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Sounds Thrilling

Sounds Thrilling cover picture

Stephen Farr plays the organ in Blackburn Cathedral

Symphony ‘Missa pro defunctis’ David Briggs

‘Suite’ Op. 5 Maurice Duruflé

Total playing time 63m 50s

Sounds Thrilling

Sounds Thrilling

Symphony ‘Missa pro defunctis’ David Briggs

In 1947 Maurice Duruflé was approached by his publisher, Durand, with a commission for a choral setting of the Requiem Mass. By chance he was already working on sketches for a suite of organ pieces based on the plainsong ‘Missa pro defunctis’. Work on the suite had not progressed far, and only one or two movements - particularly the ‘Sanctus’ and ‘Libera me’ – were beginning to take shape 1. Material from these sketches was apparently diverted to use in the new commission, and although (or perhaps because) the Requiem turned out to be a masterpiece, Duruflé never – as far as we know – returned to his original concept of a plainsong-based suite for organ. The sketches are presumed lost or destroyed.

The idea of a ‘lost’ work by Duruflé is of course a tantalising one, and in 2003 Stephen Farr commissioned David Briggs to compose as ‘hommage’, rather than pastiche, the organ work that Duruflé had, as it were, abandoned. In seven movements, the new Symphony requires a colourful and resourceful instrument able to supply the full range of romantic French sonorities. It was completed in January 2004 and received its world premiere in the St David’s Festival in June of the same year.

The mood of the music in the first movement of the work is generally sombre. The opening bars of the ‘Prélude’ bear a passing resemblance to the ‘Prélude’ of Vierne’s 4th symphony, with its pedal theme under an octave ostinato; a gradual crescendo engendered by the repetition of motifs derived from the plainsong theme leads to a central climax in Eb minor, ‘Lent et puissant’. The opening bars are heard again, and although a new demisemiquaver figure briefly generates new momentum over a striding pedal figure the movement eventually closes quietly in F major.
The second movement, ‘Kyrie’ is an Arioso, ‘Tres lent et legato’; against slow chromatic progressions, the Clarinette introduces the plainsong ‘en taille’. Energy accumulates steadily through the movement, until a rising choral passage is suddenly interrupted. In the closing moments the Pedal Fonds and Flûte 8 play the plainsong against evocative harmonies on the Célestes.

An Intermezzo, ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ follows - a scherzo for the Flûtes, against whose rapid passagework the Basson and Chalumeau state fragments of plainsong.

After a quiet close the centrepiece of the symphony, the Toccata, introduces a new note of aggression, its rapid pedal scales and chordal outbursts leading without a break to the ‘Dies irae’ Agité. Marked ‘Lourdement et tres aggressif’, this movement is a close relative of the ‘Crucifixion’ movement from Dupré’s ‘Symphonie Passion’, its constant offbeat figures on the tutti generating a central climax which eventually subsides to a restless conclusion, reminiscent of the opening bars of the Symphony.

The ensuing Adagio – ‘Sanctus’ – takes as its starting point the harmonic structure of Duruflé’s own setting in the ‘Requiem’, moving into unexpected harmonic territory before the solo Hautbois introduces the closing pages of the movement. The music gradually dissipates as a single flute line descends from top to bottom of the keyboard.

The final movement - ‘Lux aeterna & In Paradisum’ - is characterised by swinging carillon figures; chamades state the plainsong ‘en taille’ in the pedal against the Grand Plein Jeu in the classical manner. The music reaches a tremendous climax before a gradual diminuendo leads to the closing moments of the piece. Bourdon and Nazard play phrases from the plainsong against an expressive harmonic background before the Symphony concludes quietly in C major.

‘Suite’ Op. 5 Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)

Maurice Duruflé’s formative years were spent at Rouen Cathedral choir school; at the age of 17 he moved to Paris to study organ with Tournemire at Ste. Clotilde and Vierne at Notre Dame. He subsequently entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 18 as an organ pupil of Gigout. Duruflé proved a distinguished student, winning ‘premiers prix’ for organ, harmony, fugue and accompaniment, and, in 1928, composition. His successful international career – he made regular trips to the USA and Europe, in particular, throughout the 1960s and 1970s in partnership with his wife, Marie-Madeleine - was combined with his post as titulaire of St Etienne-du-Mont in Paris. His performing days were abruptly terminated by a car accident in 1975 from which he never fully recovered. He died after some months of illness in 1986, having apparently composed very little in the preceding years. Despite the numerous honours accorded him, he remained the most self-critical and unconfident of composers, frequently revising and improving his works; only a dozen or so opus numbers were released for publication.

Completed in 1933, the ‘Suite’ is dedicated to Paul Dukas, his composition professor at the Paris Conservatoire. The work opens in ominous mood in Eb minor; in Duruflé’s own words:

‘The Prélude, which is sombre in character, is composed in the form of a diptych. A single theme, presented in three successive expositions, gradually accumulates the power of the organ. The second part [which quotes the ‘Pie Jesu’ of his own Requiem] consists of a long recitative, developing the first notes of the theme.‘

The Sicilienne which follows is more orchestrally conceived; indeed, an orchestration of it by the composer for small ensemble has recently been discovered among his papers. Duruflé described it as being of ‘classic construction’, and the opening theme (played on the Hautbois) alternates with related episodes of typical harmonic and colouristic refinement.

The concluding Toccata caused Duruflé some difficulties. He remained unhappy with it, authorising a substantial cut and adding a different ending after it was first published; by the time he came to record his works he refused to countenance its inclusion. In Pierre Cochereau’s copy of the work he wrote ‘My dear Pierre, never play this bad piece’ 2. Ironically perhaps, in view of Duruflé’s feelings, it has become established as one of the classics of the French Toccata genre, albeit one that makes the most testing musical and technical demands on the performer. The striding pedal tune of the opening section gives way to a more lyrical second theme; both are later combined before the piece concludes brilliantly in B major.

Stephen Farr
Guildford 2005

Stephen Farr

Recognised as “one of the brightest and most active young English recitalists” who “plays with immaculate finish and buoyancy” (Classic CD), Stephen Farr is widely regarded as one of the finest organists of his generation, with a virtuoso technique and an impressive stylistic grasp of a wide-ranging repertoire.

One of the youngest musicians ever to receive support from the Countess of Munster Musical Trust, Stephen Farr studied with Robert Munns and David Sanger in London and Cambridge. A subsequent grant from the Worshipful Company of Musicians (W.T. Best Scholarship) enabled him to receive tuition from Piet Kee in Haarlem and Hans Fagius in Copenhagen. In 1984 he became Organ Scholar of Clare College Cambridge, where he obtained a double first in Music and a Masters degree in Musicology. Sub-organist posts at Christ Church Oxford and Winchester Cathedral preceded his appointment in 1999 as Organist of Guildford Cathedral, a position which he now combines with a busy freelance career.

Since winning the Royal College of Organists Performer of the Year in 1988 and further prizes at the international competitions in Odense, St Alban’s and Paisley, Stephen Farr has enjoyed recognition at international level, with performing tours to North and South America, Australia – including a concerto performance in Sydney Opera House – and throughout Europe. He maintains a regular broadcast presence, and as a recitalist has featured in the main series of the major venues in the UK – among them St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, King’s College Cambridge, St John’s Smith Square, Symphony Hall Birmingham, the Bridgewater Hall and the Fairfield Halls.

His concerto work has included engagements with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra and the London Mozart Players; he recently made his debut in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw with the Slovenian Radio Symphony Orchestra. He has also worked with other leading ensembles including Florilegium, the Bach Choir, BBC Singers, English Concert, London Baroque Soloists, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Wallace Collection, Endymion Ensemble and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Stephen Farr has a particular commitment to contemporary music, and has been involved in premieres of works by composers as diverse as Patrick Gowers, Francis Pott, Judith Bingham, and Howard Goodall. He also collaborated with Thomas Adès in a recording for EMI of the composer’s Under Hamelin Hill, part of an extensive and wide-ranging discography. For the 2004-5 season he commissioned a new organ symphony from David Briggs, inspired by Maurice Duruflé’s setting of the Requiem mass. He gave the world premiere of the work in the 2004 St David’s Festival and the London premiere in the St Paul’s Cathedral Celebrity Series. In February 2006 he will perform the Symphony in the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris.

Stephen Farr’s reputation as an inspiring and versatile teacher leads to frequent invitations to tutor on residential courses for young organists, most recently for the Royal College of Organists and the Oundle International Organ Week, and he is currently Organ Tutor at Tonbridge School. He is a Council member, examiner and member of the Executive of the Royal College of Organists, and was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

The Organ of Blackburn Cathedral

Blackburn Parish Church was built in 1826, and organs by Gray (1826 and 1831) and Cavaillé-Coll (1875) were placed on the west wall of the church. The building was re-consecrated as a Cathedral in 1926, when the Diocese of Blackburn was established, and ambitious plans to extend the building were drawn up. When the large transepts were completed in 1953, Henry Willis III was commissioned to move the organ to a bridge at the East end of the Nave. In 1964 the organ was taken down so that a temporary wall could be built, dividing the nave from the transepts to enable work to begin on restoring the nave, whilst the remainder of the cathedral could be used for worship. J.W. Walker and Sons removed the organ and lent the cathedral a four-rank, totally enclosed, extension organ, which served well for five years.

A scheme for a new instrument was drawn up by John Bertalot (the Cathedral Organist), in consultation with Francis Jackson and Bert Collop (managing director of Walker’s). William Thompson, a generous benefactor from Burnley who had already given large sums of money for the restoration of the Nave and the building of the Lantern Tower and Spire, was asked by John Bertalot to give £30,000 to pay for the new organ. On 20th March, 1968, an envelope arrived from him with a cheque for 30,000 guineas (£31, 500) made out to John Bertalot. The new organ was dedicated on 20th December 1969. It was voiced by Walter Goodey and Dennis Thurlow. John Hayward, the artist, consulted with Walker’s to produce the stunning highly coloured organ “cases”, including swell boxes which are in full view, and a doubly mitred Serpent, coloured green and gold.

The organ swiftly gained an enviable reputation for its vibrant tonal quality, most notably the fiery reed stops. However, from as early as 1983, serious problems became apparent, particularly in relation to the wind system and action. At the same time, the Lantern Tower also required major work, thus delaying work to the organ. In 1994, shortly after Gordon Stewart’s appointment as Director of Music, David Wood took over the care of the organ. Some short term problems were attended to and the console was modernised.

In October 2000 an appeal was launched to restore the organ. I was keen that all of the 1969 tonal features should be retained, but that the opportunity should be taken to provide various extra colours to enhance and better equip an instrument that is expected not only to accompany liturgy on a daily basis, but also to present the complete range of solo repertoire in a stylistic manner. For example, I felt that an Oboe on the Swell and a Fifteenth on the Great were essential additions. Also that a reed at 8’ pitch on the Positive and a Vox Humana would be useful and that the organ really needed additional 8’ foundation pitch, more gravitas on the Pedal and extra 16’ manual tone. In order to address these desired tonal additions and to bring the organ into proper working order, I devised a scheme to restore and enlarge the organ, in consultation with David Briggs, John Bertalot, Canon Andrew Hindley, Greg Morris and David Wood. The organ was restored and enlarged between July 2001 and June 2002, during which time a Rodgers digital instrument was used.

The entire instrument has been cleaned and overhauled. A Fifteenth on the Great and a Cliquot-style Cromorne on the Positive have been added. The new Solo department has been positioned above the Great, with new stops: Flûte Harmonique 8’, Viola 8’, Viola Céleste 8’, Flûte Octaviante 4’ and Voix Humaine. The old Swell Cromorne has been moved to the Solo, and renamed “Clarinette”; in its place on the Swell is a new Hautbois. Two new ranks of pipes have been made available on the Pedal: a 6 2/5 Grosse Tierce and 10 2/3 Grosse Quint. Two new digital ranks, by Walker Technical Company USA, have also been made available on the Pedal: 32’ Sub Principal and 16’ Flûte Ouverte. A wealth of octave and sub-octave couplers have been provided. A new 4 manual console has been built by Wood of Huddersfield, in the style of the original 3 manual console. A new Cymbelstern and star have been added and safety features for maintaining the instrument have been incorporated.

David Wood and his colleagues have developed the instrument with great skill; they have breathed new life into all the wonderful original colours which had been sounding tired for some years and have blended new ranks into the organ in such a sensitive way. The result is an incredibly versatile and reliable instrument with a tremendous range of dynamic and tonal colour, coupled with a sense of sheer power, but also great subtlety and tremendous beauty. There are few organs in the world that can demonstrate the entire solo repertoire with such a convincing sense of style. It is also a fantastic organ for the liturgy, capable of accompanying choir and congregation in a sensitive manner. The full range of the organ’s capabilities was shown off to great effect at the opening recital by David Briggs on 6th July 2002. This recording provides further evidence!

Richard Tanner
Blackburn, 2004

Recorded in Blackburn Cathedral on 13th April 2005 by kind permission of Richard Tanner and the Dean and Chapter

Produced by David Briggs
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews