Notes from Prima Facie Records PFCD205 Music for Organ and other Instruments
Music for Organ and other Instruments: Richard Pantcheff
Neil Fulton Flugelhorn Benedict Holland Violin Simon Passmore Organ
- Nocturnus I [08:21] (Flugelhorn and Organ)
- Chorale Preludes – No.1: ‘Jesu sei nun gepreiset’ [04:34] (Organ solo)
- Chorale Preludes – No.2: ‘Jesu, meine Freude’ [04:48] (Organ solo)
- Chorale Preludes – No.3: ‘Befiel du deine Wege’ [04;11] (Organ solo) *
- Chorale Preludes – No.4: ‘Weg, mein Herz, mit den Gedanken’ [04:07] (Organ solo) *
- Chorale Preludes – No.5: ‘O Mensch, bewein dein Suende gross’ [04:15] (Organ solo) *
- Chorale Preludes – No. 6: ‘Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit’ [06:24] (Organ solo) *
- Sonata for Violin and Organ: I – Canzona [07:35] (Violin and Organ)
- Sonata for Violin and Organ: II – Romanza [07:17] (Violin and Organ)
- Sonata for Violin and Organ: III – Tarantella [07:11] (Violin and Organ)
- ‘Agnus Dei’ [03:25] (Violin and Organ)*
- Nocturnus VI [07:20] (Organ solo)
- Fantasia on ‘Haec Dies’ [05:19] (Organ Solo)
* World premiere recording
Following on from the successful release of Passacaglia on a Theme of Benjamin Britten and Other Organ Works (PFCD174-5), organist Simon Passmore returns to the organ of St. Ann’s Church, Manchester, for this second volume of organ music by British composer, Richard Pantcheff. The new disc comprises works for organ solo, as well as works written for organ with other instruments: Violin (Benedict Holland), and Flugelhorn (Neil Fulton). The programme contains highly melodic modal works, including the Sonata for Violin and Organ (Opus 74) and its fore-runner ‘Agnus Dei’ (Opus 41). The more contemporary Nocturnus I (Opus 90, No.1) for Flugelhorn and Organ is complemented here by the solo organ work which completes the Nocturnus series of compositions, Nocturnus VI (Opus 90, No.6). Both works were completed while the composer was living in South Africa. Lastly, the six Chorale Preludes (2021/No.2) for solo organ are here recorded in full for the first time. Written during the depths of the pandemic, these sparse, elevated, works are like icons in music: where time seems to stand still, and the listener is immersed in the intense spiritual dialogue presented in the music.
In recent years a trend has emerged for composers and performers to seek out new music for combinations of instruments which might not be so well- served by the established repertoire hitherto. This is particularly true of the Organ, where, for reasons of balance and timbre, it has not always proved easy to produce works which allow both instruments to combine effectively, as well as have their individual moment in the sun.
This disc brings together a number of Richard Pantcheff’s works for solo Organ (some of which are very recent) with those which combine the instrument with another solo instrument. Thus one work on the disc features Flugelhorn and Organ (Nocturnus 1), and two are scored for Violin and Organ (the short, single-movement ‘Agnus Dei’ of 1998, and the substantial Sonata for Violin and Organ of 2010). The disc could be considered complementary to the earlier CD Passacaglia on a Theme of Benjamin Britten and other organ works released by Prima Facie Records in 2022 (PFCD174/175).
The first work presented here, Nocturnus I (Opus 90, No.1), is the first (and longest) of a series of six works for solo instruments or ensembles written while the composer was living in South Africa. The overall title of the series is ‘Nocturnus’ as all the works are descriptive of some aspect of nocturnal life. The underlying message of Nocturnus 1 is that of reminiscence, a theme which this composer has explored in a number of other works besides this one. It was commissioned and premiered by the Flugelhorn player Jevon O’Donovan and organist Marnus Greyling at the Dutch Reformed Church in Wakkerstroom, South Africa, at the Gala Concert closing the 2014 Wakkerstroom Music Festival.
The six Chorale Preludes (Catalogue Reference 2021/No.2) are the most recently-composed works appearing on this disc, being written in December 2021 in the midst of the Covid pandemic. Their nature is one of extreme elevation and intensity, reflecting as it were, the private person at prayer in the midst of a public catastrophe.
Each of the several movements portrays a form of dialogue between the individual and God, using the ancient chorale tunes as the vehicle. The chorale tunes themselves date from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and so their timeless nature, and the occasion of their use in earlier generations, are linked to the contemporary situation. The first of the six Chorale Preludes was premiered by the composer on the organ of the City Church of St Michael at the Northgate, Oxford, on 25th May 2022.
A musical partnership between two of South Africa’s top instrumentalists was the catalyst for the composition of the Sonata for Violin and Organ (Opus 74) in 2010. Violinist Zanta Hofmeyr and organist Prof. Wim Viljoen, both of whom had worked independently on many occasions with the composer, specialized in presenting programmes of music for Violin and Organ.
They were seeking a new work to add to the repertoire, and so approached the composer for a large-scale piece for this unusual combination of instruments. The dedicatees duly premiered the new Sonata at the Universiteitsoord Church of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, on 27th September 2010.
The work is intensely melodic, follows the Sonata form rigorously, and is in many places highly modal. The opening movement (Canzona) features long melismatic tunes on each instrument, and also provides for the one to accompany the other. Thus at the point of recapitulation, the Violin returns with the accompanying theme heard originally on the Organ, whose left hand is now the bearer of the Violin’s opening statement.
The second movement (Romanza) starts on an even more rarified level, with each instrument stating and sharing similar thematic material, as the relationship between the two deepens. There are moments of great contrast and intensity, until the final climax in the Coda leads to a very quiet and peaceful ending.
The fast movement of the Sonata (Tarantella) is thus the final one in this work. The staccato ascending and descending rhythm introduced by the organ at the outset gives way to more reflective passages at bars 90 (where the left hand of the Organ takes over the legato solo role) and the Coda at bar 217 (where the same theme re-appears, in the Violin) to close the work.
‘Agnus Dei’ (Opus 41) was originally scored for Flute and Organ (although here the solo is played on the Violin), and formed part of a collection of new works being published by Kevin Mayhew Ltd. This was at a time when the composer was living in Whitchurch, Hampshire. Once again, it is a reflective work, but here the musical language is very pastoral and modal, in many ways foreshadowing the mood and language of the later Sonata for Violin and Organ (see above). It was premiered by Sarah Pantcheff (Flute) and the composer (Organ) at Christ Church, Smannell, Hampshire, on 21st December 1998.
Nocturnus VI (Opus 90, No.6) is the final work in the Nocturnus series (see above), and is for Organ solo. It is subtitled “…4th December 1976” this being the date upon which Benjamin Britten died. Richard Pantcheff started writing the work on 4th December 2016, and so the work is a memorial to Britten on the fortieth anniversary of his death. There are numerous references to Britten themes in the work, and the underlying accompaniment provides an unsettled, shifting, basis for the thematic material. Nocturnus VI was premiered by Gerrit Jordaan on the organ of St George’s Anglican Church, Johannesburg, on 2nd April 2017.
The final work here, Fantasia ‘Haec Dies’ (Opus 82, No.2) dates from 2017, and was commissioned for the London Festival of Contemporary Church music that year. The chant melody ‘Haec Dies’ is customarily used for the singing of Psalm 118: ‘This is the day the Lord hath made’.
Here the mood is declamatory. Fortissimo double-pedal rhythms abound in the opening section, in a way which rather foreshadows the rhythmic drive heard in this composer’s later Concerto for Organ (2022). Jagged interjections are heard in the manuals in which the chant theme is almost completely atomised. Bar 42 sees a period of relative quiet, and the chant theme is once again restored into a more recognizable solo, first in the right hand, and then, responding in the left. However it is not long before the intense chromaticism of the opening passage returns, and we are propelled towards the ascending semiquaver pedal solo which leads to the final triumphant chord.
Fantasia ‘Haec Dies’ was premiered at the Church of St Pancras, London, on 10th May 2017, and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
Richard Pantcheff is internationally renowned as one of the finest contemporary British composers of choral, organ, chamber and instrumental music. He studied music at Christ Church, Oxford, under Simon Preston and Francis Grier, and was mentored in composition by Benjamin Britten in the last years of Britten’s life. Since then he has been commissioned to write new works for many leading performers, including Benjamin Luxon, Stephen Layton, Grayston Ives, David Hill, Jane Parker-Smith, John Scott, Stephen Darlington, Clive Driskill-Smith, and the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, amongst many others. His substantial output of compositions has been commissioned, performed, recorded, and broadcast all over the world. This includes at least thirteen of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge universities in the UK, as well as in many cathedrals and churches in Britain, major concert venues and radio/TV broadcasts in the USA, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, across Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and South Africa. Highlights include King Henry VIII’s Apologia, a festival anthem commissioned by Christ Church, Oxford, in honour of the 450th anniversary of its foundation, (which was also performed in London as part of the 80th birthday celebrations of the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in 2014). All of his music has been commercially published, and features in major international music festivals, including the Tanglewood Festival (USA); the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music (UK); the Cape Festival of Voices (South Africa); the National Arts Festival (South Africa); Britten 100; and the English Music Festival. There are currently twenty commercially-released CDs and EPs in the catalogue featuring his music, many containing only his work, receiving excellent reviews. Upon its release on the Orchid Classics label in October 2021, his most recent CD with the London Choral Sinfonia (The Music of Richard Pantcheff, Volume 2) went straight to number five in the Gramophone Magazine’s Classical Charts, and received a 5-star rating from Choir and Organ magazine. Several new CDs are in preparation. His compositions have received wide acclaim from performers, critics, and audiences for their originality and technical brilliance, combined with intellectual and emotional depth.
NEIL FULTON (Flugelhorn)
Originally a cornet player, Neil studied with John Berryman at the Northamptonshire Music Service. Playing in various ensembles and brass bands he worked his way up to the position of Principal Cornet with the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. Neil went on to study the trumpet with Howard Snell at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. With a professional performing career spanning over 20 years Neil has travelled all over the world and recorded and performed with many of the worlds leading orchestras and ensembles including the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. Alongside his playing career Neil is also a trumpet teacher and brass tutor at the Chetham’s School of Music and the Junior RNCM. A regular soloist and Principal Trumpet with the Manchester Concert Orchestra for over 22 years, Neil is also an Adams Brass Performing Artist. On this recording he plays the Adams F2 Flugelhorn.
BENEDICT HOLLAND (Violin)
Benedict Holland studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Manoug Parikian and was subsequently a prize winner at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he studied with Yossi Zivoni.
As a chamber musician, he was a founder member of the Matisse Piano Quartet and the Music Group of Manchester, and is currently a member of the virtuoso chamber ensemble I Musicanti and together with friends David Greed, Heather Wallington and Jen Langridge, of the Victoria Quartet.
As an experienced orchestral leader, he has guest-led many of the UK’s major orchestras, including the Hallé, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Northern Sinfonia, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Ensemble, Orchestra of Opera North and BBC Philharmonic and until 2023, he was the violinist and occasional violist with the contemporary ensemble Psappha.
Ben has always put teaching at the heart of his work, at the RNCM where he was awarded a professorship in 2016. He also teaches a class of talented young violinists at the Junior RNCM and gives consultative classes in orchestral and contemporary techniques at Trinity Laban Conservatoire where he is a visiting artist.
Ben’s violin is a rare Rogeri, c. 1710.
SIMON PASSMORE (Organ)
Simon Passmore is originally from Hexham, Northumberland. He was a chorister at Hexham Abbey where he received piano lessons from the Directors of Music, John Green and Michael Haynes, and later with Newcastle University’s Head of Keyboard, David Murray.
He completed a BMus at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, studying with Murray McLachlan, and went on to do a Postgraduate Diploma in Repetiteur Studies, supported by a full scholarship. At the RNCM, Simon was the recipient of numerous piano prizes, including the Alfred Clay award for the highest final recital mark.
Simon was Director of Music at St Ann’s Church between 2015-2022, and had previously been organ scholar there from 2011, studying with the late Ronald Frost. Whilst at St Ann’s, Simon gave over 150 free organ recitals, including the complete works of JS Bach over the course of 12 months (along with guest recitalists).
Simon currently lives in Altrincham and works full-time at Chetham’s School of Music as a staff pianist.
Recorded and produced by Steve Plews on July 17/18 2022 at St Ann’s Church, Manchester
Edited and mastered by Phil Hardman
Tracks 1-7, 12-13 Composers Edition
Tracks 8-10 EM Publishing
Track 11 Kevin Mayhew Ltd