VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Bursts of Acclamation - Organ Music and Transcriptions
Although Vaughan Williams and the organ did not enjoy a natural rapport (despite the best efforts of his teachers Walter Parratt and Alan Gray), he did manage to acquire his FRCO diploma at the age of 25, and to hold down an organist’s post in South Lambeth for four years in the 1890s. Of his original works, organists have had a small published selection from which to choose. The lovely Three Preludes Founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes (especially the middle one, Rhosymedre – a svelte study in legato) have never fallen out of favour. Matters improved in 1964 with the publication of OUP’s A Vaughan Williams Organ Album. Everything from these two volumes is included in this handsome new double-disc, plus three occasional wedding pieces. All that is missing are two pieces of organ juvenilia which remain in manuscript.
The largest of the original works is the Prelude and Fugue in C minor of 1921 30, a rather prolix work, which caused the composer a good deal of trouble, and lies awkwardly under the hands and feet. However, its gritty, acerbic difficulties melt away under David Briggs’s effortless poise; he tackles it head-on, allegro con fuoco, and makes a convincing case for its elusive merits. Much of the programme consists of transcriptions and arrangements of instrumental works. Brigg’s new transcription of the Wasps Overture is a real sparkler and, as a former Organist of Gloucester Cathedral, he knows exactly how to pace Peter Beardsley’s take on the Tallis Fantasia, imbuing it with a sheen of glorious string tone. The generously disposed three-manual JW Walker organ of 1912 in Wimbledon’s Sacred Heart Church is the ideal choice for this Romantic programme. The full organ is used sparingly and even then never over-poweringly. There are a few tiny extramusical murmurs from the machine itself but this is all part of its charm.
The lion’s share of the transcriptions goes to Henry G Ley, Vaughan Williams’s professorial colleague at the RCM in London. The London Symphony’s slow movement is beautifully moulded and although, initially, I had my doubts over A Sea Symphony sans Whitman, this also is highly effective. Fittingly, Ley’s own fine Fantasia on Aberystwyth of 1928 is included. His concluding transcription of the ‘Antiphon’ (from Five Mystical Songs) provides the final Burst of Acclamation – ‘those loud triumphant chords’ concluding this triumph of musicianship.