PHI CD 199: British Organists of the 1920s

Volume 4

Recorded 1926-1948

George Thalben-Ball [1896-1987]
[1] Ride of the Valkyries (Wagner)
Rec. 19/3/31 Alexandra Palace, London. HMV C. 2209 [4.33]
[2] Toccata in F BWV 540 (J.S. Bach)
Rec. 30/10/33 B.B.C. Concert Organ, Broadcasting House, London. HMV B. 8127 [6.49]
[3] Scherzo Fugue (Edwin Lemare)* Rec. 27/9/42 B.B.C. war time broadcast from
St. Paul's Parish Church, Bedford intro. by announcer [3.27]
[4] Grand Choeur in E flat (Guilmant)* Rec. 30/6/30 Alexandra Palace, London.
HMV unpublished test recording, Matrix: BR. 2814-4 [3.25]
Herbert Dawson [1890-1976]
[5] Cuckoo & Nightingale from Organ Concerto No.13 (Handel) Rec. 20/2/32
Kingsway Hall, London with L.S.O. cond. Albert Coates. HMV DA. 1261 [3.19]
Harry Goss-Custard [1871-1964]
[6] Evening Song (Bairstow) Rec. 7/2/27 Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. HMV C.1325 [4.01]
[7] Trumpet Voluntary (Purcell)
Rec. 29/10/47 Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Columbia DX. 1477 [2.51]
Reginald Goss-Custard [1877-1956]
[8] Nocturne in D (Reginald Goss-Custard)
Rec. 22/4/27 Queen's Hall, London. HMV C. 1466 [4.26]
Ernest Bullock [1890-1979]
[9] Sonata in E flat minor No. 6, Opus 119, 1st movt. (Rheinberger)
Rec. 9/7/31 Westminster Abbey, London. HMV B.4015 [6.01]
[10] Prelude & Fugue in A minor BWV 543 (J.S. Bach)
Rec. 27/3/30 Westminster Abbey, London. HMV C. 1876 [8.14]
Henry Ley [1887-1962]
[11] Concerto in G (Handel) Rec. 7/7/26 Kingsway Hall, London. HMV C. 1314 [2.54]
[12] Trumpet Tunes & Ayres (Purcell) as track [11] [4.03]

Edward D'Evry [1869-1950]
[13] Gigue Fugue (J.S. Bach) Rec. 1926 Brompton Oratory, London.
Parlophone E. 10551 [3.07]
Ralph Downes [1904-1993]
[14] Prelude & Fugue in G minor from Set of Three, Opus 7 (Dupré)*
Rec. Brompton Oratory, London.
Private off air recording from acetate disc of BBC broadcast 1948 [7.25]
G.D. Cunningham [1878-1948]
Concerto for Organ & Orchestra No. 4 in F, Opus 4
[15] Allegro [16] Andante [17] Adagio [18] Allegro
Rec. 4/6/45 Birmingham Town Hall, City of Birmingham Orchestra,
Conductor: George Weldon. Columbia D.X. 1359/60. [12.42]
* = previously unissued recording
78 r.p.m. record catalogue numbers are given in italics

Released 17/3/04
78 r.p.m. records transcribed & restored using the Cedar process by Martin Monkman
Compiled, production & booklet design by Martin Monkman, Amphion Recordings
I am grateful to the following for their help and co-operation during the production of this CD. Many of the discs heard on this CD were copied from the record collections owned by Terry Hoyle of Tuffley, Gloucester, & Grant Vicat of Ixworth, Suffolk, both these gentlemen have very extensive collections of organ records, and have helped me much over the last nine years. Other recordings used are from my own collection and that of the late John Rothera of York. Tracks 3 & 4 were provided by Stephen Beet of London, and track 14 came from the record collection of Felix Aprahamian, Muswell Hill, London. Ralph Franklin, Organist of St. Paul's Parish Church, Bedford & Patrick Russill, Director of Music, The London Oratory, kindly helped with identifying the organs heard on tracks 3 & 14 respectively. My thanks are also expressed to Colin Charnley for his interesting & informative piece. Tim Day & Jonathan Summers of the N.S.A. & Sonita Cox of E.M.I. Music Archives helped with documentary material relating to some of the recordings. The centenary of Ralph Downes's birth is on 16 August 2004, and this CD is dedicated to him.
Martin Monkman, Amphion Recordings, January 2004


The Performers by Martin Monkman
Since the days of the long playing record the reproduction of recorded sound has advanced even further with the development of digital recordings and the CD. However all the recordings heard on this CD date back to the days of 78 r.p.m. records and recording on to wax disc. The earliest recordings on this CD date from 1926, the year after the introduction of the electric microphone, and go up to nearly the end of wax disc recordings in the late 1940s, when magnetic tape took over, much to the relief of all concerned, I would imagine. The performers heard here were from the first generation of organists to be immortalised in sound by the gramophone record. D'Evry, the most senior player on this selection, was born in 1869, 135 years ago at the time of writing. Most of the recordings on this CD are from the 'golden age' of organ recordings in this country, which lasted from 1926 to 1933, after which there was very little recorded until the end of World War Two. Apart from the war, the other reason that recordings of the organ diminished was the Great Depression of the 1930s. The restoration of these old recordings I liken to trying to breathe life in to old fossil bones! However it's amazing what can be extracted from these old record grooves with the correct size of stylus and the aid of modern digital audio restoration equipment.
[1]-[4] George Thalben-Ball [1896-1987] was born in Australia, the son of Cornish parents, but the family moved back to Britain when George was three years old. He studied at the R.C.M. and later became assistant organist at Whitefield's Tabernacle, London, then organist at Holy Trinity, Castelnau, Barnes and St. James, Paddington, before succeeding Walford Davies at the Temple Church in 1922. It is as organist and choirmaster at the Temple Church that his name will forever be linked with that of the boy soprano, Ernest Lough for their, and the choir's famous H.M.V. recordings made during the 1920s and 1930s. Thalben- Ball as organist and choirmaster recorded from the 1920s to the end of the 1970s and directed the Temple Church Choir for 62 years. For all this time he was much in demand as a recording artist, a frequent broadcaster, and made many recital tours at home and all over the world. He remained one of the country's finest players well into his eighties. He succeeded G.D. Cunningham (with whom he studied) as Organist to Birmingham City and University, and was Curator Organist at the Royal Albert Hall. Thalben Ball was for many years the organist who would be asked to give inaugural recitals on new or rebuilt organs. One such occasion was the broadcast recital in 1932 to open the Compton organ in the Concert Hall at B.B.C. Broadcasting House which he shared with G.D. Cunningham and Sir Walter Alcock. A year later Thalben-Ball made several recordings on this organ for H.M.V., one of which is heard on track 2. This performance is a good example of Bach played in the romantic/orchestral style with registration changes and use of the expression pedals, a style of playing that some feel makes the music more interesting, they may well be right. The recording on track 3 was made at St. Paul's Parish Church, Bedford by the B.B.C., who during the Second World War made many broadcasts from several venues in Bedford while London was under going heavy bombing. For a time during the war The Morning Service was regularly broadcast on the B.B.C.'s The Home Service from St. Paul's. As Musical Adviser to the B.B.C.'s Religious Broadcasting Department, G.T.B. lived in Bedford for a time in 'digs'. On one occasion when a newsreader's train was delayed by a bomb on the line between London and Bedford, George was called upon to read the National News! This recording and that heard on track 4 were discovered by Stephen Beet in a cupboard at the Temple Church. George Thalben-Ball was knighted in 1982.
[5] Herbert Dawson [1890-1976] studied at Westminster Abbey where he was articled to Sir Frederick Bridge. After serving as organist to Ealing Parish Church and assistant at Norwich Cathedral, Dawson became organist of St. Margaret's, Westminster from 1929 to 1965. He made many records as a soloist and continued to record as an accompanist both at the piano and organ well in to the 1950s. On this track much fun is had by all.
[6]-[7] Harry Goss-Custard [1871-1964] and his younger brother Reginald were born at St. Leonard's on Sea and were grand-nephews of Sir John Goss, one time organist of St. Paul's Cathedral. After posts in Hastings, Deptford and Ealing, Harry became the first Organist of Liverpool (Anglican) Cathedral in 1917, remaining there until his retirement in 1955. The Willis III organ installed under Harry's supervision was inaugurated in 1924, the 1927 recording of Bairstow's Evening Song was made before the Nave was completed.
[8] Reginald Goss-Custard [1877-1956] was largely self-taught and succeeded Edwin Lemare at St. Margaret's, Westminster in 1902. Goss-Custard was also successor to G. D. Cunningham at the Alexandra Palace after the organ's restoration in 1929, and at the Bishopsgate Institute where his Tuesday and Friday early evening recitals drew regular audiences for popular programmes in which organ transcriptions played a large part. His Nocturne in D dating from 1902 is a slight yet rather charming piece of Victoriana, the near position of the microphone makes for a very clear sound.
[9]-[10] Ernest Bullock [1890-1979] was born in Wigan, from 1907 to 1912 he was a pupil and assistant organist to Bairstow at Leeds Parish Church . In 1912 he was appointed assistant organist of Manchester Cathedral, but in 1915, during the First World War, was called up for military service. In February 1919 he was appointed Organist to St. Michael's College, Tenbury, but before the end of that year was appointed organist of Exeter Cathedral. Bullock succeeded Sydney Nicholson as organist of Westminster Abbey in 1928, and during his time there was called upon to provide the music for several royal occasions. Most notable of these was the 1937 Coronation [Amphion PHI CD 183] for which he won much praise as the conductor of the choir and orchestra, as well as for the Fanfares he wrote for the service. He also provided all but one of the Fanfares for the 1953 Coronation. In 1940 his house and all his belongings were destroyed in the London Blitz, the following year he left the Abbey to become Professor of Music at Glasgow University. He was knighted in 1951 and the following year succeeded Dyson as Director of the Royal College of Music, a post he held until he retired in 1960. He wrote much attractive church music including two very individual settings of the evening canticles and his organ compositions include a fine Introduction and Fugue in E minor dating from 1932, around the time of these recordings. [This work is recorded on Amphion PHI CD 124 by Francis Jackson] The organ heard on these recordings is the old five manual Hill organ, some pipework from which was incorporated in the 1937 rebuild by Harrison & Harrison, this instrument was first heard at the 1937 Coronation. Bullock's recording of the Rheinberger was the second British recording of a work by this composer, the first was Dr. Palmer recorded by H.M.V. at Canterbury Cathedral performing the Scherzoso from Sonata No. 8, this recording has been re-issued on Amphion PHI CD 131. We then have to wait over 30 years until the days of the L.P. record before any more of Rheinberger's music was recorded in this country. The position of the microphone for the recording of the Rheinberger [9] is nearer than that of the Bach [10] and hence the Rheinberger is much clearer. His performance of the Bach is in the romantic style.

[11]-[12] Henry Ley [1887-1962] born at Chagford was a chorister at St. George's Chapel, Windsor and studied organ with Parratt at the R.C.M. In 1909 while still an undergraduate at Keble College, Oxford, Ley was appointed Organist of Christ Church Cathedral, this rapid promotion for one so young created much ill will amongst some. He was made Choragus of the University, and became a member of staff at the R.C.M. In 1926 he resigned his Oxford appointments to become Director of Music at Eton College where he served until his retirement in 1945. He continued to examine for the R.C.O. and give recitals.
[13] Edward d' Evry [1869-1950] preceded Ralph Downes as Organist of the Brompton Oratory and wrote a number of pieces for organ in varying styles over a period of more than 50 years. He was also Controller of Examinations for the Trinity College of Music in London.
The inclusion of his 1926 recording from Brompton Oratory in the It'll be alright on the Night section is an example of how things could go astray, both musically and technically. The first problem is the position of the microphone which, when the pedal comes in is obviously far too near this section of the organ, so near that the recording engineer reduces the record level each time the pedal appears. This near microphone position helps to exaggerate the slips in the pedal part, matters are not helped by the inclusion of a 'farting reed' in the pedal registration. The record was put on general release, so someone had approved the recording, maybe they hadn't listened to it first. Poor Edward d' Evry was just unlucky on this occasion, maybe nerves got the better of him, as they do most of us on occasion. It's interesting to read what The Gramophone said about this performance in their April 1927 edition:
'On the back he play's Bach's Fugue in G, here I respect him for avoiding fussy changes of registration, but wish he had used less 4ft. tone throughout, as this rather confuses the listener.'
No mention of that blasting pedal. I don't think it's the '4ft tone' that confuses the listener, but rather the use of reed stops on the manuals, surely?

A.C.D. de Brisay writing in The Organ dated April 1931 also noted:
'Not since Edward d'Evry made a few records some years ago for Parlophone has there been any addition to their slender beginning till the other day I observed...........'
Had Parlophone been put off making organ records by their experience with d'Evry? The other three sides he recorded in 1926 were more satisfactory, but not half as amusing.
As a matter of interest, this, and many other records at that time sold for about 4s. 6d., that's 221/2 pence in decimal money, and at today's prices the record would cost £2.20 for six or seven minutes worth of music. At this rate per minute a modern CD would cost about £55, so some things do improve!

[14] Ralph William Downes [1904-1993], the youngest player on this CD was known as the designer of many famous instruments, including the Harrison in the Royal Festival Hall, London. He entered the R.C.O. in 1922 as a pupil of Walter Alcock, Henry Ley and Edgar Cook, and in 1925 became organist of Keble College, Oxford. After taking his degree he moved to the U.S.A. to become Director of Music at Princeton University (1928-35) and while in the States studied privately with Fernando Germani. In 1936 he returned to these shores and was appointed organist of Brompton Oratory, a post he held until 1977. During this period Downes established himself as a well known recitalist and broadcaster. In 1948 he was appointed organist to the L.P.O. and in 1969 was made a C.B.E. His recording of the Dupré is performed on the old Bishop/Walker organ which was destroyed by fire in 1950. The centenary of Ralph Downes's birth is on 16 August 2004, and this disc is dedicated to him.
[15]-[18] George Dorrington Cunningham [1878-1948] for the first half of the 20th century, counted among this country's finest organists. He was a man of deep religious conviction from which there sprang a profound sense of awe which influenced his whole life.
Born in London on 2 October 1878, Cunningham came of musical parents. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, gaining an F.R.C.O. at eighteen and in 1901, aged twenty two became organist of the Alexandra Palace where his eminence as a recitalist was established. His church appointments as organist included St. James's Muswell Hill (where one of his choristers, George Thalben-Ball, also became his pupil). From 1919, Cunningham became organist of St. Alban's, Holborn until 1924, when he was appointed Birmingham City and University Organist. He was active at the Town Hall almost upto the time of his death and was conductor of the Birmingham City Choir which, under his direction, performed some of the largest choral and orchestral works. In 1941, his six hundredth recital there was celebrated by a presentation made to him by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, whilst in 1944 Birmingham University made him a Doctor of Music. Like his eminent pupil, Thalben-Ball, Cunningham's breadth of repertoire was vast, and encompassed compositions ranging from transcriptions through the standard repertory to many performances of contemporary works. He was regularly to be heard on B.B.C. radio; broadcasts which inspired a generation of organists.
One such listener who became an eminent pupil was the young Geraint Jones, who near the end of his life in 1997 wrote of Cunningham: 'I had the good fortune to have G.D. Cunningham as my organ professor at the R.A.M. in the years leading up to the Second World War. He used to come down from Birmingham for a whole day each week, usually a Thursday, and his lesson was the event of the week - the anticipation sharpened by the recital relayed by the B.B.C. from Birmingham Town Hall at 1.15pm on most Wednesdays, which for me was essential listening long before I became his pupil. Now, more than sixty years on, with a much wider experience of performers than when I first heard him play, I still regard him as the finest organist of my lifetime, and one of the most remarkable musicians I have ever encountered.'
Alec Wyton in his article, G.D. Cunningham: A Pupils Tribute, printed in the November 1948 edition of Musical Times wrote:
'I do not remember hearing G.D. destructively critical of anything. He was always ready with creative suggestions, and one of the good habits he encouraged in pupils was that of creative criticism. Only dogmatic in matters concerning absolute accuracy of notes, he taught pupils to think for themselves and respect a point of view which bore the stamp of thoughtful care. He would say of a passage, "I phrase it like this, but don't you do it that way just because I do, my way is no better than any other."'
In the booklet G.D. Cunningham - Memories and Tributes, published shortly after Cunningham's death George Thalben Ball wrote of him:
"I love all beauteous things, I seek and adore them" - Bridges
'How well these words portray G.D. Cunningham's attitude towards life. My regard and admiration for him began, as a boy of about seven years old, I was taken to the Alexandra Palace to one of those Sunday afternoon recitals which he gave on that magnificent "Father Willis" organ. The charge for admittance was threepence, and what extraordinary value his hearers received! Bach, Mendelssohn, Franck, indeed, all the finest music written for the organ as well as a generous amount of music to suit popular taste, such as that descriptive work "The Storm", which was performed once every month by request. At all times the choice of music was that of the best in the various styles. Crowds flocked to these recitals, which continued all the year round.
He was above all a good man with a delightful childlike acceptance of, and trust in human nature, with a great respect and, at times, reverence for noble words and works. He achieved all by simple goodness, steadfastness, sincerity and devoted service, which, perhaps, is the greatest thing a man can do.'

Cunningham made many recordings for H.M.V. and Columbia, most of which have now been re-issued by Amphion. Tracks 15 to 18 recorded in 1945 were his final commercial recordings, he died in Birmingham on 4 August, 1948.
© Martin Monkman, Amphion Recordings, New Years Day, 2004