English Organ Music from the Temple Church


In keeping with the historic nature of the Temple Church, the first mention of an organ there dates back to 1308 – although the organ on this recording, made by Harrison & Harrison, dates from 1954 (after the previous organ was destroyed during the blitz in 1941).

The varied programme touches on a multitude of works for organ by English composers, all of which bring out different facets of this versatile instrument. The organist, James Vivian, has been part of the music department at the Temple Church since 1997, working first with the then director of music Stephen Layton before taking on the role himself in 2006.

Including works by Percy Whitlock, Henry Walford Davies, John Stanley, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, Frank Bridge, Basil Harwood, Francis Jackson and Herbert Howells.

This disc is complemented by the release The Temple Church Choir’s ‘The Majesty of Thy Glory’: Choral Works by Britten, Elgar, Howells and Purcell, also released this month.


What people are saying

"We have had many fine recordings over the years from the Temple Church and it is pleasing to find these new releases up to the same high standards … a well balanced collection which will repay careful listening." The Organ   

"A fine London organ put to good use in a masterful recital … The recorded sound is absolutely first-rate. I loved this disc." Gramophone

"the instrument is a natural match for English romantic and post-romantic composition … Vivian’s performance is nothing short of spectacular" American Record Guide

James Vivian, organ 

Release date:6th Dec 2010
Order code:SIGCD223
Barcode: 635212022320

 The Organ, March 2011

We have had many fine recordings over the years from the Temple Church and it is pleasing to find these new releases up to the same high standards. James Vivian’s solo disc draws on a familiar repertoire but is none the less welcome, opening with a Whitlock Fanfare before Walford Davies’ Solemn Melody. John Stanley’s Voluntary in D and S S Wesley’s popular Choral Song and Fugue give us a sense of the eighteenth century voices the Temple Harrison can provide while the move to Basil Harwood’s Sonata No1 in C sharp minor, gives a more romantic breadth to the disc. The warmth of sound is particularly pleasing throughout and the addition of Howells’ Rhapsody and Jackson’s fine Toccata, Chorale & Fugue make this a well balanced collection which will repay careful listening.

The choral collection is formed around three setting of the Te Deum, opening with Purcell’s, in a very clean and sparkling reading. Elgar’s setting seems pleasantly conservative when set against Howells’ 1944 working of the same text. Between these we hear Purcell’s My beloved spake and – rather unexpectedly – Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb. Simply looking at the cover I had expected the Britten to feel somewhat out of place among the other works but was easily convinced as it flows smoothly from Elgar through to Howells.

The solo voices are all of pleasingly high quality and show individual personalities without overtly drawing attention to themselves – a fine piece of choral direction in balancing the two. This is the first recording of the choir for Signum and promises a close and productive relationship.

Brian Hick

Gramophone, June 2011

A fine London organ put to good use in a masterful recital

James Vivian’s previous solo disc of 2005 – a survey of works built upon the Passacaglia (on JAV) – drew deservedly high plaudits. This new anthology is an equally satisfying and diverse programme, tailor-made for this gloriously unabashed Romantic instrument, a Harrison and Harrison of 1926, transplanted to the Temple Church from the ballroom of Glen Tanar House in 1953 as a replacement for the Rothwell organ destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1941.

Opening with a vigorous rendition of Whitlock’s richly coloured and affectionate tribute to his friend, the Bournemouthian artist and musician Bernard Walker, the temperature drops down for that quintessential "Temple" piece, Walford Davies’s Solemn Melody. The Voluntary in D by one of Davies’s predecessors as organist of the Temple, John Stanley, provides a welcome contrast, a refreshing appetiser to WaIter Emery’s beefed-up edition of SS Wesley’s evergreen Choral Song and Fugue. The improvisatory quality of Bridge’s Allegretto grazioso is caught to perfection. The same applies to Howells’s ruminative First Rhapsody, which grows and glows in all the right places.

Vivian brings the full weight and majesty of the Temple organ to bear on Harwood’s workmanlike early C sharp minor Sonata, a piece which owes much to Germanic models, especially those of Rheinberger. However, the undoubted masterpiece on the disc is Francis Jackson’s Toccata, Chorale and Fugue, composed in 1955. Now in his 94th year and still going strong as composer and performer, Jackson has written a piece that sounds as fresh as ever, especially with such compellingly masterful playing. The recorded sound is absolutely first-rate. I loved this disc.

Malcolm Riley


American Record Guide, May/June 2011

The organ now in London’s Temple Church was built in 1926 by Harrison & Harrison, but not for the church. It originally graced the ballroom on the estate of Lord Glentanar in Scotland. George Thalben-Ball was then organist of the Temple Church, and in the 1930s he played and greatly admired the instrument at Glen Tanar House. The organ then at the Temple Church was built by Rothwell in 1910 and can be heard on recordings made in the years preceding World War II, including the famous 1927 recording of Ernest Lough as soloist in Mendelssohn’s ‘Hear My Prayer’. In May of 1941 an incendiary bomb struck the roof of the Temple Church. It caused extensive damage to the building and completely destroyed the organ. After the war, English organ builders were so booked with work that it would have taken many years to have a new instrument made. In a chance meeting at Cambridge, Lord Glentanar told Thalben-Ball that he was thinking of giving away the organ. It was acquired by the Temple Church in 1953 and installed in a new chamber constructed especially for it. It was first heard at the rededication of the restored church in March of 1954. The instrument has a vintage English organ sound that is well suited to most of this repertory. Its dynamic range is huge and especially well illustrated by the Howells Rhapsody. The solo stops, especially the reeds, display tone of great refinement and eloquence. Some listeners may think the sound rather bloated, and in some of the fuller registrations that assessment could be justified, but on the whole the instrument is a natural match for English romantic and post-romantic composition.

James Vivian has been organist at the Temple Church since 2006, but he has been associated with the church since 1997 as sub-organist to Stephen Layton. Before then he had been an organ scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, and still earlier an assistant at Lincoln Cathedral. His playing displays great energy, coherence, and sensitivity. He is clearly speaking his native musical language. He brings a persuasive urgency to the opening movement of Basil Harwood’s Sonata 1 in C- sharp minor (1886). The delicate and tranquil play of colors in Frank Bridge’s Allegretto Grazioso (1905, published 1917) displays another side of both his artistry and the organ.

The most recent music on this program is the Toccata, Chorale, & Fugue (1955) by Francis Jackson (b 1917). This is a major organ work and a virtuosic tour de force. Hearing it again reminded me what a fine composer Jackson is. Vivian’s performance is nothing short of spectacular, and the dark gravity of the Temple Church organ makes this performance even more imposing than Jackson’s own recording on the 1969 Walker organ at Blackburn Cathedral (Priory 930; March/ April 2005).

International Record Review, June 2011

This is an intelligently planned and executed album, recorded in a church the acoustic of which, for over 80 years, has been familiar on disc ever since those ground-breaking HMV 78s of the Temple church hoir under George Thalben- Ball. There is no music by Thalben-Ball himself on this CD, but none of it would have been unfamiliar to him . Indeed, most unusually for organ recital discs these days, all the music here would sureIy appeal to the same music lover.

The ‘Fanfare’ by Percy Whitlock might appear less ‘pomp and circumstantial’ than its title would suggest but it was in fact written not in homage to Elgar but to Delius. One of the composer’s Four Extemporizations, it is not that often heard and receives here a completely convincing performance, as does the Elgarian solemn Melody of Thalben-Ball’s predecessor Walford Davies. A beautiful Voluntary in D major by John Stanley is finely phrased, as is all of the music here, and S. S. Wesley’s Choral Song and Fugue is a genuine delight – the tempo for the fugue and the fleet part-playing are exceptional.

Frank Bridge’s Allegretto grazioso is not often heard; as its title implies it is not a particularly searching piece: neither is it one of those extended postlude to end Sunday matins but more properly a self-supporting recital item, which, as with so much of this composer’s earlier works (it dates originally from 1905 but was not published until 1917), may not immediately reveal its qualities. It could hardly receive a more persuasive account than it does from James Vivian.

Music by three long-lived composers ends this recital: the first is the very fine Sonata No. 1 by Basil Harwood (who died in 1949, eight days before what would have been his ninetieth birthday), a work written in 1885, which at once declares the young composer’s mastery throughout – not least in the considerable achievement of the mainly fugal finale. This receives a particularly fine performance by Vivian, who should be encouraged to go on to record Harwood’s Second Sonata and some of his other works. Vivian is notably expressive in the slow movement of a major composition that should be more well known among the general public as well as the organ fraternity.

A piece that is very often heard in recital is Herbert Howells’s D flat Rhapsody, one of his most familiar works, which in the closing pages Vivian quite hauntingly registers and phrases. The recital concludes with the magnificent Toccata, Chorale and Fugue by Francis Jackson (94 this coming October). This brilliant virtuso piece receives a really excellent performance and recording. The booklet notes are particularly informative and, all in all, this is a recommendable release which deserves to do well.

Robert Matthew-Walker

Choir & Organ Magazine, May/June 2011

Such expert playing almost convinces me that this 1926 Harrison made a successful transition from the Scottish ballroom that was originally its home; but the programme itself- Whitlock, Walford Davies, Stanley, S.S. Wesley, Frank Bridge, Harwood, Howells, Jackson ? smacks too much of Evensong. Fitting though it is to acknowledge one’s predecessors, WD’s lugubrious melody takes up space that could have been better occupied, and the second and third movements of Harwood’s sonata are somewhat embarrassing after the splendid first. The notes contain slips: Whitlock was not the Brighton municipal organist, and he dedicated to Delius only the first of his Four Extemporizations.

Relf Clark

  1. Fanfare (from ‘Four Extemporizations’) – Percy Whitlock – 7.08
  2. Solemn Melody (arr. West) – Henry Walford Davies – 4.18
  3. Voluntary in D, op. 5, no. 5 – John Stanley – 5.16
  4. Choral Song (ed. Emery) – Samuel Sebastian Wesley – 3.07
  5. Fugue (ed. Emery) – Samuel Sebastian Wesley – 3.58
  6. Allegretto grazioso – Frank Bridge – 4.15
  7. Sonata I in C-sharp minor: Allegro appassionato – Basil Harwood – 6.44
  8. Sonata I in C-sharp minor: Andante – Basil Harwood – 3.28
  9. Sonata I in C-sharp minor: Maestoso – Con moto – Basil Harwood – 7.51
  10. Rhapsody in D-flat, op. 17, no. 1 – Herbert Howells – 6.33
  11. Toccata, op. 16 – Francis Jackson – 5.41
  12. Chorale, op. 16 – Francis Jackson – 4.45
  13. Fugue, op. 16 – Francis Jackson – 4.57