 1949 Hinrichsen edition, Straube similarly asks for Adagio, but then gives quaver = 72 (i.e. almost half speed)! Similarly, where Reger asks for molto stringendo, Straube asks for espressivo and later where Reger asks for molto stringendo, Straube asks for poco stringendo. The performer's dilemma is the choice between the composer's repeated requests for a mood of the utmost urgency and passion and Straube's requests for extreme reflection and tranquility. Perhaps one should bear in mind that Reger was still quite young when this piece was written and Straube was an old man by the time his 1949 edition was issued. My own feeling is that composers tend to be grateful for the efforts of performers to promote their music and tend not to criticise, so Reger may well have gone along with Straube's tendency to play this piece more slowly than he originally intended. Having heard and given performances which might be described as formless and lethargic, my own feeling is that Reger's more passionate and intense original is much more convincing - in the end it is for the listener to decide which is best.
[20] Percy Whitlock (1903-1946): Divertimento (from Four Extemporisations of 1932)
Whitlock's musical career started in Rochester Cathedral, where he was a boy chorister and went on to become Assistant Organist there. Without doubt he eventually became a virtuoso organist ("quite the neatest player, I've heard" someone said) and a most imaginative improviser. His organ compositions range from an extensive Organ Symphony in G minor and a large scale solo Sonata in C minor, to a substantial group of exquisite miniatures which organists rightly treasure. A powerful influence on Whitlock's compositions was not only the need for appropriate liturgical music, but also the more light hearted demands of his post of Municipal Organist in his adopted home of Bournemouth and the inspiration gained from John Compton's resourceful instrument in Bournemouth Pavilion. Strongly influenced by his contempories, Delius, Rachmaninov and even Quilter, Whitlock finishes up by being very much his own man. His extremely brilliant but delicate Divertimento is like the lightest champagne imaginable. This is a miniature of the highest quality.
[21] Richard Francis: Solemn Prelude on the hymn tune "Hereford" (2002)
Richard's deeply meditative piece based on Samuel Sebastian Wesley's familiar tune is a tribute to Rannald Ogston (1920-2003), a mentor and great friend over a period of many years. Ran was devoted to the maintenance of the organ in Ludlow Parish Church and its present splendour and fine condition is a tribute to his immense generosity. This evocative music never reproduces the tune in full and indeed only once presents a single line complete (almost concealed in the left hand), but what it does do is to hint at the tune, approaching it from many angles and conveying its essence in the way that a direct quote could never do. It's a pleasure to record that Ran lived just long enough to hear it and to play it himself. The existence of this tribute is some compensation for the fact that this greatly loved and admired man is no longer with us, though he remains vividly in the memory of all who knew him.
[22]-[24] Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901): Sonata no 14 in C major (opus 165)
Präludium, Idylle, Toccata

Rheinberger was a youthful genius, he was a professional organist from the age of seven onwards, who developed into a composer of imagination and resource. He is now known chiefly for his organ works, although there are many choral works of great value (not least his Christmas cantata The Star of Bethlehem, and a number of fine Mass settings). There is much chamber music, of course, a fine piano concerto and some fine music for organ and other instruments, of which the Six pieces for Violin and Organ (opus 149) are best known.
A skilled contrapuntist, Rheinberger was a contemporary of Brahms, Dvorak and Smetana, and traces of their influence can be found quite frequently in his music. The music itself can set performance problems as the composer's exhortations to play legato were undoubtedly inspired by the fact that many players of his age were surely trained by those who themselves studied the organ in the baroque era, when legato line would not have been considered important. These days, however, exhortations to play legatissimo can prove to be counter-productive. Also the organs of his day had but few controls, giving the player limited colour and fairly crude changes in dynamics. There is no need to indulge in an excess of orchestral tonalities, but the music seems to respond best when seen as part of the 19th century orchestral symphonic tradition. These sonatas have a structural validity which, at its best, resembles that of Brahms - the two composers must surely have known one another well.
The opening movement of this sonata begins and ends with material of immense grandeur and this frames a section which is fugal in essence, although it contains passages which are lyrical and melodically attractive. Highly contrapuntal, but never dense, the composer gives us finely structured movement with a splendid climax at the end.
The second movement, by contrast begins and ends with music which is lyrical and, in places, almost playful. This is interrupted by a chorale-like interlude in which the music sounds as if it might be played in chords on orchestral horns. There are many dynamic contrasts here and the theme is eventually stated dramatically on full organ, before the music subsides and returns to its opening mood. Do I hear a touch of Dvorak in the middle section?
The final Toccata is a moto perpetuo of great brilliance and dynamic variety. I know nothing like it anywhere else in the organ repertoire and it builds to a thrilling conclusion, taking in on the way, passages of great rhythmic vitality, which might almost have come out of Smetana's Bartered Bride!
© Roger Fisher. January 2007

Roger Fisher was Organist and Master of the Choristers of Chester Cathedral for 29 years and left there in 1996 to concentrate on his career as a recitalist, teacher and adviser on organ construction. From 1997 to 2004 he was Features Editor of Organists' Review.
Born in Woodford, Essex, he was educated at Bancroft's School and studied at the Royal College of Music with Dr Harold Darke and Prof. Herbert Howells, gaining his ARCM, FRCO and CHM diplomas and winning the Geoffrey Tankard Prize for Organ playing (then the most senior organ prize) with his performance of Vierne's Symphony no 2 in E minor. In 1959 he became Organ Scholar at Christ Church, Oxford and studied with Dr Sydney Watson, Dr Bernard Rose and Dr H. Kennedy Andrews. He became Assistant Organist of Hereford Cathedral in 1962, and Assistant Lecturer in Music at Hereford College of Education in 1963. During this period he studied the piano with Professor Claud Biggs and acted as an assistant chorus master, organ soloist, and accompanist for The Three Choirs Festival,
Upon completion of the rebuilt organ in 1970 at Chester, he embarked on the first of many BBC broadcasts and numerous recordings (including several for EMI, Decca and RCA) which have had world-wide sales. He has recorded, not only in the United Kingdom, but also in the USA, South Africa and Germany. Recently, as a pianist, he has collaborated with Gordon Pullin in an 8 CD set of The English Tenor Repertoire.
He tours frequently and extensively as a recitalist in Europe, Scandinavia and North America, visiting Australia also in autumn 2004 and South Africa in 2002, 2005 and 2007. He has a wide repertoire and specialises in the music of Bach and of the Romantic Era. He is a keen pianist and gives piano recitals and concerto performances when time permits. His new book "Master Class with Roger Fisher", giving practical advice to pianists and organists, has just been published by animus.