LOUGH, Ernest: Wings of a Dove
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MASTER ERNEST LOUGH
& The Choir of the Temple Church, London
'Wings of a Dove' Original 1927-1938 Recordings
While the clarity and precision of his treblevoice may have braved the rigours of earlyelectrical recording to make him a legend in hisown lifetime, Ernest Lough may in retrospect beregarded as an exemplar of a lost traditionwhose vocal virtues were (by his ownacknowledgement) not so much unique as akinto accepted standards. Circumstancesconspired to create the world's most famousboy soprano, and in later years Lough was notshy to admit that at the time of the firstrecording of O For The Wings Of A Dove hewas chosen in preference to two other regularsoloists simply because the choral directorthought he was in the best voice on thatparticular day.
When Ernest Arthur Lough was born inLondon, on 11 November 1911, the 'choralrevival' initiated in the 1840s had undergone itsprotracted Victorian re-establishment. As a childhe sang in the choir of St. Peter's, Forest Gateand later auditioned, unsuccessfully, forSouthwark Cathedral, where his uncle Albertwas a chorister. Albert, however, had a greaterconfidence in young Ernest's talent andintroduced him instead to the Australian-bornorganist George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987), whohad recently assumed choral directorship of theTemple Church on the resignation of Sir HenryWalford Davies (1869-1941) its long-standingchoral reformer and organist. Ball took himunder his wing and in January 1924, with achoral scholarship to the City of London School(prerequisite to all Temple choristers) Erneststarted a 'new life as a very small, Eton-suitedprobationer' and soon, by dint of age as muchas of voice (at twelve he was the eldest) foundhimself elevated to principal treble soloist ofthe Temple Choir.
Technical difficulties had frustrated earlyattempts to record the Temple Choir acoustically(in December 1922 and February 1924) whichhad had to be discarded, but by early 1927, aftertwo years' experience with the new processesof electrical recording and having during 1926successfully captured fragments by relay of'live' performances at Covent Garden and theThree Choirs Festival, HMV were venturing tooutside locations, armed with mobile recordingvans and landlines. At Temple the firstsuccessful results, of small works by WalfordDavies and Ball,were obtained via a van parkedin adjacent King's Bench Wharf and, following afew initially unnerving interruptions, these toowere adjudged suitable for issue, on HMV'splum label B 2439 (Tracks 2 & 3). On theseLough's voice is clearly discernible from thoseof his colleagues.
After his oratorios easily the most popularof Mendelssohn's choral works, Hear MyPrayer; O For The Wings Of A Dove, a 'hymnfor soprano, Chorus and Organ' dates from1844. An eventual million-seller in its variousre-issues, during the first six months followingits release the original Lough recording of thepiece (for which, it was reported, the boysoprano had stood on two bibles for greaterproximity to the microphone!) sold in excess of300,000 copies. Several metal stampers wereutilised to meet the demand for copies, buteventually the original masters were badlyworn and by early 1928 HMV had decided tore-record the work.
Only too aware of the outstanding successof these pioneering choral landmarks theGramophone Company were quick to recordother similar works (including I Waited ForThe Lord, duet for two sopranos fromMendelssohn's Hymn Of Praise (1840) and toexploit the commercial possibilities of Thalben-Ball's fine Temple Choir and its boy soprano'star' in a broader more secular repertoire. Arange of other recordings was commissioned -some of which effected by relay from theTemple Church, others in the HMV studiovenues - including Lough solo versions of twoSchubert songs of 1826: Hark! Hark! TheLark,D.889 (Shakespeare - Cymbeline, III),Who Is Sylvia?,D.891 ('An Sylvia': Shakespeare- Two Gentlemen Of Verona, IV, 2) and Ball'snoted concerted arrangements of the 18thcentury musical setting of Ben Jonson's 1616poem Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes.
When Ernest reached puberty and his voicechanged, for a time he attempted a comeback(HMV released his records of a few ballads andsacred songs: see Track 16). The grown-upLough's voice was by any standards a pleasantbaritone, but the success of his new venture,however,was to be short-lived. Prevailingcompetition and the artist's polite, unassumingdisposition may have been factors, but thecommon fate of more recent trebles attemptingthe transition also hampered his progress -insufficient development of the chest registercaused by his earlier training precluded any real'opening' of the mechanism. In his mature yearsErnest pursued a career in advertising instead,although he continued his membership of theTemple Choir (as a baritone) until well into hisseventies. With his son Peter, he sang in thechoir at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, inJune 1953. In January 1963 Ernest Lough andThalben-Ball were jointly awarded a golden discin recognition of their recording of O For TheWings Of A Dove, sales of which had exceededthe million mark several years previously.
Having already been available for several yearsvia various CD re-releases, its overall sales arenow estimated at well over six million.
Ernest Lough died in Watford, Hertfordshire,on 22 February 2000, aged 88 years.Peter Dempsey, 2005