Desert Island Discs – Alan Chubb

alan-chubbThere are only two current SCCS members who joined before Gwyn, and one of those is Jane. Alan joined before Jane.  I’m not saying he’s the oldest member, but with getting on for the most life experience we expect him to rescue all the other castaways.  Alan joined SCCS in 1963.  What a year, (I was born!). He served as the choir secretary in 1966 and 1967, and you can see his eloquent end of year report on page 45 in ‘South Chiltern Choral Society – The First Fifty Years’, by Frances Jones. He missed some years with SCCS while living in Oxford, before returning to us.

Alan has selected the specific recordings he would like to take onto the desert island with him, as you can see in his notes below.  Most of these are not available on Spotify, but Alan and I have selected alternative recordings that will give you a flavour of what he will be listening to on his island. You can listen to Alan’s discs here if you have registered with Spotify.

I was born into an amateur musical family. My mother, one of eight children, was a violinist in a family orchestra, but in later life found solo singing more rewarding. My father enjoyed the piano and would often be found nurturing his cello to a relatively small and unappreciative audience of myself and my two brothers who found that his domestic recitals allowed a reprieve from the hour of bedtime. Both of my brothers have enjoyed singing; my eldest in a major choir within the splendid environment of Tonbridge School chapel. My younger brother is more of a G & S man; performances of whose works he has directed whilst performing.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that my attention was drawn to the church organ since I was named after two organists, from west and north-west London, one of whom became my piano teacher. I consider myself to be an organ player rather than an organist as I never had a lesson on the king of instruments. My most nervous experience came about when Gwyn stepped in to accompany a Holy Week performance of Stainer’s Crucifixion at Nettlebed Parish Church, which I conducted myself.

My selection of eight recordings has been a challenge and will be seen as a self-indulgence in the choice of  British music of the Twentieth Century.

Although my mother’s singing at home was generally of operatic and oratorio arias, my fondest experiences at that time, which was during the second world war, arose when she sang with the Great Bedwyn village Women’s (Institute?) Choir in Wiltshire. For me the most memorable anthem was Brother James’s Air arr. Gordon Jacob. Wells Cathedral Choir; Malcolm Archer. Hyperion CDP 12105

Second, a lovely short anthem inspired by the patron saint of music, composed by the underrated English composer,  to a text by Ursula, wife of Ralph Vaughan Williams., written in 1960 is a perfect antidote for depression, a likely condition resulting from permanent loneliness, a feature of life on desert islands. Herbert Howells, A Hymn for Saint Cecilia, St Paul’s Cathedral Choir; John Scott. Hyperion CDA 66758.

My third disc was written by a British composer, born in Ireland. As director of the Royal College of Music, London, Charles Villiers Stanford was a formidable critic of many of those who came under his influence. His Irish Rhapsody No 4 carries the subtitle The Fisherman of Lough Neagh and What he Saw. Whatever it was that he saw, Stanford created one of the most exciting pieces of British music. C V Stanford, Irish Rhapsody No 4. The Ulster Orchestra; Vernon Handley. Chandos CHAN8581.  (This Spotify track is the recording Alan selected.  Listen from 7 minutes onwards for the most exciting part!)

My first experience of the notoriously uncomfortable seating of the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, was the setting of a memorable concert by the Oxford Schola Cantorum under Andrew Parrott, an important authority in the field of early instrumental performance practice. The first work was an early masterpiece of Handel. I believe that my wish to include a recording of this work in my list is attributable to my response to that concert of forty-five years ago; it is my fourth disc. G F Handel, Dixit Dominus.  Taverner Choir and Players; Andrew Parrott. EMI CDC 7549262

Late in the 1950’s the BBC promoted a winter series of Henry Wood Promenade Concerts to which my father took me for my induction to concert going. The concert included a performance of J S Bach’s keyboard Concerto in D minor with, if I recall correctly, Harriet Cohen the soloist. It was, however, the one work of the second part of the concert that was  unforgettable. A large scale work by a twentieth century Belgian composer has an important part for the organ. When the colossal Royal Albert Hall instrument was unleashed, with all its power, the effect was akin to the opening of the final section of Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3, (the celebrated organ symphony).  I had not heard more than one live performance of the Jongen, until quite recently. This is a very worthy candidate for my fifth disc. Joseph Jongen: Symphonie Concertante. Michael Murray (Organ), San Francisco Symphony, Edo de Waart. Telarc CD-80096.

Bach must be in my selection but which genre should I choose? Not surprisingly it is an organ work. I have chosen one of Bach’s major works played on the superb baroque organ in  Great St Laurens, Alkmaar, for my sixth disc. I carry a copy of this recording with me when I go away and always find a new aspect of the fugal material every time I listen to it. J S Bach: Prelude and Fugue in C minor (BWV 546), Piet Kee (Organ). Brilliant Classics 93413

I make no apologies for choosing my final two discs from the large and varied output of the same composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. There can be few more instances of a more ravishing marriage of words and music than this occasional piece,  composed to celebrate Sir Henry Wood’s golden Jubilee in 1938. I first  heard the Serenade to Music in the concert which inaugurated the Festival of Britain on May 3, 1951. This  work, to words from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, was  originally scored for 16 eminent soloists and orchestra, although there are three alternative versions, one of which is purely orchestral. The work more than fulfils its promise as a serenade with subtle ‘discord’ clashes and a glittering soprano shout of praise extolling the virtues of music. R Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music. London Philharmonic Orchestra, 16 soloists: Roger Norrington. Decca 767047

Not least in my selection, Vaughan Williams’s fifth Symphony is the music I would place on the turntable as I expire, if I had not been rescued or escaped from the island in the meantime. I first heard this work whilst I was at school, five years after its first performance; apparently a very moving event, occurring at the very worst time for this country in World War II. The symphony starts in two keys simultaneously. Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress inspired the composer and has thematic links to the composer’s controversial morality of the same name which came to fruition ten years later.   The epilogue that concludes the often violent passacaglia finale is supremely radiant and I believe the most appropriate work to accompany one’s departure from this world. R Vaughan Williams: Symphony No 5 in D major. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra: Vernon Handley. Classics for Pleasure 75311

If only one disc survives I hope it would be the Vaughan Williams’s Fifth.

Book: John Bunyan Pilgrim’s Progress. This book has much of its text which is to be found in the Bible. The obligatory Shakespeare will also make interesting concordance research with the Bible.

Luxury: An oboe, adequate reeds with comprehensive instruction manual and substantial manuscript paper with a perpetual writing implement and ink.

Of course, my selection leaves many near misses. E J Moeran’s Symphony (No 1) in G minor and Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, with the fabulous theme of the Agnus Dei are my saddest omissions.


Many thanks for sharing your favourite discs Alan. To hear Desert Island Discs from previous castaways, click below:

David Cottam

Jane Arch

Liz Harrison

Eric Hartley

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