Organ Music of Elgar and Stanford played by Christopher Stokes on the organ of Manchester Cathedral
Organ Sonata op.28 Edward Elgar
The Organ Sonata received an unfortunate first performance in 1895, at the hands of Hugh Blair. In writing about the work, Keith John quotes an account by the Headmistress of a school at which Elgar taught:
‘His performance of the Sonata showed that he had either not learned it or else had celebrated the event unwisely, for he made a terrible mess of poor Elgar’s work. I was present at this débacle and commiserated with the Genius. But with a splendid flash of loyalty he refused to blame the murderer who, he said, had not had time thoroughly to study the victim.’
One has to sympathise with the hapless Blair, who had barely a few days to conquer Elgar’s demanding score! Subsequent performances, both from organists and in its orchestrated form, have confirmed Elgar’s Sonata to be one of the greatest works of its kind. From a bold opening movement, through a lighter Intermezzo and deeply felt Adagio the listener is treated to a range of colours and emotions from organ and organist. A sonata-form final movement closes the work in imposing fashion. Throughout one can see why, half a century after its composition, Gordon Jacob was inspired to orchestrate Elgar’s most substantial contribution to the organ repertoire.
Fantasia and Toccata, op.57 Charles Villiers Stanford
Dating from 1894 and dedicated to Sir Walter Parratt, Fantasia and Toccata is one of a handful of very fine larger-scale organ pieces by Stanford. The Fantasia juxtaposes rhapsodic and arresting writing with gentler moments, which ultimately win the struggle as the piece dies away. The relaxed conclusion of the Fantasia is quickly forgotten, however, as the Toccata begins with a pedal solo which announces the beginning of an inexorable build up, through much free contrapuntal writing, to a Maestoso conclusion.
Six Short Preludes and Postludes, set 2 op.105 C V Stanford
Stanford’s two books of Short Preludes and Postludes were published in 1907 and 1908. The first two pieces in the second set use themes by Orlando Gibbons as thematic material, the flowing andante tranquillo feel of the first contrasting with the loud, homophonic allegro of the second. The third is a gentle lento whilst the forth and fifth perhaps reveal Stanford’s interest in Bach. The former is a setting of another Gibbons’ melody that puts the theme in the pedals beneath duo writing for the manuals. The latter is a strict trio. The sixth piece, the popular Postlude in d minor is more extended than the other pieces and provides a fitting close to the set.
Pomp and Circumstance march no.4, op.39 Edward Elgar
Edward Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ military marches were written over a number of years. The first, containing the evergreen ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ theme (whose added words, incidentally, Elgar attempted to alter upon the outbreak of war in 1914) was published in 1901. The next two, and the fifth, are less popular, whilst the forth is undoubtedly the best known besides the first one. It was premiered by Henry Wood at the Queen’s Hall in 1907, and is presented here in a highly effective (and rather fun, it must be said!) organ transcription.
Christopher Stokes was appointed Organist & Master of the Choristers of Manchester Cathedral in 1996, having previously been appointed Organist of the Cathedral in 1992. Prior to that he worked in London, having held posts in two of London’s leading churches: as Organist & Master of Music at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square and Director of Music at St. Margaret’s, Westminster Abbey.
As a conductor in London, he directed the professional choirs for services at St. Martin's and St. Margaret’s at which royalty and ‘famous names’ from politics and the stage were often present. He also founded The Baroque Soloists of St Martin-in-the-Fields, (a group of leading baroque players and singers London). In Manchester he directs the Cathedral Choir, which, in addition to the essential Opus Dei, sings for regular television and radio broadcasts and has recorded a number of CDs. He also conducts the Cathedral Cantata Choir, which performs with the Manchester Camerata, and the Northern Chamber Orchestra.
Christopher is also one of the regular directors/organists for Daily Service on BBC Radio 4. He directed the music for the 2001 live transmission of the Ascension Day service on Radio 4, conducting the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and the Daily Service Singers. He again directed the service in 2002 with His Majesties Sagbutts and Cornetts.
As a soloist, Christopher has performed extensively both in the UK and abroad. In 1997 he was the first to record on the Marcussen organ in Manchester’s new Bridgewater Hall with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. In February 1999 he played Elgar’s Organ Sonata in G there as part of the ‘Concert Plus’ series for the BBC. Since then, he has given two further recitals in the Hall. He has appeared as concerto soloist with numerous orchestras including the Manchester Camerata, the Northern Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Golden Age.
As a continuo player, Christopher has always been busy. He has performed, toured, broadcast and recorded CDs with most of Britain's leading orchestras including the Hanover Band; the London Mozart Players; the London Symphony Orchestra; the London Bach Orchestra; the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; the Hallé Orchestra and the Northern Chamber Orchestra. He has also performed and recorded with the Salzburg Bach-Chor and the MDR Radio Choir. He has a great many television and radio broadcasts to his credit.
Whilst in London, Christopher was professor of organ at Trinity College of Music from 1976-1992, where he also studied from 1972-1976. He was invited to become Head of Organ Studies at Chetham’s School of Music in 1994.
He is a Council Member of the Royal College of Organists and serves on its Education & Events Group. He was also the Artistic Director of the Royal College of Organists’ Performer of the Year 2000 competition.
Produced by Richard Tanner
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Photograph by Lance Andrews