Peter Racine FRICKER (1920-1990)
Intrada, Op. 64 (1971) [5:32]
Five Short Pieces, Op. 83 (1980) [9:44]
Pastorale (1959) [5:17]
Toccata Gladius Domini, Op. 55 (1968, rev.69) [11:37]
Choral (1956) [10:18]
Praeludium, Op. 60 (1969) [10:40]
Trio (1968) [1:33]
Recitative, Impromptu and Procession, Op. 92 (1985) [11:29]
Ricercare, Op. 40 (1965) [9:19]
Tom Winpenny (organ)
rec. 2018, Priory Church of St. Mary, Bridlington, UK
First Recordings except Pastorale
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0518 [75:29]
This is the third release of recordings by Peter Racine Fricker that I have had the pleasure of reviewing. Having found much to enjoy in his string quartets (review) and symphonies (review), I am encountering his organ music for the first time. Born in London in 1920, he cultivated an interest in the instrument early on, as a student at St. Paul’s School. He had lessons from Henry Wilson and Ralph Downes. Later, in 1937, he entered the Royal College of Music, studying organ with Ernest Bullock and composition with R.O. Morris. After a spell in the army during the War, he began a period of study with Mátyás Seiber. He later held teaching posts at Morley College, where he succeeded Michael Tippett, and a professorship in composition at the RCM. In 1964, he accepted a post at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he died in 1990.
The organ works span the length and breadth of Fricker’s compositional career. It was the instrument’s contrapuntal possibilities that appealed to him and ignited his imagination. His best- known piece is the delightful Pastorale of 1959, and it’s a good place to begin. Its popularity lies in the gentle, unspoiled and idyllic landscape it evokes. It is also less dissonant than the other pieces. Three years earlier, the composer had published his first organ work ‘Choral’, and how very different it is. A theme and variations, it is
formed around tone rows, rendering it almost atonal. The adagio theme is followed by ten variations, each imaginatively constructed to provide contrast in terms of tempi and texture. Toccata, Gladius Domini, Op. 55 was written in 1968 and revised a year later; “...fiery and extrovert” is how Winpenny describes it. This piece, more than any other on the disc, showcases the sonic splendour of the Priory instrument. Inspired by the words of Girolama Savonarola (1452-98), a Florentine Dominican friar, the piece’s scope is apocalyptic. Yet it’s not all high-powered drama, there are more subdued sections, but a sense of portent never seems that far away.
On a smaller scale, the Five Short Pieces (1980) have a didactic function, each deftly crafted and dealing with an aspect of technique – finger work, touch, rhythm and pedal work. Another miniature is the Trio of 1968, evincing Fricker’s adept contrapuntal skill. I particularly like the Ricercare (1965) which ends the disc. Despite its atonal leanings, the variety of textures and colours it employs make for a compelling listen.
The value of this release lies in the fact that it’s the first ever survey of the composer’s organ oeuvre, and all of the music, with the exception of the Pastorale (1959), is a first recording. Tom Winpenny plays on the magnificent organ of Bridlington Priory, recently refurbished in 2005-6. It's a glorious sounding instrument, with a wide dynamic range, housed in an agreeable acoustic which offers clarity, definition and perspective fully in sympathy with the contrapuntal cast of Fricker’s music. Winpenny’s musicianship is to be commended, as are his imaginative registration choices. His detailed and informative liner contribution is a welcome addition. Full organ specifications are listed. As organ releases go, this one is outstanding and has my full-hearted recommendation.