"Philip Scriven's artistry is simply breathtaking. He combines spectacular virtuosity with passionate depth of expression. His concert at First Presbyterian, once again, demonstrated his extraordinary capacity to explore every conceivable tonal color of our organ -- his creativity, imagination, and brilliant programming were on full display. When Philip performs, you just don't want the concert to end!”
The organist Philip Scriven followed Eric Lebrun at the International Organ Festival on Tuesday. Standing ovation for the Briton.
For the second concert of the International Organ Festival, the artistic director, Erwan Le Prado, invited Philip Scriven. The 46-year old Englishman came after they met some years ago in Lübeck, Germany. He offered to the hundred or so people in the audience a different style of music than what had been proposed Eric Lebrun last week.
From the first notes, the audience felt the music come alive. "The organ stops are like the instruments of which I am the conductor," explains Philip Scriven. This is also one of the arguments that led him to play this instrument. "I was in the choir of Westminster Abbey in London at the age of nine. I sang every day accompanied by the organ. I fell in love with it," he says.
For Philip Scriven, the most notable organ is the one in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. He performed a concert last month there, and performed compositions of one of his favorite organists, Louis Vierne.
Erwan Le Prado joked about the recital offered by his guest: "Despite the Brexit, he plays French music. He will perform Bach's Passacaglia together with its original French theme by André Raison. For his first time in the town, the audience was delighted, reserving him a standing ovation at the end. In his thanks, the organizer considered him "a very great player.
A superb organist with formidable technique, Philip Scriven commanded our attention on Friday 21st Feb. with a varied programme starting with J.S. Bach`s Prelude and Fugue in G, B.W.V.541 which he attacked in a lively and spirited fashion. Yet more variations on Paganini`s well known Theme followed,this time written by George Thalben-Ball and played mostly on the foot pedals and consequently requiring very deft movements indeed. Between the Variations and the powerful and well known Allegro from Widor`s G minor Symphony, Philip sandwiched in a "pot pourri" of favourite arias by Nigel Ogden entitled "Mr Mozart takes a Sleigh Ride",and which helped to provide a lighter contrast for what was to follow after the break. This was David Brigg`s ambitious arrangement of Tchaikovsky`s F Minor Fourth Symphony,which was a true `tour de force` for the organist throughout the four movements. Although not having quite the conviction of a Symphony Orchestra, it certainly stretched the potential of our organ to the utmost, and convinced the audience that here was a very fine instrument played by a musician of the highest rank.
Thank you for an absolutely amazing recital on Friday. Your programming was just right - and the Tchaikovsky was phenomenal. I just don't know how you get around all the notes, let alone make it so powerfully musical. The same was true of the rest of the programme. We nearly always have excellent organ recitals, but yours was outstanding. I'm quite sure we'll be asking you to come back in a couple of seasons' time!"
Philip Scrivens concert on the Mander Organ in Chapel on 29th January ended with the last movement of Tchaikovskys Fourth Symphony in the transcription by David Briggs. The whole symphony formed half of a concert Philip gave last summer in Westminster Cathedral which is talked about by organ buffs as one of the great London events of recent memory. There will be many from the large audience at the Cranleigh recital eager to hear the other three movements after Philips stunning virtuoso rendition of the exciting finale at a hell of a tempo
The concert also showed us that Philip is himself a talented transcriber, as we heard his remarkably eloquent version of the beautiful third movement of Brahmss Third Symphony, which he arranged for organ when studying at the Juilliard in New York. The programme included Holsts Planets suite, from which we heard Mars transcribed by Peter Sykes and other highlights of this 90-minute concert included an exquisitely delicate interpretation of the Scherzo from Mendelssohns music to A Midsummer Nights Dream in Edwin Lemares transcription and Murrills well-known version of Waltons 1937 coronation march Crown Imperial in which Phil Scrivens rubato in the big tune was idiomatically effective.
There has been some interest recently in recordings of large-scale symphonies and other orchestral works in transcriptions for organ, most notably with Mahler symphonies played by David Briggs, and although music lovers in general may look askance at such efforts, I for one have been impressed with many of the results. Such transcriptions can often work exceptionally well live in concert, as the programme given by Philip Scriven in this year’s Westminster Cathedral Grand Organ Festival in London demonstrated. Scriven’s programme began with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony in Briggs’s transcription, followed by “The Rite of Spring” played by two organists (!) – Scriven joined by Martin Baker - the performances earning standing ovations from the very large audience in the Cathedral.
As part of Westminster Cathedral’s Grand Organ Festival 2013 Philip Scriven’s programme on July 24 was a substantial answer to those who maintain that organ recitals have become rather too predictable in content, with music chosen from the works of half-a-dozen composers at best, for Scriven chose to play just two works – Russian masterpieces, composed just 25 years apart – by Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.
Mention of these composers implies transcriptions, and the result was Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The Tchaikovsky Symphony was given in David Briggs’s transcription, the Stravinsky based on the piano duet version, published in 1914, with Martin Baker as Scriven’s partner. The 1914 duet score is important, as that publication predated the issuing of the orchestral score, which differs in some material respects from the version for piano duet.
Scriven’s account of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony was of notable technical and musical adroitness; the result was a deeply impressive musical experience. Of course, with the reverberation of Westminster Cathedral detail was occasionally submerged, but not so much as might be imagined, neither did the acoustic blur the important aspects of the work, which emerged as the extraordinarily original masterpiece it is – the first movement superbly cogent and powerfully expressive throughout.
In The Rite of Spring Scriven and Baker realised the piano duet score with notable skill and with the wide colouration the Henry Willis organ affords, the result was utterly compelling, rhythmically, melodically and in almost all other respects. A standing ovation from the very large audience greeted the players at the conclusion of this masterpiece. A thrilling and memorable occasion indeed.
On 31st January, Philip Scriven was joined by Cranleigh Voices for an evening performance to mark the midpoint of his epic survey of J. S. Bach's complete organ works ...
The tremendous scope and complexity of Bach's music was immediately established with Philip's solemn rendition of the Buxtehude-inspired Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 ...
The two Toccatas ending each half of the programme (BWV 564 and 540) were notable for their incredibly demanding pedal work, in particular the mind-boggling speed and dexterity with which Philip launched into the first virtuosic pedal episode of BWV 540, liberating the bass from a 30-bar sustained F. The ensuing double fugue concluded the programme as it had begun, in grandiose contrapuntal majesty.
Philip's survey continues on Tuesday 7th February at 12.30pm, with a highly recommended recital of trio sonatas, partitas and concertos.
I hope you do not mind an electronic thank you – but thank you VERY much for the concert – even as a non-musician I loved it. I thought Philip Scriven got it right in that it appealed to dunderheads like me as well as to the more musically minded members of the audience! - Attendee
Thank you for a marvellous evening on Saturday. The programme was excellent and I enjoyed all the items although the piece by Leighton took me a bit by surprise. Philip was very amusing and informative and made us feel completely at home with the music and he created a very relaxed atmosphere. Well done. - Attendee
The organ recital was really great, as you know I`m not a great fan of organ music but Philip Scriven demonstrated the organ to its best. And what a lovely man. Also, the church and churchyard were looking great and helped to make a wonderful venue for concerts (providing the sun shines of course).When`s the next one? - Attendee
Well done for persuading Philip Scriven to come, he gave us an enthralling demonstration of the organ and his little stories and talks about the music set it all off very nicely. Never knew cathedral organists could be so affable and amusing. Liked the impromptu `I do like to be beside the seaside`, we should have more intermediate standing sessions. Please keep the recitals and concerts going, I know they are to generate much-needed church funds, but they do bring really good culture to our little corner of Staffordshire. - Attendee
Sitting in the Church of St Michael the Archangel, Lyme Regis and just listening to the organ music as I did on Monday evening, was a rare treat indeed.
Having the ability, just, to appreciate the quality of the performance of Philip Scriven, Organist and Master of Choristers of Lichfield Cathedral, together with that of the Skrabl organ on which he was playing, and of course the quality of the works he performed, was absolutely amazing as far as I was concerned.
The project undertaken by Andrew Nicholson and his team to raise some £375,000 to purchase and install the replacement organ was indeed an gargantuan one and did not moreover, involve over use of the begging bowl, preferring as they did, to give value for money generally at their organised events on the way to giving Lyme Regis a superb church organ that will, I understand, serve the church for 200 years.
As to the recital itself, the content had I think been chosen with the express purpose of giving the instrument a thorough work out, to use sporting parlance, and it did just that. I had heard along the way that the Skrabl flute pipes were pipes to die for. Philip Scriven reiterated that opinion on the night and he was absolutely right. There was certainly more to the instrument than just the one facet however. As the evening progressed through works by Bach, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Howells and the rest, it became evident, even to my barely educated ear, that the Skrabl was, tonally speaking, superb overall.
A word of praise also for the Perry Brass Quintet and Friends, conducted by church organist Alex Davies, who joined Philip Scriven in the spectacular opening piece, “Grand Choeur Dialogue”.
At the end of the day I was left hoping and believing that the latest acquisition of the church of St Michael the Archangel, Lyme Regis would give great pleasure to many people over the next couple of centuries or so. It certainly gave a great deal to me on Monday.
People who think church organ recitals are staid, rather dour affairs, should have been at St George's Cathedral last Thursday night when Philip Scriven, organist and master of the choristers at Lichfield Cathedral in Britain, put the newly refurbished West Organ through its paces with an explosive enthusiasm bordering on frightening.
Scriven, a gifted recitalist and winner of the Royal College of Organists Performer of the Year competition, is an experienced operatic repetiteur and holds masters degree in orchestral conducting from New York's Julliard School.
He also has a special fondness for the French organ repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as transcriptions of operatic and orchestral works.
So it's not surprise his program, apart from being designed to show off the organ's new-found brightness and eveness of speech to their best advantage, favoured French repertoire and included two arrangements of orchestral works - or that his delivery betrayed an aural imagination overflowing with operatic gesture and orchestral colour.
The swaggering confidence of the Allegro from Widor's Symphony No. 6 in G minor; the transcendent sensuality of Debussy's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune; the joyful virtuosity of Bach's Fantasia in G, BWV572; the sinuous clarity of the Berceuse and Finale from Stravinsky's Firebird suite; the rapid-fire figurations of Dupre's Prelude and Fugue in G minor; the thunderous majesty of Liszt's Fantasia and Fugue on the Chorale Ad nos ad salutarem undam: in each case, Scriven's superlative technique and totality of vision ensured a veritable hotline to heaven.
Indeed, at many points throughout the recital there were audible gasps of disbelief from members of the sizeable audience - surely a more eloquent expression of approval even than the lengthy standing ovation at the end.
The recital given by Philip Scriven on the 3400 pipe Casavant organ of Holy Rosary Cathedral on Wednesday evening, October 22nd 2008 was masterful. The programme was brilliantly designed to include classics of the repertoire, such as the Allegro from Symphony 6 by Widor and the G minor Prelude and Fugue of Dupré, but also transcriptions of three movements of The Planets, jazz influenced pieces by such as Rehberg, and a finely crafted arrangement of the overture to Candide by Scriven himself. The appeal of this range was reflected in one young music student's comments: 'the recital was amazing. I have never been to anything like this before and I really developed a strong appreciation of the organ'. The second half of the concert was perhaps especially appealing with outstanding rhythmic drive and electrifying vigour. The transcription of the Bernstein had all that one could ask, capturing the essence of the original. In general, throughout the recital, registrations were full of colour and made the very best of a rich palette available to the player. There was very little of the instrument that was not on display. This is the sort of event which brings audiences to the organ wanting more.
The afternoon was spent in the cathedral. First, Mark Venning (of Harrison & Harrison), with Philip Scriven at the organ, fascinated us with a very detailed description of his firm's rebuild of the old Hill organ in 2002 and what they had hoped to achieve. Then, after a short break, Philip Scriven returned to the console to present a breath-taking recital which with great musicianship showed just how successful Mark Venning's team had been. This was a memorable recital of rare quality, on a superb instrument, which in itself would have made the day worthwhile. Philip then went on to conduct a public rehearsal of the choir before conducting Evensong. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to him, and David Gumbley of the Lichfield Association, and his helpers on the Midlands Regional Committee.
International recitalist Philip Scriven played his varied prograrnme superbly in the first of the Saturday noon organ proms in Hanley's Victoria Hall. Gigout's Grand Choeur Dialogue provided a technicolor canvas worthy of any French instrument, complete with authentic suspect intonation.
Order was restored in Bach's G minor Fantasia and Fugue played with an innate sense of rhythmic pulse and purpose. The Larghetto from Elgar's Serenade For Strings was the only weak link in this recital. The too frequent change of registration contradicted the consistency of Elgar's original strings. Messiaen's "Transports de Joie" allowed the soloist to demonstrate again the versatility of the hall's magnificent organ. After these sonic splashes Vaughan Williams's Rhosymedre (Lovely) brought calm once again. Jongen's Chant de Mai exuded warm gentle breezes and the recital ended with another French work, Toccata by Lanquetuit.
World-famous organist Philip Scriven showcased his performance skills to an audience including BBC Somerset reviewer Angela Boyd, in Wiveliscombe.
Philip Scriven is organist and director of music at Lichfield Cathedral and has an impressive biography detailing his music studies at Westminster Abbey and the Royal Academy of Music. He also has had organ scholarships at St George’s Chapel, Windsor and St John’s College, Cambridge, the Vienna Musikhochschule and the Juilliard in New York. I was therefore expecting a recital with a very high standard of musical and technical prowess – and I got it!!
Philip Scriven gave a recital with more variety than most of the organ recitals I have heard. He started off with the mainstay of the organ recitalist – J S Bach – and the Toccata in F Major BWV 540. A great opener – bold, dramatic and exciting and played to perfection on the big organ at the Wiveliscombe Church.
Next was the Wesley Larghetto in F# minor – a complete contrast – sad, charming with delicate runs, Philip Scriven played it almost as if it was a lullaby for a child's funeral. It just reminded me a bit of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder in character.
Then on to three pieces from Handel’s Water Music, full of fun and dance like with a much brighter sound.
George Thalben-Ball's Elegy was next: completely different again – with big swathes of sound rolling around the church – almost like a Rachmaninoff symphony, but somehow it was very English in character and one could imagine solemn processions of clergy walking up long aisles to this music.
Pietro Yon's Toccatina followed – with another complete change of style and content, written, apparently, for a primitive organ- delicate, pretty, short and sweet!
The first half ended with another mighty German organ composer – Buxtehude and his Toccata in F Major – it was grand, bold showing the composer to be every inch the master composer for organ.
The second half opened with France’s challenge to the big Germans – Vierne and his Carillon de Westminster, based on the chimes he heard from Big Ben! Impressive stuff, plenty here for Philip Scriven to demonstrate his prowess with the long runs, dramatic and swirling contrasts and almost atonal passages – very French in character.
Rheinberger's Cantilene (from Sonata 11) showed further aspects of Scriven’s art – a catchy rhythm over an "ostinato" type bass and lovely clear organ sound was in complete contrast to the previous piece and the next: Howell’s Paean, big, deep dark sound – it really gave me "the creeps", but perhaps it was supposed to do so!
The Derek Bourgeois Serenade was intriguing: another brighter piece, without the dark undertones – almost Continental in character – and fun in style – giving Scriven the opportunity to show us his very neat, clean finger work!
The Lefebure-Wely was another complete contrast: the lightest in content so far and to show us what the French were composing in the early 19th century – not for the serious organ music lovers, but, in its way, bright and entertaining!
The recital “proper” ended with Vierne’s Final (from Symphony No. 1 in D major) – back to the big stuff – using the full resources of this impressive organ with the sound booming and rolling around the church like waves in the ocean. The piece was a vehicle for this virtuoso organist to show us his style and interpretation in this important work – and he did! A full-blooded and stylish interpretation!
Philip Scriven is to be thanked for coming to Wiveliscombe to play such a wide-ranging and interesting programme with such style, accuracy and panache where he brought out the differing character of each piece and gave his audience examples of so many differing periods and types of organ music.
"The final organ concert was given by Philip Scriven ... What a fitting climax it proved to be" The final Organ Concert in this magnificent 40th Season was given by Philip Scriven (Lichfield Cathedral) on Tue 22 May 2007 and what a fitting climax it proved to be. This remarkable organist enthralled the 85 strong audience with a varied programme which also included some interesting anniversaries namely - Buxtehude (300 years since his death); Elgar (150 years since birth); Langlais (100 years since his birth) and Vierne (70 years since his death). The whole programme was delivered in a highly professional and polished standard. As an encore, Philip played Vierne's Carillon de Westminster.
"Your ability to show off every aspect of the Cathedral organ was superb It was great to have you on our GREAT SPACES Music & Arts Series. Your ability to not only play a diverse program of great masterworks, but also show off every positive aspect of the Cathedral organ, was just superb. The Bach D Major was truly full of “fireworks” and the Reger Toccata & Fugue was powerful and masterfully utilized the gracious acoustic of the Cathedral. And the Durufle….I don’t think I have ever heard a more stunning or sparkling live performance of the work. BRAVO! The evening was immensely entertaining. Something I truly strive for as the primary goal for our concert series.
The Greater Kansas City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists had the privilege of hearing Philip Scriven, organist, in recital at Village Presbyterian Church on Monday 16 October, 2006. Mr. Scriven is an insightful player with ample technical facility to fully realize any composer's intentions and to make full use of a sizable pipe organ, which was the case at Village Church. The brilliant works were exceedingly so and the quieter works were sensitively played.
The programme was delightfully varied, consisting of music from the time of Mozart to the present day. I particularly liked "Mozart Changes" by Zdolt Gardonyi. Less than outstanding playing would have made the work seem trivial; this was not so with Mr. Scriven's playing. I was also pleased that he performed "Rubrics" by the American composer Don Locklair; the fourth movement was exceedingly beautiful. The remainder of the recital was very well played and we were delighted with Mr. Scriven's charming spoken programme notes.
No one had actually heard Mr. Scriven play prior to his coming to us. No one went away disappointed. In fact, his recital was surely one of the best we have heard at the Village Church. It is our hope that we will have the opportunity to hear him again, and that right early.
If Sunday's recital in Bronxville were any indication of the talent of Philip Scriven, he would have to be included on a short list of England's finest concert organists. Mr. Scriven presented a wonderfully varied program of contrasting works that ranged from the familiar Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major of J. S. Bach through the very entertaining "An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary" of Patrick Gowers, climaxing in two of Edwin Lemare's brilliant transcriptions from Die Meistersinger and Die Walküre of Richard Wagner.
Mr. Scriven is incredibly courageous for having opened his recital with the Dupré transcription of Bach's Sinfonia from Cantata No. 29, originally scored for orchestra with a featured organ part. There was no compromise in tempo to accommodate any "settling-in" period one might expect from a lesser talent. His was a brisk, clear and rhythmically vital rendition of a piece, which never lets up in its perpetual motion. One of the highlights of the afternoon was his interpretation of the other major Bach work, the familiar Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major. If one were required to use a single word to describe Mr. Scriven's playing of this remarkable work, it would be "elegant," especially in the case of the fugue, the lines of which flowed flawlessly from voice to voice from beginning to end. His registration in the fugue, though decidedly baroque in style, was comparatively light. Yet he managed in his playing, to combine an unforced rhythmic drive with a transparent linear line to produce an unrelenting forward motion that created a kind of excitement that usually is associated with heavier registration. Thus, the effect was almost that of elegant chamber music.
The B major Prelude and Fugue of Marcel Dupré contains wonderful cross rhythms and accents that are, at times, downright jazzy. This is a formidable work with considerable demands both musically and technically, in which Mr. Scriven demonstrated an impressive interpretive versatility that combines the best of the 20th century French school of composition and performance with traditional forms usually associated with the German baroque.
The Wagner/Lemare transcriptions are fiendishly difficult technically, both in registration and digital facility. The fearless Mr. Scriven attacked these works with what seemed, even at close range, great abandon. If he had any worries about negotiating the challenges of these pieces, he did not show it. Creating the registrations for these transcriptions can be very complicated at times, yet he always managed seamless crescendos and decrescendos and changes of color with little apparent effort. He can technically manipulate the organ console with the best of the "piston-pushers," an ability that is essential if these transcriptions are to be successful in performance. On Sunday afternoon, the people rose to their feet as one in grateful appreciation of superb music making, once after the final work on the printed program, and again after the incredibly exciting encore, "The Ride of the Valkyrie," the introduction of which stimulated an audible gasp of surprise and recognition on the part of the audience.
In short, this was a recital of outstanding performances by a consummate artist.
"Philip Scriven dazzled the audience with his impeccable musicianship, energy and sense of timing. His programming was a stroke of genius. Whether standard or new repertoire, every selection on the program was a revelation. The audience was awe-struck by his performance."
It is hard to imagine a more beautiful spot on earth than was Beverly Hills yesterday, April 21st, 2002. Every well-manicured mansion's yard was abloom in a blaze of color, the temperature a perfect 72F/22C, the air clear with visibility said to be 12 miles/19.312 kilometers, a gentle breeze wafting in off the Pacific Ocean.
Into this idyllic setting, Californians were given the opportunity to hear one of the finer traditional Cathedral choirs from England, that of the 900-year old Winchester Cathedral. And such a performance!
As the choir was seated to a full round of applause from the capacity audience, Philip Scriven took the All Saints organ into hand with a brilliant performance of Marcel Dupré's Prelude and Fugue in B Major. Mr Scriven is also leaving the Winchester Choir to become Director of Music at Lichfield Cathedral in July.
Jean Langlais' Messe Solennelle and Dupré's Laudate Dominum rounded out the first half of the program, offering the first line trebles two chances at a high-C on the word "excelsis" in the former, and a jolly loud chance to dance in the latter. Sturdy and approving applause, punctuated with "bravos," brought the first half to a close.
After the break, the audience was treated to Hebert Howells's Requiem, a dark, multihued and somber work alternating English and Latin movements…. The audience, by the end of the Howells, was in a state of ecstacy. One fellow couldn't contrain himself; in that timeless moment of silence following the disappearing last choral chord, he shouted "Bravo!" - breaking the spell, but was quickly joined by the blessed rest.
Howells was further honored by Mr Scriven's performance of the Psalm Prelude, Set 1, No. 1 which fairly tested the All Saints organ in every respect. Some chords even managed to test the church's very structure as well; no resident termites were spared! Mr Scriven's virtuosic playing was thrilling, and worthy of the sustained and loud response given by the audience…..
Beverly Hills was indeed lucky to have been included in this, the final chance for us to hear David Hill at the helm of such a fine choir. His return with St. John's Choir may be too much to expect so far from Cambridge; but Philip Scriven and the Lichfield Cathedral Choir - now that's to be anticipated!
Philip Scriven is a recent Royal College of Organists Performer of the Year. His pedigree showed as he introduced himself with a bright and breezy performance of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in G (BWV 541), delivered almost as if in a single breath…... The immediacy of Scriven’s communicative skills as a performer were evidenced in the richly reedy solo from Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass, which he discharged with fanfarish flamboyance.
This was a truly magnificent recital….. Philip Scriven is no stranger to the Cambridge music scene, but on this occasion he returned in his capacity as RCO Young Performer of the Year with a demanding programme not lacking in excitement and interest for the listener….. In the Overture to Nicolai's "Merry Wives of Windsor”, Scriven effortlessly proved its worth, with the King's epicurean array of tonal colour at his disposal. Even from its broad and expansive introduction, it was soon clear that this would be a recital to remember: it is rare for visiting organists to display such insight and discretion with registration, together with an impeccable sense of timing – not for his own sake, but for the music and most importantly the acoustic….. In Mozart's F minor Fantasia which followed, Scriven ably demonstrated his enviable technique, articulating the tiniest contrapuntal detail with precision and accuracy in places where other organists might have been grateful for the acoustical blurring available in King's! There were some mysterious moments when, with subtle use of barely audible registrations, Scriven successfully captivated his entire audience, who hardly dared to breathe for fear of making a noise.
Following two shorter pieces by Messiaen and Heiller, the crowning glory to the programme was Vierne's Symphony No.3. For a performer so young, rendition of this mighty work displayed an astounding maturity. He seemed to be completely at ease, able to enjoy, rather than to falter at complexity, and deliver a controlled and musical performance. This modesty shone through also in his careful and precise registrations which at times tended towards understatement, allowing the music to speak for itself: indeed keeping the listener waiting to the close of the Vierne to hear the King's full organ. The slow second movement was particularly beautiful, with discreet use of rubato, but without overloading it with sentimentality. Philip Scriven demonstrated flair, ingenuity and stamina in delivering this programme with great poise, control, maturity and modesty. One could be forgiven for mistaking his precision and professionalism for that of a well-established recitalist of considerably more years. His name will certainly be one to watch out for in the future.
Philip Scriven’s performance of Schoenberg’s Variations on a Recitative was exemplary, demonstrating a clear understanding of the structure of the piece as well as empathy for its intricately chromatic style….Peter Eben’s Studentenlieder was executed with panache by Scriven. He also brought consummate virtuosity to Dupré’s G minor Prelude and Fugue, and achieved the illusion of stasis in Ligeti’s oscillating Coulées. Scriven’s account of the Allegro Maestoso from Vierne’s Third Symphony was exhilarating.
Well, here`s the organ of Lichfield Cathedral as you`ve never heard it before. and in partnership with Lichfield`s one-time organist, Philip Scriven, (if he`ll forgive me) letting his hair down! This disc is huge fun and opens in spectacular style with Philip`s own arrangement of Bernstein`s Candide Overture, and doesn`t look back from that moment. As the title of the CD suggests, the repertoire is jazz and blues-inspired, and is delivered with a splendid degree of abandon, panache and above all, bravura. J M Michel`s take on Lobe de Herren would do more than stir the faithful after a service - in fact the three bluesy chorale preludes make a most attractive group. Iain Farrington`s Fiesta! is a remarkable composition, comprising seven, mostly short, movement of great originality. Interestingly, in this company, Guy Bovet`s Sarasota has the least to say, and rather outstays its welcome. Joel Martinson`s Air on a Chaconne lowers the temperature a little with its long drawn melodic lines. Philip`s playing communicates a great sense of joy - rhythms are crisp and secure, as they must be if this repertoire is to work. Added to this his unerring ear for colour and knowledge of the Lichfield instrument (the CD was recorded in 2008, before he left the Cathedral) which results in a winning programme, and it`s brilliantly recorded. What are you waiting for? Go and buy it now!
The colourful Overture to Bemsteins Candide gets this hugely entertaining recital of jazz and blues-inspired organ pieces off to a rousing start. Throughout, Philip Scriven plays with obvious and gleeful relish for the polystylistic pirouetting of Zsolt Gardcnyi's Mozart Changes, the cascading free-fall that is Peter Planyavskys Toccata alla Rumba, Mons Leidvin Takle's raucously high-spirited Blues-Toccata and the startling originality of Iain Farrington's seven-part Fiesta! For contrast, there's a beautiful set of Three Blues Chorale Preludes and a captivating take on the traditional Irish melody Slane (more familiarly known as Be Thou My Vision), and much else to delight and please.
At Lichfield Cathedral, Philip Scriven is also content to programme the serious and the light-hearted side by side, and such is the outstanding quality of his playing that I can forgive Regent the rather silly title of this disc, Piping Hot. Scriven gives good-humoured and sparkling accounts of Ives’ Variations on America, Bonnet’s Elfes, Gowers An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary and the Scherzo from Vierne’s Second Symphony. Franck’s Prelude, fugue et variation is slower than usual, which adds to its effectiveness, and the slow crescendo and building of intensity in Barber’s Adagio are suberbly managed. The clear articulation in the pieces by Alain, Duruflé and Messiaen and Preston is a joy to listen to and Regent’s recording of the marvellous 1884 four-manual Hill is of a customarily high standard.
The Harrison reworking of the Lichfield organ is something of a triumph. I was present at John Scott’s splendid recital when it was new; we were all bowled over by the wonderful manner in which the new nave section integrates with the main organ. Regent have captured its distinguished tones superbly and have found more resonance than any human ear will normally hear in that great sandstone pile. For me, the Lichfield organ is so subtle and varied in its colours, rich, multi-layered and well-blended in its choruses, and so civilised in its manner of speech, that as a musical vehicle it holds a more profound, richly detailed and lasting attraction than the ‘in your face’ Willis at Truro. — however viscerally exciting the latter undoubtedly is. Philip Scriven clearly revels in it, and is indeed ‘piping hot’ in his enthusiasm to project the programme for the listener.
For me he is a little too effortlessly able —there’s a great deal of technique and rhythmic control, not perhaps quite enough real profundity of interpretation in the big works (or maybe it’s just that he plays them quickly!), and his staccato is sometimes too short for the acoustic(unless of course, in Alleluias he is consciously mimicking Preston’s penchant for staccato in his own playing……) A particular joy for me, on the other hand, is his choice of soft repertoire: the haunting Gammal fåbodpsalm of the Swede Oskar Lindberg (1887 – 1936), Langlais’ tricky little Cantilène, and Barber’s Adagio for Strings are played affectingly, and Bonnet’s Elfes scamper about mischievously. One of the very first EP records I bought as a youngster was of Richard Greening playing the Lichfield organ, before its HNB rebuild, when it was operating still on its old Hill pneumatic action. On the Ryemuse label, it introduced me to Allain’s Litanies, for which I immediately saved up and drove everyone mad at school endeavouring to play. I’m sure that Richard would have been thrilled to hear ‘his’ organ sounding so fabulous and in such able professional hands.
Some readers may turn their noses up at the CD’s title, but if it helps to sell the disc beyond the confines of the cathedral souvenir shop then it’s well justified. There’s no doubt in my mind that this splendid CD deserves the widest possible circulation.
Scriven’s wonderful playing is characterised by beautiful phrasing at all times and a polished use of the magnificent 1884 four-manual Hill organ. Franck’s Prelude, Fugue and Variation is slower than usual which adds to its effectiveness, whilst Preston’s Alleluyas has their incisive articulation and driving tempi so typical of the composer. The intensity and slow crescendo of Barber’s Adagio are very well captured and in contrast there’s good humour and sparkling figuration in Ive’s Variations on America, Bonnet’s Elfes, Gowers’ An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary and the Scherzo from Vierne’s 2nd Symphony. Sometimes the moto perpetuo quavers in Duruflé's Alain Prelude are rather distant, but Scriven scrupulously observes the composer’s expression marks and the build-up during the Fugue is superbly handled.
As always with Regent and excellent recording and an informative booklet. Let’s hope for another CD from Scriven very soon.
Jongen's Mass is a deeply impressive work. Moments of magisterial grandeur, captivating tints of impressionistic colour, masterly handling of the instrumental resources and beautifully paced choral writing elevate it to one of the best Mass settings from the mid-20th century (it was first performed in 1946 and relects Jongen's joy on learning that a friend captured by the Gestapo had survived the war).
This recording is welcome, not only because it brings into the catalogue such a significant work but also because Philip Scriven drives his choral forces to produce some impassioned and, at times (not least in Franck's Panis anglicus), really lovely singing. On top of that, the Fine Arts Brass Ensemble play with fire and verve, adding greatly to the magnificence of the work's climaxes, and Alexander Mason knows the Lichfield Cathedral organ intimately enough to handle Jongen's quasi-orchestral writing with complete assurance. The addition of the three quiet fillers (the Franck and two inoffensive organ solos) offers a nice touch of repose, although purists may find Scriven's reading of the Flor Peeters's Aria questionable.
The sum of the parts however is mildly disappointing. The fault lies fairly and squarely with Lichfield Cathedral itself. Acoustically it offers little tangible support and while Peeters's somewhat spartan Mass is not seriously disadvantaged by such a lifeless environment, Jongen's cries out for that halo of resonance which would blunt the occaisional rough edges (both in the performance and the writing itself) and add a touch of opulence to the proceedings. Nevertheless Regent's Gary Cole has done what he can to soften the sound and, until a recording comes along setting the work in a more sympathetic acoustic, Lichfield Cathedral and its musicians can be proud to have produced this invaluable recording.
Bach returned to finish the concert when flautist Clare Crinson-Graves joined Alex Laing (violin) and Philip Scriven (Harpsichord) to perform the fifth Brandenburg Concerto. The highlight for me is always the extended harpsichord solo at the end of the first movement. Scriven brought it to life in an almost jazz like manner. This romantic dreamer imagined Bach at the keyboard demonstrating his skills to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, to whom the concertos are dedicated.
Our region is indeed a good place to be for lovers of live classical music.
Pelleas e Mellisande is associated with Debussy in popular circles, so DECO's choice of Sibelius's suite was a welcome change. The opening majestic chords have been used to introduce Patrick Moore's Sky at Night TV programme for more than 50 years. To hear the full work, describing the story of love, marriage, infidelity and death is informative. The steady direction of Philip Scriven communicated this dark story most effectively, holding the attention of the audience to the last. The silence at the end attested to the power of the performance.
Sadly, Laing himself was (temporarily) absent from the leader’s seat. But the standard of DECO’s playing under regular conductor Philip Scriven was testimony to the high-quality core of regular players that Laing has established. Lichfield Cathedral can be a ticklish acoustic for an orchestra, but clearly, lessons have been learned and tonight DECO got the balance between strings and woodwind spot on.
That’s all the more impressive when you consider that this must have been one of the largest orchestras that DECO has ever fielded. The concert opened with a shapely performance of Mozart’s overture to “The Magic Flute”. Scriven found a nice path between underlying calm and skittering surface. Mozart’s racing string figures danced brilliantly over majestic foundations, and woodwind solos were deftly shaped at speed.
Schubert’s “Unfinished” symphony was even more convincing, Scriven making the most of Schubert’s ever-shifting blends of tone-colour. Woody flutes, burnished horns, and – in the opening phrase – a dark, mahogany blend of cello and bass tone all sounded through, expressive and enchanting.
Attention to detail paid off: in the first movement, in the lilting, gently-phrased accompaniment to the cellos’ famous second subject; in the Andante, the way the trombones strode terrifyingly through the climaxes like the Commendatore in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. Clarinettist Luan Shaw and oboist George Caird sang their great duet with melting tenderness.
And at the heart of the concert came a sparkling performance of Haydn’s C major Cello Concerto, with soloist Rowena Calvert. Scriven hurried Haydn’s mock-baroque rhetoric along; DECO responded with bravura, and at the centre of it all, Calvert fizzed through Haydn’s finger-twisting passagework with breathtaking clarity and gorgeous tone. A terrific concert, by any standards: in DECO, Lichfield has a first rate professional orchestra. Spread the word!
“Viennese Fancies”: it was an odd title for this latest concert by the Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra, under conductor Philip Scriven. Anyone who expected a belated New Year programme of Strauss waltzes was in for a jolt, as DECO sandwiched Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto between two of the grandest of classical symphonies: Haydn’s “Surprise” and Mozart’s “Prague”.
But who’s complaining? It’s hard to think of a programme better-chosen to highlight the differences between these two composers. Mozart, at the peak of his game, saluting an audience of connoisseurs with a symphony in which melodies pour out so abundantly that it can seem as if he’s about to trip over them. And Haydn, aiming to thrill his less knowledgeable – but no less enthusiastic - London fans with music of such imagination and verve that it can draw gasps from audiences even today.
Both works received performances on a lavish scale. DECO may be a chamber orchestra (and balance problems between strings and wind remain its only real weakness), but these were “big band” interpretations in spirit. Tuttis were explosive, and the violins whirled brilliantly through Haydn’s first movement waltz-tunes.
Nice, too, to hear Scriven making the most of the way Haydn “underlines” his melodies with a single, carefully-chosen woodwind instrument. DECO’s first-rate wind players sounded like they were enjoying every note.
Occasional touches of period style heightened the effect. In the brooding introduction to “Prague” symphony, the strings’ sparing use of vibrato let Scriven draw out the dark undercurrents of Mozart’s woodwind writing – and again, in the astonishingly modern harmonies that subvert the first movement’s development section. Too many conductors treat these powerful and demanding symphonies as oversized chamber music. These big, stirring performances put that straight.
A fortnight short of its first anniversary, DECO is playing with rather more than just total professionalism.
Mozart and Mendelssohn are two of the great tune-smiths of all time.
Lichfield was treated to some of their finest compositions on Saturday (September 26) by the maturing Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra, under their conductor Philip Scriven.
The Hebrides overture is well known to music lovers.The strings excelled themselves with the softest of pianissimos rivalling more established orchestras. The wind too, produced an impeccable sound and the slow crescendos were beautifully measured by the whole orchestra.
Mozart originally composed his clarinet concerto for a new instrument able to play lower notes than the conventional clarinet of the time. The soloist, Peter Sparkes played with a mellifluous beauty and managed the potentially hazardous balance with the orchestra with ease.
The concert concluded with Mendelssohn's Italian symphony. It is a grand piece designed to show off the artistry of a competent orchestra with a musical representation of early nineteenth century Italy. The orchestra excelled, clearly enjoying themselves and the music they were playing. The DECO are to be congratulated on top class performances in Lichfield.
Watch out Birmingham. You have competition!
Those fortunate enough to be present at Lichfield Cathedral for the inaugural performance of a new local orchestra will, no doubt, share my excitement at the prospect of more inspiring concerts to come.
For, without doubt, the quality of the Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra’s first ever offering, before an enraptured audience exceeding 300, was matched only by the majesty of this graceful, historic building. No wonder that these talented musicians, under the skilful direction of conductor Philip Scriven, received a standing ovation at the end of an entertaining and well-balanced programme of Mozart and Beethoven.
Artistic director Alex Laing, also leader of DECO – to use the shortened version of the orchestra’s name – has set his stall out on offering mainly popular and accessible classical music for the local community, especially children among whom he is very keen to create an interest.
He could not have chosen a better start, with Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro providing a light and lithe introduction in the composer’s typical style. This is a work that most will know and it could not have been performed better. Instantly noticeable was the players’ close togetherness despite restricted rehearsal time.
Next was a real treat – and for me the highlight of a memorable evening – Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto. Once again the Maestro’s work was brilliantly interpreted, particularly by soloist Simon Blendis, who has worked with fine orchestra’s in many country’s, such as the Ensemble Kanazawa in Japan, Spain’s Basque National Orchestra and our own Royal Philharmonic. His delightful touch left an impression on everyone.
The second half of the programme was devoted to Beethoven’s often stirring First Symphony, perhaps less known than some of the later symphonies, such as the Pastoral and the Choral, but nonetheless masterly, being composed at a time when the influence of his teacher Haydn was combined with Beethoven’s own burgeoning ingenuity and individuality.
Alex Laing made a short, but sincere speech expressing gratitude to everyone who had attended this affordable and enjoyable concert. Yet the thanks should have been the other way around, from a highly delighted audience to the players whose enchanting performance will, no doubt, tempt many to return for another “DECO!” Why not join them?
We all joined in choir practice at Lichfield Cathedral on Saturday evening, as conductor Philip Scriven genially rehearsed us in the audience hymns which are such an integral part of Paul Spicer’s Advent Oratorio, which he was about to premiere.
And this congregation participation is as vital an element as it is in several of Britten’s works, and as implied by the chorales in Bach’s Passions and the spirituals in Tippett’s Child of our Time.
The first and second coming of the Messiah involves us all, and Spicer makes us continually aware of this in the urgently dramatic, occasionally reflective, unfolding of this worthy successor to his Easter Oratorio of 2000.
Its musical language is as effective and direct as that of Spicer’s two great idols, Finzi and Howells, and holds no terrors for performer or listener.
Bishop Tom Wright’s libretto draws from a wide range of biblical sources, but expresses so much in throat-grabbing, colloquial terms, and the singers – the remarkable Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir (celebrating its 50th anniversary), Lichfield Cathedral choristers, soloists Natalie Clifton-Griffith, Ed Lyon, William Berger, supported by the resourceful and alert St Chad’s Camerata – delivered its message with committed engagement.
In this performance there were perhaps too many pauses between sections, where more of a sense of flow would have enhanced the drama, and balances were not always ideal.
But the big climactic moments were persuasively handled by Scriven, and the standing ovation at the end was among the very few I’ve been happy to join.
What a strange situation a composer finds himself in when he creates a new musical work. A painter can view his pictures in his studio, a writer reads his finished work in private, but a composer of large musical works must wait for his performers and audience to gather together before the music can become reality. Little wonder then that Lichfield composer Paul Spicer exuded some waves of tension as Philip Scriven’s baton descended to start the World Premiere of his new Advent Oratorio, commissioned and performed by Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir to celebrate the choir’s milestone 50th Anniversary…a historic occasion indeed, which was also to include the first part of the Messiah, a reflection of their first ever concert.
He need not have worried. The work is a setting of words by the former Dean of Lichfield and current Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, who flew from America to be present at this first performance. The text demonstrates Bishop Tom’s magnificent grasp of English, with its profound and beautifully modulated words reflecting on the widest interpretation of Advent, and this was well matched by Paul Spicer’s varied and colourful settings, which involved not only the choir, orchestra and soloists but also followed the Baroque Oratorio tradition of incorporating hymns for everyone to sing.
The Cathedral was packed for this very special occasion, with many former friends and supporters travelling many miles, and they were not disappointed, for this was indeed a stunning performance by the Special Choir, who had clearly expended a great deal of energy in successfully learning the complex yet singable and satisfying score. Mr Spicer, himself a highly regarded choral conductor as well as composer, showed his excellent understanding of the human voice in his flowing lines, many of which brought to mind the music of twentieth century English composers such as Howells and Finzi, yet still had a distinctive character of their own. His variety of approach, contrast in textures and skilful use of voices and instrumentation were tremendously exciting and brought the magnificent libretto to life.
This score was, of course, new to everyone including soloists and the orchestra, St Chad’s Camerata, who of necessity had little rehearsal time yet performed confidently. The soloists were given sympathetic and melodious lines, and the crafting of their roles as Evangelist (tenor Ed Lyon) and Prophet John the Baptist (William Berger), with reflective Arias by Natalie Clifton-Griffith (another former Lichfield resident) was excellent.. Natalie’s clear, true soprano voice floated through the cathedral in her higher register, though was occasionally masked in the lower parts of her voice by the wind scoring, which although admirably light was still very dominant in this particular building. The fine baritone William Berger quickly settled into in his role as John the Baptist, and the Evangelist’s role was sung firmly and with clear diction by Ed Lyon
Other important parts were taken by our excellent Cathedral choristers who produced a beautifully unified tone, but less good diction, and two very competent voices from the choir, though their respective God and Jesus both sounded a little too distant and underpowered from where I was sitting. But the greatest praise must go to the Special Choir itself, whose diligence in learning this splendid new work reaped its reward in a brilliant and memorable performance, establishing themselves immediately in a confident opening chorus with excellent diction which continued throughout the performance.
The overarching sense of building to the glorious climax of the Coming which Tom Wright’s words developed were cleverly matched in Paul Spicer’s reworking of some of the great hymns with which the audience were invited to join, and in which he was able to exploit his expertise in harmonization and orchestration. There were some wonderful crunchy moments when I was glad to be unable to sing through having lost my voice and was consequently able to hear the wonderful harmonies enveloping me…the second verse of O come O come Emmanuel was positively spine-tingling. And the final great chorus and positive shout of “Come, Lord Come” simply left us hoping and praying for more. A well-deserved standing ovation for a sympathetically-written and profoundly expressed work which I am sure we shall hear again in the not-too-distant future.
And that was only the interval! The same forces continued with the first part of “The Messiah” which had been performed at the choir’s first concert 50 years ago. The soloists were joined by the alto Philip Jones, who gave a commendable performance if a little weak in his lower voice. Natalie was absolutely on home ground here and gave a sublime performance of Rejoice Greatly, whilst William Berger showed us how important the body language is when singing – his “people that walked in darkness” displayed a rarely-heard profundity.
Perhaps the effort of the Spicer had slightly overtaxed the choir, who seemed less confident in parts of their choruses. There were certainly more eyes glued to copies than to the conductor, or perhaps Mr Scriven’s rapid tempi surprised them a little…but then it was getting late and the pub was calling. Again, the over-loud wind, brass and basses tended to dominate the acoustic in this building, making it difficult to hear some of the vocal parts, a factor which really needs addressing in future.
All in all, a magnificent way to celebrate this excellent organization’s fifty continuous years of service to the people of Lichfield and district, enjoyed by the most appreciative of audiences. Long may their music-making continue.
The Bruckner Mass in E Minor is a giant work, both in its musical and emotional range. It demonstrated from the outset the fine rapport between conductor Philip Scriven and The Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir. Although the choir could not quite aspire to the tonal richness required for the forte sections, they responded admirably to his direction to provide an exquisite muted tone in the Crucifixus of the Credo, and a heart rending, cascading cry for mercy in the Agnus Dei. In this and the works that followed they were skilfully supported by the Brass and Wind of the St Chad's Camerata, and Martyn Rawles, organ.
The poetry of R S Thomas, chosen as the text for "The Deciduous Cross" by composer Paul Spicer, is a vivid meditation on the Cross of Easter etched in shadow across a quintessentially British landscape. If birdsong provokes Messiaen to venture out into the furtherest reaches of musical invention here, as explored by Spicer, it brings us home to experience the cosmic expressed through a gentler, more familiar idiom. The choir and orchestra imbued this difficult work with an impressive depth of feeling and I look forward to hearing the new oratorio for Advent 2009 that they have commissioned from this fine composer.
Its perhaps too easy to scoff at the musical world of John Rutter - a world unruffled by the existence of Penderecki, or Stockhausen - but here in the 1974 Gloria there are genuine moments of enduring invention (the filigree organ riffs of the second movement) and one cannot disregard his melodic skill to which the choir responded with such elan and pleasure. It was a vibrant and fitting finish to an adventurous and rewarding evening.
Haydn’s Creation was, I am told, the second work ever to be performed by Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir, some forty years ago, (the first, perhaps unsurprisingly, being Messiah), and the sense that we were revisiting an old friend was much in evidence in their recent performance in the Cathedral under the baton of Phil Scriven.
Haydn considered this to be one of his greatest works, and in its day it must have presented a fascinating blend of old and new, with the traditional oratorio structure used as a vehicle for some magnificent word-painting through novel instrumentations such as Haydn’s use of clarinet as soloist.
The choir’s confidence was apparent from the outset, with the opening chorus, sung from memory, (by all but one member of the choir), giving a particularly vibrant “light” moment after St Chad Camerata’s appropriately murky opening representation of chaos. It has to be said that some of the orchestral ensemble was less crisp than we have come to expect from this excellent band, but there were equally some sublime individual moments, particularly from the wind and brass, well supported by the subtly restrained continuo.
The progress of Creation was carried forward by the fine trio of soloists. The soprano, Julia Sporsen, brought a clarity and rhythmic certainty to her role, and she excelled as Eve in the apparently effortless “Graceful Consort” duet with bass-baritone James Birchall. He had many splendid moments, and elicited audible relief from the audience as his relatively light voice successfully plumbed the depths to find the worm! He gave a very creditable account of his taxing role throughout, despite his voice having possibly not yet quite reached its fullest maturity. The tenor, Mark Chaundy , produced a beautiful, easy sound, but was less successful in projecting across this difficult space…clearer diction would have been welcome. He may not have been helped by his physical separation from the other two soloists.
Chorally, however, this performance was a fine example of Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir at its confident best; some uncertainties in establishing tempi at the start of movements (notably the final fugue) were firmly outweighed by vibrant, enthusiastic singing, perhaps heard at its best in “Achieved is the glorious work”. Intonation was good in all parts, as was the balance, despite the small number of tenors. We look forward to a very different programme from these versatile musicians in April, hopefully with the correct text in the programme next time!
Easter may be at its earliest this year, but Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir’s polished performance of Bach’s St John Passion in the Cathedral belied the shortness of rehearsal time. Philip Scriven conducted the choir, the Birmingham Bach Orchestra and a fine team of soloists in a dramatic and yet intimate performance, in which the events of the first Holy Week were clearly and meaningfully presented by both soloists and choir.
The poignant opening winds leading to a strong opening chorus set the tone, swiftly established by the refined voice of Christopher Watkins who made a splendid Evangelist. His diction was always clear, as was that of the choir throughout the performance, and his arias were sensitively performed, if perhaps a little under-powered at times. Perhaps the new edition text, which certainly clarified the story in general, may not have sat well with his arias.
The versatile soprano Anna Crookes, who bravely sang at very short notice, had a pleasant fresh quality to the voice though her habit of frequently dropping her tone gave a somewhat stilted effect to the musical line. Assured performances by Francis Ambrose as Peter and Pilate and the two voices in the choir gave splendid support to the excellent Thomas Guthrie, whose human and sincere portrayal of Jesus, helped by fine diction and an intensely felt understanding of his role, created a true focus of our attention.
Catherine King gave a competent and sensitive account, particularly in her “It is fulfilled” aria, with her mellow tone and strong technique providing a faultless performance, marred only slightly for me by the heavy-footed continuo which did seem somewhat unvaried throughout the work. This did not however deflect from a most moving ending to the aria, with everyone in the building seeming to hold their breath as Jesus died.
The chorus was responsive throughout, and made both the reflective and dramatic parts of the text come alive with a notably splendid bass line at “We have a sacred law”, and the crowd’s cries of “crucify” becoming more intense and confident as they progressed. The final chorus did seem rather more of a dance than a calm reflection, and the more reflective chorales were a little fast for my taste, leaving us wishing we had longer to enjoy Bach’s magnificent harmonies, but their variety was admirable, and the final chorale was a glorious summation of the entire work, giving us all hope where there could so easily have been despair.
The number of truly great oratorios written in English can probably be counted on one hand, and Elgar’s setting of Cardinal Newman’s wonderful poem the Dream of Gerontius must be the most heartfelt and moving of them all. Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir was joined by the Lichfield Cathedral Chamber Choir and a much-enlarged St Chad’s Camerata for a stunning performance of this work in the Cathedral, providing a body of some 250 musicians under the control of Philip Scriven’s baton to tell the story of the passing of Gerontius’s soul through death into purgatory and toward eternity. It was a privilege for me to have my first opportunity to perform in this great work, truly the pinnacle of Elgar’s achievement, and those in the audience who were acting as my “ears” were equally moved.
A spellbound audience listened intently from the opening moments, with an exceptional blend of mellow orchestral tone evident from the outset, integrating Elgar’s jigsaw of complex orchestral lines seamlessly. The clear, bell-like Gerontius (William Kendall) did well to perform this arduous, if rewarding, part, being barely recovered from a severe throat infection, and he gave a sincere and restrained account of the role, with a moving depiction of a man on his deathbed slowly losing energy. There was a wonderfully flowing transition from solo to choir at the first choral entry, soon followed by a dramatic plea to “rescue him”. As Gerontius left his earthly life the Priest (Michael Pearce) thunderously sent him on his way with the chorus of Assistants passionately supporting him. His delivery was powerful and majestic; it was a shame that there was not more for him to sing in this particular work…perhaps we will hear him again in the future in a more extended role.
The angel (mezzo-soprano Jeanette Ager) quickly dispelled the notion of an ethereal spirit as she soared from rich chest voice to the heights. She was certainly in charge of Gerontius’s soul, though there were times when a little more warmth in the tone would have been welcome. The Choir of Angelicals lived up to its name, with the choir sopranos soaring in Praise to the Holiest, often rumblingly underpinned by the new nave organ, played by Alex Mason. Overall the choir was in excellent form, the tenors volume and accuracy belying their small number, and the basses coming into their own in the terrifying chorus of Demons. There was a notable variety of tonal colour in the choruses, with excellent intonation and diction throughout. Indeed, one supporter in the audience thought this was the best Special Choir performance she had ever heard.
The performers were indeed almost victims of their own success, with the audience being so enthused by the depth, sincerity and quality of the performance that the opportunity for a final reflective moment was lost in the outburst of enthusiastic applause, which was nevertheless heartfelt, prolonged and justified.
Something very special happened in the Cathedral…..perhaps it was the sheer self-confidence engendered by conductor Philip Scriven’s excellent understanding of the work…..Mr. Scriven’s enthusiastic conducting brought out its drama and excitement.