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"Verses and Voluntaries"

William Whitehead, organ

rec: Sept 20 - 21, 2010, London, St George's Church, Southall
Regent - REGCD366 ( 2011) (68'25")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

anon: Trumpet Voluntary in D [4]; Verse in g minor; Thomas Augustine ARNE (1710-1778): Concerto No. 1 in C (allegro) [5]; John BLOW (1648/49-1708): [Verse] in D; Voluntary in d minor [For the Cornet Stop]; Maurice GREENE (1696-1755), arr William WHITEHEAD: Overture to Phoebe, arr for organ; Philip HART (1674-1749): Fugue in F [1]; Johann Christoph PEPUSCH (1667-1752): Voluntary in C (Largo; Flute; Slow - Diapasons; Sexquealter; The Twelfth; Slow - Diapasons; Trumpet; [Full Organ]); Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Voluntary in G (Z 720); Voluntary in d minor (version for single organ) (Z 718); Thomas ROSEINGRAVE (1690/91-1766): Fugue I in f minor [2]; Voluntary IV in g minor [2]; Voluntary VIII in g minor [2]; William WALOND (1719-1768): [Trumpet] Voluntary IV in D, op. 2,4 [3]

Sources: [1] Philip Hart, Fugues for the organ or harpsichord with lessons for the harpsichord, 1704; [2] Thomas Roseingrave, Voluntarys and Fugues made on purpose for the organ or harpsichord, c1728; [3] William Walond, Ten voluntaries for the organ or harpsichord, op. 2, 1758; [4] various, Ten select voluntaries for the organ ..., c1780; [5] Thomas Augustine Arne, Six Organ Concerti, 1793

In England few organs from before the 19th century have been preserved, in comparison to the European mainland. One of the reasons could be that most organs of the 17th and 18th century were relatively small, with only one manual and without a pedal. Such instruments were unsuitable for the liturgical practice of the 19th century. As a result in many churches new, much larger instruments were built, in the tradition of the French symphonic organ. Considering the small number of historical organs it is important to preserve and restore those which have survived. This disc presents a very fine specimen of English organ-building of the early 18th century.

The organ was built by Abraham Jordan, member of a family of organ builders which started its activities around 1700. Father and son Abraham built their largest organ in 1712; this was the first with a Swell box. This is also part of the organ which Abraham the younger built in 1723 in St George's, Botolph Lane, in London. The first organ recital on this instrument was given by Maurice Green, who at the time was Master of the King's Musick, organist and composer of the Chapel Royal, and organist of St Paul's Cathedral. The fact that such a prominent musician played this organ suggests that its inauguration was considered a major event. In 1862 it was repaired and adapted by William Hill. Fortunately he realized its qualities and historical importance, and as a result his interventions didn't completely destroy its 18th-century features. Toward the end of the 19th century the church increasing fell into disrepair, and was finally demolished in 1904. The organ was saved, and in 1907 was installed in the newly-built St George's, Southall. In 2008 a complete restoration and reconstruction of the organ to its original state was undertaken. The result is a beautiful-sounding organ which seems pretty much the ideal instrument for the repertoire which William Whitehead has chosen.

The programme is divided into two sections. The first is devoted to music from the Restoration period, in which Blow and Purcell were the leading composers. Whitehead shows historical consciousness in that he avoids the use of the Swell organ here, which did not exist at the time they wrote their keyboard music. The Voluntary in d minor by Purcell exists in two versions, one for double organ - meaning two manuals - and one for a single manual; the latter is played here. This section of the programme ends with the Fugue in F by Philip Hart, who was organist of several churches. I found this piece not particularly interesting, but it is understandable that Whitehead included a piece by Hart, as he played this particular organ one week after its inauguration by Greene.

The second section comprises music from the Georgian period. Here the Swell organ is regularly used, often as an Echo, which was one of its main functions. The most interesting composer in this section is definitely Thomas Roseingrave. As a young man he was sent to Italy where he met Domenico Scarlatti, to whom he became closely attached and who deeply influenced his own style of playing and composing. After his return to England Roseingrave published a number of Scarlatti's sonatas. He was considered the most brilliant improvisor of his time, but his compositions were often considered too learned. This had everything to do with his great love for counterpoint, reflected by his admiration for the music of Palestrina. The three pieces on this disc are especially striking because of their bold harmonic language which comes particularly well to the fore thanks to the mean-tone temperament of the organ.

This section begins with an overture by Greene which Whitehead transcribed for organ. This was common practice at the time; in particular instrumental movements, but also choruses from oratorios by Handel were frequently transcribed. One of the leading composers in England, but a little overshadowed by Handel, was Thomas Augustine Arne. Whitehead plays a movement from a keyboard concerto, the first of a set of six which was published long after his death in 1793. This first concerto also exists in manuscript in an early version for keyboard without orchestra.

The disc ends with a quite curious piece, the Voluntary in C by Johann Christoph Pepusch. It has come down to us in manuscript, and the indications in regard to registration suggest it could have been written for the inauguration of an organ. In no fewer than twelve movements - of which here eight are played - the various features of the organ are demonstrated. In one movement Pepusch asks for flutes, which are absent from this organ. In another he requires the Sesquialter, which was far from common among organs of the 18th century. The closing movement is a fugue for full organ. It ends with a short free toccata-like passage. One is inclined to see here the influence of the German organ school. After all, Pepusch was born in Germany and had settled in England at the end of the 17th century.

This ends a most interesting disc with a survey of typical English repertoire which is well suited to demonstrate the qualities of this organ. William Whitehead is a technically impressive and stylish performer who makes the most of the pieces he has chosen. Fortunately the acoustical circumstances allow the organ to blossom. It is an important instrument which deserves to be carefully preserved.

The booklet contains much information about the organ, notes relating to the music as well as a specification of the organ and the registration of every single piece. The dates of birth and death of the composers are only mentioned in the liner-notes. It would have been more convenient to include them in the track-list. Even so, this is an exemplary production.

Johan van Veen ( 2012)

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William Whitehead

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