Tom Winpenny organ
Dewi Rees organ
Philippa Boyle soprano
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0639
Elisabeth Lutyens’s music is now emerging from the doldrums. Recently, a disc of her piano music has been issued and here, surprisingly, is a disc of works for organ, and soprano and organ. But did she take her organ music seriously? On looking through her 1972 autobiography A Goldfish Bowl she mentions nothing of them.
The undated Chorale Prelude could be an early work. It is fugal, rather academic with an impressive climax, but probably begun as an exercise in baroque style for her teacher, Harold Darke. Lutyens was organist at Woolpit church in Suffolk, and perhaps the piece dates from that time.
In 1948 came Suite her first recognised organ work which is strictly serial. The movements are Prelude, Palindrome (see later) Pastorale and Chorale. Premièred by Arnold Richards, Wolverhampton’s Borough Organist, a review of the occasion was not encouraging. The 1955 Sinfonia is also dodecaphonic. The tone row is used palindromically with the two halves of the row used to help create the formal structure, its central section using the full row. This is a beautifully austere piece with contrasting tempi.
Novello’s publication Sing Nowell consists of 51 Carols. No 25 is Nativity with words by W.R Rodgers, originally set for soprano and strings. Note the opening falling fourths and rising semitone heard throughout, sometimes in inversion and forming the pedal part for the 12/8 central section, marking the climax of a searching and quite disturbing piece.
Lutyens is associated with incidental music for Hammer-Horrors, providing much needed cash for her family. But incidental music for organ is unusual. A Sleep of Prisoners, composed for a touring production of Christopher Fry’s play, was performed in Perth in Western Australia. The twenty-one cues are given in the booklet. The rather unrelated sections, short and difficult to follow, make it an unsatisfactory listening experience.
Epithalamion written for a wedding, is a setting of Edmund Spenser for soprano and organ. Although broadly lyrical with a wonderful ending, it is difficult to imagine what the guests and the happy couple, Hilda and Anthony Gaddum, made of it, being a somewhat unsettling piece, but superbly and passionately performed by Philippa Boyle.
Listening to ‘Temenos’ (‘sacred enclosure’) I remembered how beautiful Lutyens music can be. Written for the baroque organ at Dartington Hall it proved unsuitable and, despite publication, has probably remained unheard. Possibly surprisingly, it’s dedicated to Harald Darke. Again, it is palindromic, each section drifting into the next reminding me of her orchestral masterpiece Quincunx.
Instead of ‘Temenos’, Nicholas Danby premièred, soon after, her next organ work, Trois Pièces Brèves, using material from her recent drama Isis and Osiris. The three attractively structured sections are Conte, Berceuse and Rondes which employ her own style of serial technique.
By 1975 with Plenum IV Lutyens was hearing the organ as an orchestral instrument but also writing more idiomatically in her most mature style. Nicholas and Stephen Cleobury premièred it. The darkly mysterious passages rise to powerful climaxes of stark, austere beauty.
Documentation is excellent and the complete Harrison and Harrison specification in St Albans Cathedral is listed.
Review by Gary Higginson