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Anna Lapwood (organ)
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: January 2021
Ely Cathedral, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by Mike Hatch
Release date: September 2021
Total duration: 68 minutes 13 seconds

Cover artwork: Photograph © Nick White.
 

Organist, conductor, and broadcaster—and Director of Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge—Anna Lapwood’s debut solo organ recording showcases the softer, more subtle side of an instrument more generally regarded for its bombastic nature and includes some of Lapwood’s own painstaking transcriptions.

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One of my favourite things about being an organist is the exquisite feeling of practising in a church or cathedral late at night. The door is locked, the lights are often out, and time seems to flow differently. It’s at night that one really gains a sense of the history of the building, getting to know the creaking noises and clicks that make it seem as if the space is breathing. Sound seems to travel differently too, piercing the warm cushion of dark silence like a beam of light. On this album I’ve tried to capture some of that magic, recording in a chilly Ely Cathedral after hours in January 2021.

When selecting the repertoire I was conscious of wanting to choose pieces that showed off a slightly different side to the organ. The organ is often painted as an instrument that is loud and bombastic, and some of the music on this disc is exactly that. Yet the organ is an instrument that has the capacity for subtle beauty too, and it is this beauty that I have aimed to illustrate. My years spent as an orchestral harpist have definitely inspired my musical choices; the Britten which forms the centrepiece of the disc is a piece I played several times with the National Youth Orchestra, and I fell in love with the music of Ravel and Debussy through their harp writing. Alongside the orchestral transcriptions on this album, I’ve chosen a select number of organ pieces (all of which were written after 1900) which use the organ in an extremely colourful, vibrant and orchestral way.

Le tombeau de Couperin (Ravel/Wiersinga)
Maurice Ravel was one of the great orchestrators of the early 20th century and so I’ve always thought it a great shame that he didn’t write for the organ. Of all his pieces, Le tombeau de Couperin is certainly the one that translates across to the organ most naturally, with at least three organists writing their own transcriptions. The ‘Forlane’ in particular feels as if it was always an organ piece! For this recording I have chosen three movements of the transcription by Dutch organist Erwin Wiersinga. He stays relatively loyal to the piano original, drawing on some moments of the orchestral version for added colour. Crucially, though, it sounds like an organ piece. When working with transcriptions there can be a temptation to try and replicate absolutely every orchestral sound; indeed, when playing a large symphonic organ such as those found in abundance in America, it is possible to find stops that replicate almost every instrument, from bass drums to harps. In this case, though, I haven’t tried to do that, instead trying to choose the sounds that might have been chosen if this were originally written as an organ piece.

The ‘Prélude’ is elegant and graceful, made up of constant semiquavers passing between the two hands. On the organ, there is a real sense of the 8’ flute and string stops dancing around the space, chasing each other around the cathedral. Ravel’s nods to the French clavecinists include frequent mordents and a prevalence of open 4ths and 5ths, but the whole prelude has a distinctly Impressionist flair.

Of the three movements presented here, the ‘Forlane’ is the one with the most direct links to Couperin. Ravel was known to have transcribed for piano Couperin’s ‘Forlane’ from the 4th Concert royal, and there are distinct rhythmic and structural similarities with Ravel’s own composition. This is also the movement which allows for the most tonal exploration. The opening motif is given character by a Nazard, whilst a little further on, cheeky reed stops are used to bring humour to the accented chords in the left hand. A middle section, evoking a stately dance, provides an opportunity to hear three different 8’ flutes—first on the Choir, then the Swell, then the Great, each with distinct characteristics. The end of the piece is where the real fun is held, though. Some highly chromatic ‘hurdy gurdy’ material is coloured by a Bourdon with a Tierce, followed by the Vox humana used with the tremulant. The piece closes with a single humorous 4’ flute.

The ‘Rigaudon’ is a vivacious folk dance characterised by hopping steps, heard here in the frequent staccato parallel chords. The energetic, breathless outer sections are juxtaposed with a sensual middle section where a winding gypsy melody is heard in the oboe, accompanied by pulsing chords in the left hand and pedals.

An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary (Gowers)
Patrick Gowers is perhaps best known in his capacity as a film composer, having written the soundtrack for the 1994 TV series Sherlock Holmes. His Occasional Trumpet Voluntary is based on Jeremiah Clarke’s Occasional Trumpet Voluntary, the tune of which finally appears in the right foot at the very end, and which provides a welcome opportunity to use the solo reeds of the Ely Cathedral organ!

The start of the piece is harmonically simple and repetitive, almost saccharine in its reinforcement of C major. A couple of pages in, however, the excitement begins; Gowers combines the addition of quiet reeds with a gradual twisting of the harmony, thickening the texture and gradually introducing more and more flats as the swell box is opened. This paves the way for the final statement of the theme on which the entire piece is based.

Andantino, doucement expressif from String Quartet in G minor, L91 (Debussy/Guilmant)
When considering the organ, beauty may not necessarily be the first word that springs to mind. Sheer force and power? Perhaps. But for me, one of the wonderful things about the organ as an instrument is that it possesses the potential for such expressive variety. It has the ability to demonstrate the power with which the instrument is most readily associated, but also to be played extremely quietly and delicately. Just as there is something special about a whole orchestra playing pianissimo, so too is there something special about the sound of an organ held back, reduced to a single stop speaking into a vast space.

The sensitivities of the instrument are captured perfectly in Alexandre Guilmant’s transcription of the ‘Andantino’ from Debussy’s Op 10 string quartet. The movement, largely in D flat major, utilises the string sounds of the organ to their full potential, creating a warm wash of sound. Nowhere is the restrained power of the organ felt more keenly than at the end of the movement with the return of the opening material. The intensity of the piece’s climax falls back to a single line as stops are removed. A single D natural serves as a pivot, heralding the return of the opening material, somehow more intimate and restrained in the context of what has come before.

Light in darkness (Briggs)
Kerensa Briggs’ Light in darkness shares some harmonic similarities with Debussy’s Andantino, utilising individual notes as pivots that take the harmony in a new direction. Kerensa’s father is the English organist David Briggs, which perhaps helps explain Kerensa’s natural affinity for writing choral and organ works. Having grown up spending a lot of time in cathedrals, she has spoken in the past of the crucial role of the building in any music for choir or organ. We hear the dialogue between music and building in numerous ways in Light in darkness, but perhaps most notably in the notated rests which allow the music to settle into the space between phrases. This piece was a joint commission for Choir & Organ magazine’s New Music series and St Andrew’s University Organ Week, 2019. It is a reflection upon the mystery and power of light within darkness, as explored in John 1: 4-5: ‘The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it’.

Improvisation 3 (Boulanger)
Nadia Boulanger was one of the most influential composition teachers of the 20th century, with pupils including Aaron Copland, Astor Piazzolla and Leonard Bernstein. She was also a fine organist, learning with Charles-Marie Widor, and a wonderful conductor, championing Monteverdi and Schütz alongside the music of her own pupils. On being asked about being the first woman to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra, she famously responded: ‘I’ve been a woman for a little over 50 years and have gotten over my initial astonishment. As for conducting an orchestra, that’s a job where I don’t think sex plays much part.’

Nadia Boulanger’s Improvisation is the final movement of her Trois Improvisations for organ written in 1911. Three years later she arranged the pieces for cello and piano, and it is this version of the piece that is arguably better known. The influence of Ravel and Debussy can certainly be felt in her provocative exploration of harmony with numerous key areas explored in a comparatively short period of time, all tied together by the ostinato figure which pervades the entire work.

Images (Park)
‘Word over all, beautiful as the sky, Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost …’
This was the passage from Walt Whitman which inspired Owain Park’s Images, a creative and powerful exploration of the many tonal possibilities of the English organ. This is a piece where, as in Kerensa’s piece, the building has been written into the music. Motifs are passed between different parts of the organ, ricocheting around the space. The recurrent trumpet calls that occur throughout the piece change their character based on their surroundings, sometimes heard alone and at other times with whispered harmonic support in the left hand, over a pedal drone, or in the midst of a slow ostinato. At the end of the work, the same trumpet calls are heard juxtaposed with a walking pedal line that lends the music a sense of inevitability, gradually slowing to a halt as the calls fade into the distance.

Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes (Britten/Lapwood)
As a child I spent many holidays walking through the wind and rain on Aldeburgh beach. My dad grew up in Suffolk and actually played the violin for Britten in Orford Parish Church as a child. The Four Sea Interludes were the first of Britten’s pieces that I got to know in depth through playing the harp part. I remember being struck by how accurately they captured the spirit of that part of the country, whether the sounds of the sea or the bustle of a Sunday morning with church bells ringing across the landscape. A couple of years ago I was invited to give a recital as part of the Aldeburgh festival and was asked to include the small amount of organ music written by Britten. I wanted to try and do a transcription of ‘Dawn’. The project grew from there and a year later, I had finished transcribing all four interludes. The last couple of weeks of the transcribing process were spent late at night on the organ of Ely Cathedral, trying out different things and making the necessary adjustments. It was this process that made me want to record this entire disc at Ely. I’m extremely grateful to Boosey & Hawkes and the Britten estate for all their support throughout this process, and for allowing me to release this recording.

The interludes themselves are from the opera Peter Grimes, and they function as orchestral scene changes, taking the listener between different physical locations in the story whilst also exploring the changing psychological state of Grimes. In the opera each interlude flows seamlessly into the following scene, but Britten rewrote the endings of each so that they could be performed as stand-alone pieces. Whilst Britten’s orchestration forms the starting point for every movement, I’ve also tried to imagine what the pieces might have looked like had they been written for the organ, occasionally making substitutions of sounds to allow the transcriptions to work on as wide a range of organs as possible.

The first movement, ‘Dawn’, comes between the Prologue and the opening of Act 1 of Peter Grimes, and is simultaneously beautiful and unnerving. Britten splits the orchestra into three distinct colours: the flutes and violins play a high, unison theme, clear as crystal; the clarinets and harps punctuate this line with running arpeggios which call to mind sudden gusts of wind on the beach, whipping up the spray of the waves; the lower strings and brass interject periodically with menacing, quiet chords.

In many ways, this was the most obvious of the interludes to translate onto the organ, although I spent a great deal of time dithering over the right sound for the lower brass chords! Great swells of sound are often achieved through the addition of quiet reeds on the organ, but these seemed to lack the warmth needed to emphasise the ambiguity of the chords in the original. In the end, I chose to use the swell strings and open diapason—a slightly different sound, but one that I hope captures the spirit of the music.

The clanging thirds of the French horns that open 'Sunday Morning' create what is arguably the most recognisable passage of the whole opera. Finding a way to replicate this sound was by far the biggest challenge in making this movement work for the organ, but one which was also a lot of fun. After a great deal of trial and error, the required sound was eventually achieved through sustained chords in the left hand, punctuated with a double-pedalled quaver at the start of each bar on a slightly louder reed (at the same pitch). This movement is a complete joy to play; when I first played it at Ely I was struck by the way in which the bird calls floated around the building as if they weren’t coming from the organ at all. For organs with a chime stop, there is a chime part written into the last section. For this recording we used the tubular bells called for by Britten in the orchestral version—thanks to my producer, Adrian Peacock, for serving as an excellent tubular bell stand.

'Moonlight' forms the bridge between night and day, following the death of Grimes’ second apprentice. The gentle rippling of the sea is heard through pulsing chords in the lower strings, horns and bassoons. These chords are punctuated by beams of light from the flutes and harps, the light of the moon reflecting off the waves. The beauty of this movement is coloured by a constant sense of underlying anxiety and uncertainty, achieved partly through the prevalence of 2nd inversion chords. I spoke earlier about how one of the moving things about quiet organ playing is the sense that so much power is being held back; I think exactly the same thing can apply to the sea, and is encapsulated by this movement.

The biggest challenge in transcribing this movement was trying to replicate the pulsing chords in the opening. Whilst string and wind instruments can grow into a note once it has started, this is much harder to do on the organ, or at least much harder to do without sounding contrived. I did, at one stage, attempt to open and close the box a little on every chord, but found it to disrupt the flow of the piece and the sense of stillness so important to the success of this movement. Instead, I decided to use variation of articulation, playing with the onset of each note to give a little more movement without detracting from the bigger picture.

Whilst 'Storm' is the final interlude of the four, in the opera it is actually heard in Act 1. It begins with Grimes outdoors, watching the storm clouds approach over the building sea. The eerie calm of the middle of the movement contains a nervous energy, created partly through extreme polarisation of textures. Double basses, double bassoons and the bass drum sustain a low rumble on a bottom E whilst a harp glissando takes the strings and wind up towards the top of their range. The whole orchestra playing quiet, chromatic, staccato quavers interrupts these moments of nervous stasis. The movement ends in a pub where people wait out the storm, with the storm itself lashing the windows and threatening the warm safety of those inside.

This movement presented a number of challenges, the first of which was the sheer number of ideas happening all at once. It was a fascinating exercise poring over the score, listening to a vast number of different recordings and deciding which were the most important ideas that simply couldn’t be left out. There are several moments in this movement where the left hand, right hand, left foot and right foot are all going at full pelt with completely different ideas (most notably in the final build-up), but that is part of what makes the movement rather fun to play. I spent several hours trying to figure out the best way to replicate a harp glissando. Glissandi themselves are one thing, but this glissando really had to be in D major—this is easy to achieve on the harp through changing the pedal setting, but much harder on the organ (without tearing your fingers to shreds). I eventually found a way to fake this effect by playing a glissando in D major for the first octave before switching to C major as the glissando sped up, using my other hand to pick out a couple of key notes that sustained the effect of D major all the way to the top. The other tricky moment was at the very end of the movement, taking the organ from pianissimo to triple forte in the space of just 25 bars. Whilst this is just about possible without a registrant there to press buttons, it involves quite a lot of gymnastics, so my thanks must go to Anna Hallett for her wonderful button pressing skills in this final section!

Vocalise-étude (Messiaen/Lapwood)
I first came across this piece when accompanying one of the Pembroke College Organ Scholars who played it on the clarinet. It is a piece that was written for a wordless soprano, so lends itself extremely well to performances on the clarinet, trumpet, and even the theremin. Hearing recordings on all these different instruments made me realise how crucial words are for helping identify something as a human voice; without the words, there is not that much to separate the sound of a voice with that of, say, a theremin. As soon as I delved further into the piece some more I knew I wanted to try it on the organ, so set about creating an arrangement that put the sung melody into the feet on a 2’ flute, making some additions to the piano accompaniment to provide some more harmonic support at key moments.

The piece itself is one of Messiaen’s earlier works, written in 1935 when the composer was 27. In its version for organ, this is another piece that relies on the support of the building for its success. If it were performed in a space with a dry acoustic, the writing in the manuals would sound bare and perfunctory. The glorious bloom of Ely Cathedral, on the other hand, serves as a majestic sustain pedal.

Taking your leave (Frances-Hoad)
My favourite quotation about Cheryl Frances-Hoad is that she is ‘unafraid even to sprinkle a little cheese over it all.’ Having written her first piece shortly after starting to learn the cello at the age of 7, she went on to win the BBC Young Composer competition in 1996 at the age of 15. Since then she has won numerous awards and released four celebrated albums of her compositions. Her music is described as bringing together the classical tradition and diverse contemporary inspirations. This ‘coming together’ can certainly be heard in Even you song, a cycle based on the structure and themes of Evensong with a libretto based on a potential trip to the moon. The work starts and ends with two organ voluntaries, Where does your faith lie? and Taking your leave, both of which develop the same thematic material. Taking your leave opens in the style of a vivid toccata: running scales in the right hand are punctuated by single notes and chromatic chords in the left. The second section features a rustling, indistinct right hand supporting individual staccato notes in the left hand which pierce the texture like stars in the night sky. The right hand material becomes shared between both hands, gradually increasing in range and dynamics until we reach the final section, a climactic statement of the main motif, set off by occasional flourishes on a solo reed. As the music builds to its conclusion, everything suddenly drops back for a pianissimo statement of the main theme before a surprise tutti final chord.

Anna Lapwood © 2021

The organ of Ely Cathedral
An organ was first built at Ely cathedral in 1685, reputedly by Renatus Harris. In 1831 Elliot and Hill built a new organ within the old cases, which stood on the choir screen, before this organ was rebuilt in the north choir triforium by Hill and Son in 1850; the old cases and choir screen were removed, and the present case, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, was installed.

In 1908, Harrison and Harrison built a virtually new organ, incorporating some of the old pipe work. Most of the organ was placed in the north choir triforium, with the console below, on the stone gallery behind the top of the choir stalls.

The restoration of 1974-75 included some tonal changes, a new Positive division in the lower part of the Scott case, development of the Pedal Organ and modernization of the action and console. The new scheme was drawn up by the Cathedral Organist, Dr Arthur Wills, in consultation with Mr Cecil Clutton and the organ builders.

Restoration work on the fabric of the building of the last three bays of the north choir aisle meant that the massive Cathedral organ needed to be removed. The Dean and Chapter took this opportunity to ask Harrison and Harrison to carry out an extensive programme of restoration from 1999-2001. The proposals for this rebuild increased the versatility of the instrument, and enhanced its musical integrity. The restoration work to the organ cost in the region of £400,000 and was funded by the Order of St Etheldreda.

Pedal
1 Double Open Wood 32
2 Sub Bourdon 32
3 Open Wood 16
4 Open Diapason 16
5 Violone 16
6 Bourdon 16
7 Principal 8
8 Violoncello 8
9 Flute 8
10 Fifteenth 4
11 Octave Flute 4
12 Mixture IV
13 Bombardon 32
14 Bombarde 16
15 Trumpet 8

Positive
16 Chimney Flute 8
17 Principal 4
18 Spitzflute 4
19 Nazard 2 2/3
20 Blockflute 2
21 Tierce 1 3/5
22 Larigot 1 1/3
23 Sharp Mixture IV

Choir
24 Open Diapason 8
25 Gedackt 8
26 Fiffaro 8
27 Unda Maris 8
28 Principal 4
29 Flauto Traverso 4
30 Fifteenth 2
31 Flautino 1
32 Mixture III
33 Cremona 8
34 Tremulant

Great
35 Sub Bourdon 32
36 Double Diapason 16
37 Bourdon 16
38 Large Open
Diapason 8
39 Small Open
Diapason 8
40 Hohl Flute 8
41 Salicional 8
42 Quint 5 1/3
43 Octave 4
44 Principal 4
45 Wald Flute 4
46 Double Tierce 3 1/5
47 Twelfth 2 2/3
48 Fifteenth 2
49 Sesquialtera III
50 Fourniture V
51 Cymbale V
52 Trombone 16
53 Trumpet 8
54 Clarion 4

Swell
55 Bourdon 16
56 Open Diapason 8
57 Echo Gamba 8
58 Vox Angelica 8
59 Gedackt 8
60 Principal 4
61 Nason Flute 4
62 Fifteenth 2
63 Echo Cornet II
64 Mixture V
65 Oboe 8
66 Vox Humana 8
67 Tremulant
68 Double Trumpet 16
69 Trumpet 8
70 Clarion 4

Solo
71 Contra Viola 16
72 Viole d'Orchestre 8
73 Viole Celeste 8
74 Viole Octaviante 4
75 Cornet de Violes III
76 Harmonic Flute 8
77 Concert Flute 4
78 Clarinet 16
79 Orchestral Hautboy 8
80 Cor Anglais 8
81 Tremulant
82 Tuba 8
83 Orchestral Trumpet 8

Console
Couplers
Swell to Pedal
Swell to Great
Swell octave
Great to Pedal
Solo Octave
Solo Unison Off
Solo Sub Octave
Positive to Pedal
Solo to Pedal
Solo to Swell
Swell to Positive
Solo to Positive
Positive to Great
Solo to Great
Swell to Solo

Details
Blowing Electric
Pitch A=440

Accessories
Great reeds on Pedal;
Great reeds on Solo;
Great and Pedal combinations coupler;
Pedal to Swell pistons;
Choir on Swell transfer;
8 foot pistons to Pedal;
10 pistons to Positive and Choir organs;
cancel piston to Positive;
8 pistons to Great;
8 pistons to swell (duplicated by toe pistons);
6 pistons to Solo;
8 General thumb pistons;
general cancel piston;
reversible pistons: pos-pd, gt-pd (dup by toe), sw-pd, solo-pd, pos-gt, sw-gt (dup by toe), sw-pos;
General Cancel;
Manuals I and II exchange

Signum Classics © 2021

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