PHI CD 147: Percy Whitlock Organist & Composer Recorded 1926-1951
1 Trad.: All people that on earth do dwell 2 Stanford: Magnificat in B flat, Op. 10 3 Stanford: Nunc Dimittis in B flat, Op. 10 4 Trad.: While shepherds watched their flocks Rochester Cathedral Choir, Charles Hylton Stewart, Percy Whitlock (organ) rec. 1/11/26 5 G. F. Handel: Largo (Xerxes) Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, Sir Dan Godfrey, Percy Whitlock (organ) 6 Trad.: Auld lang syne Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, Percy Whitlock (organ), rec. 1934 7 Wagner: Tannhäuser Fantasia 8 Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. 9 Wagner: Lohengrin Fantasia Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, Richard Austin, Percy Whitlock (organ) rec.15/12/37
10 J. S. Bach: Fugue alla gigue 11 Whitlock: Scherzetto (Sonata in C minor) 12 Handel (arr. Blake): Bourée (Music for the Royal Fireworks) Percy Whitlock (organ), Rec. 15/10/45 .13 C. Saint-Saëns: Rhapsodie sur des Cantiques Brétons Op.7, No.3 14 L. Vierne: Berceuse Op.31, No.19 . 15 Vierne: Carillon Op. 31, No.21 Percy Whitlock (organ) rec. 22/1146. 16 P. Whitlock: Jesu, grant me this I pray West Country Singers, Reginald Redman, Bath Abbey, 1 October 1946 17 P. Whitlock: Glorious in Heaven Wakefield Cathedral Choir, Percy Saunders 1947? 18 Whitlock: Carol (Four Extemporizations) Thalben-Ball (organ), rec. 15/12/47 19 P. Whitlock: Scherzetto (Sonata in C minor) G.D .Cunningham (organ), Birmingham Town Hall, 22/12/47
20 P. Whitlock: Scherzo (Five Short Pieces) Francis Jackson (organ), rec.1951
21 Percy Whitlock - A Tribute by James Levett, Rochester Cathedral, rec. 26/11/96
This CD has been produced in conjunction with the Percy Whitlock Trust
Malcolm Riley introduces Whitlock on Record
THIS disc brings together all of the surviving recordings made by the English organist and composer Percy Whitlock (1903-1946), together with other historic performances of his music made during the period 1946-51. They have been arranged in chronological order beginning with four sides made for Columbia using the (then) new electrical process on 1 November 1926. Whitlock served as a musician at Rochester Cathedral for nearly twenty years, first as a probationer chorister in 1910 under Bertram Luard-Selby, before rising through the ranks to become head chorister under Charles Hylton Stewart (1884-1932). In 1921 he became Stewart's assistant. Whitlock regarded Stewart as his 'musical father'. The admiration was mutual: 'Argus' (writing in the Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham News of 1 August 1930) reported Stewart's farewell speech before his departure for Chester Cathedral. 'Mr. Hylton Stewart, besides emphasizing the loyalty and readiness with which Mr. Whitlock had assisted in the musical life of the cathedral, described him as being not only the finest all-round organist that he had ever heard, whether as soloist, accompanist or extemporizer, but added that he was writing cathedral music "better than anyone else at the present day. It is not every young man...who had been asked, as Mr. Whitlock had recently, by a leading firm of publishers, to let them have the first refusal of everything he writes".'
The master discs from the Rochester session were made at Columbia's works at Petty France, Westminster, while the choir sang in the Cathedral, more than 30 miles away, the transmission being made electrically via a high quality G.P.O. landline, though a number of test records were made first in the vestibule to the Chapter Room. Stewart told the newspaper reporter: 'I think we made as many as five test records before the first number was finally done, and at least one test before each of the others. Then two final records were taken of each number. We were hard at it for over two hours in order to make the six final records.' These discs were released in February 1927 and remained in the catalogue until March 1942. In addition to the tracks represented on this disc the choir also recorded Charles Wood's anthem O Thou the central orb and Stewart recorded J. S. Bach's Fugue in G minor, though neither of them seems to have survived in EMI's vaults.
A further session for Columbia took place in Rochester on 11 April 1929, when Stewart recorded Bach's Toccata and Fugue in C (over three sides) and the choir recorded Stanford's Magnificat in C, together with the unaccompanied setting in the same key by Henry Walford Davies, Bach's Jesu, joy of man's desiring and Byrd's Hail true body. Unfortunately the original masters were destroyed when they failed to pass the 'wear test'. A set of white-label test-pressings (belonging to Hylton Stewart's widow) survived into the early 1940s, though these too have subsequently disappeared.
In 1930 Whitlock moved to Bournemouth, first as Director of Music at St. Stephen's Church (until 1935) and then, from 1932, as the Borough's Municipal Organist, playing the 4 manual dual-purpose Compton organ in the Pavilion Theatre. In this capacity he worked closely with the Municipal Orchestra and three of its conductors, Sir Dan Godfrey, Richard Austin and Montague Birch. On 22 July 1934 the Columbia engineers visited the Pavilion for what was to be Godfrey's final recording session. Handel's Largo features Whitlock, the orchestra's leader Bertram Lewis and long-serving harpist Jacoba Wolters. Two months later the BBC relayed Godfrey's farewell concert from the Pavilion. Fortunately, a friend of Godfrey's arranged for the speeches to be recorded onto 'acetates'. After a glowing testimonial from Sir Hugh Allen (Director of the Royal College of Music), Godfrey spoke and broke down as he thanked his 'old pals' in the Orchestra. He recovered sufficiently to introduce his successor Richard Austin. We join the proceedings after Austin's speech when Godfrey can be heard announcing Auld Lang Syne. The record breaks off with a roaring chord from Whitlock - presumably he intended to lead into a second verse.
Although no commercial recordings were made by the Municipal Orchestra under Austin, there exists an 'off-air' recording of parts of Delius' Violin Concerto, broadcast by May Harrison, on 13 May 1937. Also from that year come three pieces featured on Pathé films, made under the direction of M. de Wolff on the afternoon of 15 December, in front of a capacity Pavilion audience. 'They used 6 5kw floods and 2 cameras', noted Whitlock in his diary. 'We did six films in all, to last about 4 min. each. Miss Wolters & I had to "vamp" when we had no music.' Indeed, although Whitlock is visible on the other three films, his contribution cannot be distinguished on the soundtracks and, therefore, they have not been included on this disc. For the record, however, they consisted of the March from Tchaikovsky's 'Pathéique' Symphony, the Radetsky March by Berlioz and Old King Cole from Baynton Power's Nursery Rhyme Suite.
Whitlock frequently appeared on the wireless as an organist. He made his first broadcast on 31 October 1926, accompanying the Cathedral Choir at Rochester. His first solo organ broadcast came from St. Mark's Church, North Audley Street, London on 8 December 1933. He was also relayed (live, of course) from the BBC's Broadcasting House and Maida Vale Studios, and St. Luke's Church, Chelsea (all Compton instruments), and also from St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol (where he described the Harrison organ as 'the nearest thing to heaven I shall ever experience'), Bournemouth Pavilion and his favourite broadcasting instrument, on which he is heard in tracks 10-15, the totally-enclosed, 3 manual, 1931 Compton organ in the neo-Byzantine, Anglo-Catholic church of St. Osmund in Parkstone (a suburb of Poole). This instrument did a great deal to establish Compton's reputation. Francis Burgess, writing in The Organ No. 45, informed his readers that 'This modest instrument is unbelievably magnificent in every respect. It is a standing tribute to the artistic and mechanical genius of Mr. Compton who built it.' Whitlock first visited St. Osmund's on 24 October 1931, soon after the organ was completed, 'meeting there Leslie Spurling, & John Compton himself. Was able to hear & try the new organ - which is magnificent. Rolling Pedal & Diapasons - thrilling Full Swell.' We are fortunate that Whitlock persuaded the engineers to cut him some discs from these 1945 broadcasts given on two successive Monday lunchtimes. Although in failing health (he was to die just over seven months later), we can hear the mastery with which he controls the instrument and his orchestral approach, particularly to the Romantic repertory. There is just one tantalizing snippet of the closing bars of his own Scherzetto (the only surviving fragment of him playing his own music). The Saint-Saëns was a particular favourite (he broadcast it four times), but unfortunately the first 74 bars are missing. The three Rhapsodies sur des Cantiques Brétons (subtitled Pélérinage au Pardon de Ste. Anne-La-Palud) were composed in 1866 and dedicated to Fauré. The Vierne and Bach items are complete, but, contrary to the announcement, only the Bourée by Handel made it into the grooves.
Whitlock gave over 50 solo BBC recitals in all, the last coming from the Bournemouth Pavilion on 27 January 1946 in a programme of music by Handel, Guilmant, de la Tombelle and Samuel Wesley. As there was a little time in hand he 'faded out to extemporization'. After his death, his widow, Edna, arranged for a studio in Weymouth to record various 'off air' broadcasts of Percy's music onto 78s. These discs eventually found their way to Bernard Walker, a close friend of the Whitlocks (and dedicatee of the Fanfare from Four Extemporizations), who in turn passed them onto the Percy Whitlock Trust. The unaccompanied motet Jesu, grant me this I pray comes from a memorial broadcast for Whitlock given in Bath Abbey by the West Country Singers, directed by his friend Reginald Redman (1892-1972). The Abbey's organist, Ernest Maynard (1907-1990) also took part playing the Sortie, Préambule and Exultemus (from Seven Sketches) and Fanfare. The original hand-written label on the disc of Glorious in Heaven states that it was sung by Wakefield Cathedral Choir.
This is followed by two live relays from 1947, the first by George Thalben-Ball, the second by his teacher George Dorrington Cunningham. Whitlock used to listen frequently to Cunningham's weekly broadcasts from Birmingham Town Hall. Despite being peppered with inaccuracies, Cunningham's account of the Scherzetto (from the Sonata in C minor) is full of vitality and bounce. Thalben-Ball shared a recital with Whitlock in March 1934 when the Organ Music Society joined forces with the London Contemporary Music Centre to promote a concert of 20th century organ music, in the Royal Albert Hall, on which occasion Ball gave the first performance of Herbert Howell's Organ Sonata No. 2. His performance of Carol (from Four Extemporizations) is meticulous and rather devoid of sentimentality.
The final musical item is a reissue of the first ever commercial recording of Whitlock's music, made in 1951, by Francis Jackson in York Minster for the Eboracum label. Although the two never met, Jackson (b.1917) has played and recorded a great deal of Whitlock's organ music over the past sixty years. In 1993 he succeeded Edna Whitlock as Patron of The Percy Whitlock Trust.
©Malcolm Riley 1997