SIX PIECES FOR SAINT ALBANS op.707 (July 2019)

A collection of keyboard pieces - available separetely under their respective opus numbers
Published by: Highbridge Music. Score and parts on request from Highbridge Music
Instrumentation: 5 pieces for organ, I piece for piano and group

[Key to Abbreviations]
Duration: 20 mins

Movements

  • 1: Country Sunday - opus 27L (1967) 1 minutes 58 seconds
    A title from the album 'Theme Music' 1967

    A quiet voluntary for church organ

  • 2: Cathedral Splendour - opus 27L 1 minutes 26 seconds
    A title from the album Theme Music 1967

    A loud and joyous voluntary for full Cathedral organ

  • 3: Night Tapestry - opus 27J 2 minutes 32 seconds
    A title from the album Theme Music 1967

    An instrumental Nocturne scored for piano,vibraphone,bass,drums and guitar

  • 4: Sebastian Swings - opus 27H 1 minutes 51 seconds
    A title from the album Theme Music 1967

    An organ piece paying affectionate homage to the Courante style of J S Bach

  • 5: Wedding March - opus 397 5 minutes 00 seconds

    An organ voluntary for a wedding, commissioned by Adam Blackwood for his wedding in Holy Trinity, Cuckfield June 11th 1989, the theme drawn from Howard's music for 'As you like it' for the Adrian Noble production of Shakespeare's play by the Royal Shakespeare Company 1985

  • 6: Fantasia on 'Walking in the Air' - opus 539 6 minutes 00 seconds

    A piece for organ specially composed for Carlo Curley who first performed it in St. John's Hammersmith on Dec 21st.2003

Notes

HB writes: On 13th July 2019 I gave a major concert of my works in Saint Albans Cathedral to celebrate not only the year of my 80th birthday but the opening of the 30th. St Albans Organ Festival. The venue was highly appropriate since the world premiere of my oratorio 'Benedictus' which was to be the principal work of the concert, had been given there back in 1986 by Robert Tear, Sir David Willcocks and The St. Albans Bach Choir. From about the age of 12 I had played the organ in St. Augustine's Church Brighton, where I sang in the choir and when at the age of 18 I won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Muisic I had originally intended to study organ until persuaded to pursue composition instead. Because of that I had written very little for organ except the monumental 'Rise of the House of Usher' that Dame Gillian Weir comissioned in 2003. For this concert the festival organiser David Titterington had engaged the marvellous Korean organist Dong-ill Shin to play this and, knowing I would meet him, I collected together some pieces for organ as a present which I gave to him after a superb performance of that work, now published by Highbridge Music as 'Six pieces for Saint Albans'

below is the programme of the concert and a review.

A celebratory concert of Howard Blake's music at St. Albans Cathedral (2019)

The concert was firstly celebrating Howard's 80th year, secondly celebrating the opening of the 30th St Albans organ festival directed by David Titterington, and thirdly recalling that the world premiere of Howard Blake's oratorio 'Benedictus' was given in St Albans Cathedral by Sir David Willcocks (conductor), Robert Tear (tenor) and Frederick Riddle (viola) with The St Albans Bach and Cathedral Choirs and The English Chamber Orchetra. The speaker was the very rev. the Dean of Saint Albans, (25.01.86).

PROGRAMME: SATURDAY 13TH JULY 2019:

1. 'THE RISE OF THE HOUSE OF USHER' 6'00 (opus 532, 2003), solo organ Dong-ill Shin. A work originally commissioned by the Usher Hall Edinburgh to celebrate the restoration of the Willis organ in 2005 and first performed there by Dame Gillian Weir 10.06.2003.

2.'WALKING IN THE AIR' 3'30 in a new a cappella chorus arrangement specially created for Peter Auty (tenor), The St. Albans Bach Choir and for this occasion.(opus 706, 2019)

3. 'SPEECH AFTER LONG SILENCE' 8'00 (opus 610)a virtuoso piano work originally commissioned by Vladimir Ashkenazy for the world piano contest in Hong Kong 2009, here played by the brilliant young St. Albans prizewinner, Julian Trevelyan

4. 'SONGS OF TRUTH AND GLORY' 10' - Five poems of George Herbert, (opus 546) for chamber choir and ensemble, originally commissioned as The Elgar Commission of the Three Choirs Festival 2005, here performed by the St, Albans Bach chamber choir conducted by Andrew Lucas.

INTERVAL 5. 'BENEDICTUS - A DRAMATIC ORATORIO'(opus 282) 70'00, originally commissioned by the then Abbott of Worth, Victor Farwell to celebrate the 1500th birthday of St. Benedict in 1980, the work was revised by the composer in 1986 and given its world premiere in St Albans Cathedral by the St. Albans Bach Choir, Robert Tear and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sir David Willcocks. This performance welcomes Peter Auty as solo tenor (who as a boy treble at St Paul's made the first recording of Howard's famous song 'Walking in the Air), Rosalind Ventris (solo viola), St. Albans Bach Choir (chorus-master Andrew Lucas), with The Orchestra of The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields conducted by the composer. Speaker: The Very Rev. Dr. Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Alban's.

A REVIEW OF THE ST.ALBANS CATHEDRAL CONCERT

by Roderick Dunnett, Church Times, published 30th. August 2019

'Some of the most celebrated names in the organ world have passed through the St Albans International Organ Festival. Many have hailed from far afield. This year's entrants, including three from Korea and one each from Russia and Lithuania, spanned 11 countries.

The competition from which the festival grew was founded in 1963 by Peter Hurford, a superlative teacher and one of the most brilliant virtuosi of his day, who died, aged 86, this year. This is the festival's 30th anniversary. So there was sadness, but also a celebration.

Headed by the St Albans Bach Choir, an entire evening at St Albans Abbey was devoted to the music of Howard Blake. Blake turned 80 last autumn, and remains determinedly active as a composer in all genres, especially film music: his exquisitely sympathetic score for A Month in the Country remains a classic. His opus numbers — they include The Passion of Mary — exceed 700. His music for The Snowman has charmed audiences for decades.

Central to this programme was Blake's wonderfully conceived Benedictus, which draws on the Rule of St Benedict, several Psalms, and a wonderfully Psalm-like swathe of mystical poetry by Francis Thompson (1859-1907). Of this, more below. The concert was enhanced by variety, with the interspersal of two solo pieces. One he calls a "bravura work" for organ, reimagining Edgar Allan Poe's story The Fall of the House of Usher, rechristening it "The Rise", and envisioning the tale emerging from suicidal gloom to optimism and normality.

A piano work, Speech after Long Silence, played with wondrous articulation by a multi-award-winning young soloist, Julian Trevelyan, seemed to leap effortlessly from one mood to another: here, temptingly Ravel-like, elsewhere dramatic. It seemed a model of how imaginatively the instrument can be used.

Songs of Truth and Glory, for chorus and orchestra, are five settings of George Herbert. Early on ("The Call"), Blake makes shrewd use of men's and women's choruses separately, with a kind of ground bass in the cellos and, later, a serene melody emerging. In the second, "Vertue", a scherzo element in the strings is offset by the darkly repeated "Thou must die," except that the final stanza exudes optimism, enthusiastically proclaiming "Then chiefly lives." A striding bass line gives life to "Praise" ("King of Glory, King of Peace"), which has a magical shift in mood at "Thou grewest moist and soft with tears." A violin solo reminiscent of Vaughan Williams's lark adds a final word.

If the second stanza ("Not rudely, as a beast") in "The Elixer" makes for an apt dark opening, the last two lines are utterly subdued, and beautifully expressive. Indeed, Blake has a gift for turning simple harmonies to scintillating results. The last song, "Antiphon" — famously hurtled through by Vaughan Williams — receives an equally clever and original treatment here: resplendent bells, a finely light-stepped staccato splendidly achieved by the chorus ("The heavens are not too high"), a growing syncopated feel, and the choir women, who were excellent all evening, soaring rapturously for "My God and King".

Blake's inspired work 'Benedictus', for chorus and orchestra, filled the second half. The composer himself conducted, with calm and restraint; Andrew Lucas of St Albans had secured the pure-tuned, masterfully calibrated results earlier on.

The highlight here was a tenor solo, sung with passion by Peter Auty. He brought the whole work majestically to life.

One imaginative idea followed another in this largely penitential but also blazing cantata. The plangent opening viola solo (reprised at the end) set the pleading tone. Psalm 38 yielded drama galore: urgency in the strings ("Thy arrows pierce me. . ."); the aching central passage, akin to Psalm 22, which yields to growing optimism, harp in attendance, but finally crushed and mournful.

The next section, after an operatic clamour from the soloist, is an astonishing mixture of texts from St Benedict's Prologue; the mood shifts, often pleading, but overwhelmed by a brassy, forthright accompaniment. A sublime, moving pianissimo conclusion yields to a passage from Psalm 15, where simple snippets of contrary motion make for a striking effect. Judicious repetitions underlined the text's severe injunctions.

Psalm 84 reveals as much as any the intelligence of the orchestration. The interrelation of choir and soloist achieved powerful effects; and thunderous brass and cavorting woodwind added vivid colour.

Throughout the work, Blake's word setting stood out. The magically emblematic language from Francis Thompson's "The Hound of Heaven" (1893), explored by the soloist, nudged close to the world of Stravinsky and even Schoenbergian Sprechstimme.

Much else remained: a dark, brassy dance for solo and animated chorus (for a fragment of St Benedict's Rule); a thunderous, Benedicite-like section based on Psalm 103, ushering in tenderness and forgiveness; and solo horn adding its commentary (the warm textures in an idiom reminiscent of Szymanowski's Stabat Mater). Bells, and again those pensive cellos and double bass, helped nurture the work to its close.

The finishing touch of the viola solo was one of genius.'

 

Related Works


'COUNTRY SUNDAY FOR ORGAN' op.27L (May 1967)
organ voluntary

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