Notes on this Blog

Update: September 2010; Overall ratings of recitals are now to be stated as being out of 10, rather than 5. This increases the relative objectivity of the respective ratings between recitals.

This blog started in July 2010, as an e-resource with two main goals:
  1. To review, impartially, organ recitals that I attend in the UK, so that potential and actual members of the audience, and the performer alike, can read what I hope is a fair, balanced and unbiased account of events.
  2. To allow people who missed a recital they may have wished to attend to see what it was like, and what they missed (or didn't miss).

I am independent, and am not in any way affiliated (or at all directly or indirectly associated) with any bodies or venues named on this blog. I review all performances in the same way, so as to achieve and maintain my stated goals.

From now on, under 'Attendance' I will just report a rough number, rather than commenting on whether it is 'good', 'poor', 'excellent' etc. This is because attendance figures can be impacted by so many empirical variables (such as time, place, weather, a bus braking down, a blues concert down the road etc.) that it is not really accurate or meaningful, nor is it fair on the recitalist, to comment on numbers in this way.

I remain anonymous here, as to not do so impacts the impartiality of my postings.

I hope that people are reading these (what I hope come across as objective and fair) reviews with interest.

The Blogger

Saturday, 2 October 2010

York Minster: Saturday 18th September 2010, John Scott Whiteley

York Minster
Saturday 18th September 2010
John Scott Whiteley: Organist of York Minster

The Programme
  • Allegro (from Symphonie VI, Op.42). Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)
  • Passacaglia, Op.17 (2009). John Scott Whiteley (b.1950)
  • Etude (Canon) in E Major, Op.56. Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
  • Sonata Eroica, Op94. Joseph Jongen (1873-1953)
  • Papillons Noirs (from 13 Preludes, Op.69). Joseph Jongen (1873-1953), trans. Whiteley
  • Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548, 'The Wedge'. JS Bach (1685-1750)

Time: 19:00
Price: £8 (Season ticket available for £50, reducing the series per recital cost to £6.25)
Attendance: Around 400
Rating: 10/10

This recital was of significant importance. Not only did it close the York Minster 2010 summer series, but it also closed a 35 year long career for John Scott Whiteley as Organist of York Minster, now Organist Emeritus. The large attendance, consisting of admirers from around the world, was testimony enough to the admiration and respect toward John and his playing from all who were present. With this in mind, there was a notably unsubtle feeling of anticipation before the recital began, as the Quire (and top of the nave) swelled up with excited audience members. Indeed several well respected Organists from York Minster both past and present, as well as from other places, could be seen amongst the sea of faces.

The Dean of York introduced the recital, and spoke in part about the release of the new CD, 'JSW Organ Works' from Regent Records, which was on sale after the recital. The Dean already had his copy, and held it up for all to see, which was surely a real statement of admiration towards John. John himself introduced the recital, and concluded his introduction with an amusing anecdote (with perfect comic timing) about when he met the composer Messian. He said that on the second of the two occasions Messian had written on a score of his that he hoped it would afford him at least a little joy. John concluded neatly with his hope that this recital would afford us all at least a little joy. Enthusiastic applause began as John made his way up the the console.

The finest moment, before the music began that is, had to be when John could be seen to arrive at the console, and close the door to it behind him, and we could see on the projection screen that he had no registrant or page turner. It was just him and the organ - fantastic. It would be impossible to single out any individual pieces from this recital, as they all had an individual significance, so I shall try to talk briefly about each. The Widor Allegro to begin, put a new meaning to the phrase 'a rousing introduction'. The use of the full organ at the opening chords, including the Tuba Mirabilis, was of immense effect. The dramatic passages that this piece includes in its 8 or so rather difficult minutes seemed to flow effortlessly and nimbly from John's fingers (and feet!), noted as everybody in the audience was completely transfixed on the screen (that including, I add, some of the countrys leading cathedral and concert organists)! The piece, delivered with such visible passion and energy, was clearly a favourite of the recitalist, and I personally marvelled in the use of counterpoint and colour in the music. More delighted applause broke the stunned silence after the final moment of decay in this amazing acoustic to acknowledge this phenomenal performance. Applause after every piece then occurred throughout, something that only Dr Francis Jackson otherwise seemed to get amongst the other recitalists of the series; perhaps that says enough.

The Passacaglia by Whiteley himself was very much a change in style, but was by no means unwelcome. The diversity and juxtaposition of styles and influences, as explained fully on the detailed and insightful programme notes for this piece that were given out as people entered, had both a rather varied and at times quite emotional effect, reaching a very dramatic conclusion which in part, perhaps, recalls earlier pieces by Whiteley. This is on the disc 'JSW Organ Works' from Regent Records, and is certainly worth buying to hear this yourself.

A couple of shorter and perhaps 'lighter' pieces also featured, including the Etude by Schumann and Papillons noirs (black butterflies) by Jongen. They were both enjoyed thoroughly, not least because it added some more variety to the programme, but also because we heard some more interesting tonal colours from the Minster organ - Whiteley clearly using his inestimable knowledge of the instrument and the building to great effect. The Jongen comes to an almost comic ending, but this was preceded by another 'great' organ work by the same composer, the mighty Sonata Eroica. This was a stunning 'tour de force' delivered magnificently by John Scott Whiteley who must be the worlds leading Jongen scholar, and was probably, just, my favourite piece of the night.

The final piece was the famous Bach 'Wedge'. Whilst speaking beforehand, John placed a bit of a disclaimer on this performance, saying that it wouldn't be exactly authentic, like on 'those funny TV programmes'. It turned out that the use of a bit of extra 'bulk', shall we say, in no way detracted from the quality of the music, which remained identifiably Bach, and at no point went over the top. In fact, it for me at least made the piece all the more enjoyable, and was ideally representative of John's mastery over the Minster organ and the wall of sound it is capable of producing. At the end of the recital, John received a long and enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience, which appropriately concluded both a landmark recital, and a landmark organist's career at York Minster.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

York Minster: Saturday 11th September 2010, Robert Sharpe

York Minster
Saturday 11th September 2010
Robert Sharpe: Director of Music, York Minster

The Programme
  • Concerto No2 in G Minor (1815). Matthew Camidge (1764-1844)
    i) Adagio
    ii) Allegro
    iii) Adagio
    iv) Gavotta
  • Prelude and Fugue in E flat, BWV 552, "St Anne". J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
  • Scherzo in G Minor, Op.49, No.2. Marco Enrico Bossi (1861-1925)
  • Grande Piece Symphonique, Op.17. Cesar Franck (1822-1890)
    i) Andantino serioso - Allegro non troppo e maestoso
    ii) Andante - Allegro
    iii) Andante - Andantino serioso - Allegro

Time: 19:00
Price: £8 (Season ticket available for £50, reducing the series per recital cost to £6.25)
Attendance: Around 300
Rating: 9/10

It would be fair to say that this recital contained something for everybody. Indeed, we had music from Germany, France, Italy and England, all of which heralded all expected of their very characteristic isotypic styles. One thing that was particularly nice here, as with other Cathedrals and churches when this happens, was to hear the Director of Music actually play the organ. Most often they are seen directing the choir, despite them more often than not being very well regarded as organists. Robert Sharpe is no exception, and is well established as a recitalist of some quality.

With this of course in mind, nobody was in any way let down by this recital. The charming opening, that of the second Concerto by Camidge, was so pleasant on the ear and registered in an authentic style for the period of writing. Camidge was Organist of York Minster between 1799 and 1842, and was part of the infamous Camidge family that provided York Minster with Organists for a period of well over 100 years. This composition, whilst conservative in its writing, is of such soundly solid construction, and in parts so divinely delicate and detailed, that one almost wanted to applaud each fine movement.

We then moved forward in to the very popular "St Anne" Prelude and Fugue by Bach. Another of his big works with a nickname for which nobody seems to have an explanation (do get in touch if you do), it reaches one of the most dramatic climaxes that Bach had ever written for the organ, and in doing so, is another of the favourites in the organ repertoire. It was executed boldly and with sensitivity by Robert, a combination that is perhaps not easily achieved, and this made the forever deeply revered ending in to an utterly sparkling conclusion.

Of continuing interest were the remaining pieces of the programme, and first was the Scherzo by the Italian organist and composer, Marco Bossi. This was played in a truly thrilling manner, with occasional blasts on the Tuba Mirabilis, tastefully selected, and indeed reminiscent of the recordings made in the 1960s by Dr Francis Jackson, who rather nicely then held the position now held by Robert. This piece certainly looked very difficult to play when viewed on the big screen showing the console and performer, and the results were both aurally and visually inspiring. The final item, and one of the 'great organ works' that the York recital series has this year been renowned for, was the Franck Grande Piece Symphonique. Few words can be used to describe this, one of the earliest French organ symphonies, with justice. However, what can be described justifiably was the stunning performance of the work given by Robert, reaching a thrilling and dramatic climax. This recital was most certainly one of the highlights of the so far 2010 series at York.

Ripon Cathedral: Tuesday 31st August 2010, Colin Walsh

Ripon Cathedral
Tuesday 21st August 2010
Colin Walsh: Organist Laureate of Lincoln Cathedral

The Programme
  • Trois Improvisations. Trans. Maurice Durufle. Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
    1) Marche episcopale
    2) Meditation
    3) Cortege
  • Elegiac Prelude. George Bennett (1863-1930)
  • Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548, "the Wedge". JS Bach (1685-1750)
  • Allegro Vivace (from Symphony 5, Op.42 No.1). Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)
  • Cortege et Litanie. Marcel Dupre (1886-1971)
  • Prelude et Fugue sur le non d'Alain. Maurice Durufle (1902-1986)

Time: 19:30
Price: £7.50
Attendance: Around 50
Star Rating: 7/10

This was another recital in the 2010 Ripon Cathedral recital series given by an organist of world class repute. Many of the pieces it contained were familiar to all, and I pay particular attention to Colin's effortless playing of the Bach "Wedge", for which he did intense justice. He brought out the finest voices of this particularly English sounding organ, by Harrison and Harrison, to give a deeply authentic and equally thrilling performance of this great Bach work, a favourite of many. One of my own favourites was the Widor Allegro Vivace from symphony 5, which I felt was delivered as arrestingly as in York Minster a week or so ago. The density of the piece, and the magnificent thundering out of the particularly brilliant parts of this opening movement, gave a superb effect in to the considerable, if not surprisingly generous, acoustic at Ripon Cathedral.

A different piece of significance, although similarly French in character, was the Durufle Prelude and Fugue. This was written as a tribute by Durufle to the great French organist Jehan Alain, who was killed in France during the 1940 German invasion. A distinctive theme builds up throughout, with recapitulations of Alain's most popular work, Litanies, appearing towards the end of the Fugue. The Prelude has a slightly different feel to me, and as it increases in depth and intensity, it reaches a particularly gripping conclusion, with two massive D major chords.

An encore was very well received at the end, and this was the Elgar 'Imperial March'. This piece allowed us to hear the Ripon Tuba, and moreover, left us all feeling really rather patriotic! The inclusion of this final item rounded this recital off well, bringing the Ripon summer organ recital series to a fitting close.

Monday, 13 September 2010

York Minster: Saturday 4th September 2010, Simon Nieminski

York Minster
Saturday 4th September 2010
Simon Nieminski: Organist, St Mary's Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh

The Programme
  • Fanfare for St John's. Philip Moore (b.1943)
  • Polonaise in A, Op.40 No.1. Trans. W.T. Best. Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
  • Mr Bach's Bottle Bank. Giles Swayne (b.1946)
  • Nocturne in E flat, Op.9 No.2. Trans. William Faulkes. Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
  • Scherzetto and Fugue on the name FRANCIS JACKSON, Op.15. John Scott Whiteley (b.1950)
  • Suite: Scenes on the Wye. Frederick Wood (1880-1963)
    iii: Tintern
    iv: Symonds Yat
  • Improvisation on a Chant of John Goss. Francis Jackson (b.1917)
  • Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue, Op.57 'The Inferno'. Max Reger (1873-1916)

Time: 19:00
Price: £8 (Season ticket available for £50, reducing the series per recital cost to £6.25)
Attendance: Around 250
Rating: 8/10

This organ recital, by a former York Minster organ scholar, was one of the most energetic and 'fun' performances I have experienced at the Minster. The first thing to say about this is do not be fooled by the programme, or more specifically the volume of it. The pieces that came before the big work, the Reger 'Inferno' that concluded, were mostly relatively short, at well below 10 minutes each. What was particularly nice to see was the Chopin bi-centenary marked with two piano transcriptions for organ being played, and most notably the popular Polonaise in A. These transcriptions worked wonderfully on the organ, and this perhaps highlights the wealth of extra repertoire that can be (and is being) garnered for all kinds of instruments with mature and effective transcription, but particularly between such as keyboard instruments.

Another thing to note from this recital was the presence of compositions by no less than three Minster organists. The contributions of Francis Jackson, Philip Moore and John Scott Whiteley were all appreciably noted by people in the audience, and indeed by myself. The most recent work of these, by John Scott Whiteley, was written to mark Dr Jacksons 90th birthday. It started off intriguingly on flutes, and built up to the most splendid conclusion.

The piece named 'Mr Bach's Bottle Bank' by Giles Swayne had a very cheeky feel to it indeed, with a rather surprising ending. Not performed as a work very often, it was clearly to the taste of the performer. Performed even less often however is the Max Reger 'Inferno', which was brimming with all kinds of musical colour and indeed enticed and ultimately professed an enormous forcefulness from the organ and the performer alike. There are few words to describe a work of this scale, other than to say that it is probably one of the most immense pieces of music ever written down. The mighty concluding passage left myself at least yearning for more. This was a marvellous opportunity to hear what is a much underperformed, but obviously very difficult, work.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

York Minster: Saturday 28th August 2010, Susan Landale

York Minster
Saturday 28th August 2010
Susan Landale: Professor of Organ, Royal Academy of Music, London.

The Programme
  • Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582. JS Bach (1685-1750)
  • Chorale setting (Orgelbuchlein): O Mensch bewein dein Sunde gross, BWV 622. JS Bach (1685-1750)
  • Choral III in A Minor. Cesar Franck (1822-1890)
  • Sonata II in C Minor, Op.65. Felix-Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)
    Allegro maestoso e vivace
    Fuga, allegro moderato
  • Variations on: Weinen, Klagen Zorgen, Sagen. Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Time: 19:00
Price: £8 (Season ticket available for £50, reducing the series per recital cost to £6.25)
Attendance: Around 250
Star Rating: 3/5 ***

Susan Landale is an organ teacher of great standing, and has worked extensively in France in recent times. Therefore, her authority over French organ music is largely unquestionable. John Scott Whiteley gave an informative and insightful introduction to the music, particularly so in relation to the final piece. The two items of Bach that opened the recital were registered well, and included a nice reed on the pedal, which wasn't too 'heavy' or 'in your face', adding a pleasant and yet solid foundation to the music. The second item made a particularly stirring use of the tremulant on the organ.

The Franck Choral was an interesting interpretation, unlike any other I had heard. It used a great French 'reedy' sound, and was played with authority. Susan has recorded the complete organ works of Cesar Franck previously, so she was clearly familiar with the work, and undoubtedly the music of Franck in general. Nevertheless, the only let down to this for myself was perhaps the way that there wasn't much of a build up towards the end, nor did she 'slow down' for the final minute or so, as I think is customary. This was Franck's final work, completed so close to his death that he never had chance to hear it. As it is widely seen as one of his finest pieces of music, I would have preferred to have taken more from it, particularly at the close.

The piece that stood out the most for myself, and undoubtedly for others too, was the Liszt variations on Weinen, Klagen Zorgen, Sagen, which translates to variations on weeping, lamenting grieving and searing. In 1862, Liszt went to Rome following the death of his daughter (his son had already died in his arms in 1859), where he wrote this piece. It features sections of enormous sadness, a descent in to the horrors of Hell, and draws to an end with a real feeling of hope and peace, followed up with an immense conclusion. Clearly meant as a piece of great emotion and power, it was played brilliantly on this strain by Susan. She reflected so well the obvious feelings of Liszt as he wrote the music, and the York organ spoke finely throughout in all sections, not least during the thunderous pedal passages alongside the biggest reeds of the organ sounding together at the end. This made for a great end to this recital, and it was this piece that really made it enjoyable and worthwhile attending for me.

York Minster: Saturday 21st August 2010, David Pipe

York Minster
Saturday 21st August 2010
David Pipe: Assistant Director of Music, York Minster

The Programme
  • Marche hongroise (from La Damnation de Faust), arr. Henri Busser. Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
  • Fantaisie in A (Trois Pieces). Cesar Franck (1822-1890)
  • Partite diverse sopra Sei gegrusset, Jesu gutig. BWV 768. JS Bach (1685-1750)
  • Miroir (1989). Ad Wammes (b.1953)
  • Symphonie V, Op.42 No1. Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)
    i Allegro vivace
    iv Adagio
    v Toccata

Time: 19:00
Price: £8 (Season ticket available for £50, reducing the series per recital cost to £6.25)
Attendance: Around 250
Star Rating: 4/5 ****

It would be fair to say that this was a big recital for David Pipe. Having been at York Minster for almost two years now, he has begun to establish himself locally as a player and choir trainer of some repute, and as such the recital was well attended. David certainly did himself, the organ, and his teachers great justice throughout.

There were many interesting pieces featuring, not least the opening Berlioz Marche hongroise. I had never encountered this music previously, and am of the understanding that it is an orchestral work, transcribed for organ in this case. It worked very well indeed, and formed a particularly rousing opening. The Franck that followed was equally as enjoyable, and being composed by one of my own favourite composers, I personally enjoyed this rendition. David played this with accuracy and enormous attention to the 'French feel'.

The follow up to this was the twenty minute long Bach Partite. The only way this piece of musical genius can be saved from being, well, rather boring for the masses, is if one listens to the rather pleasant hymn tune at the outset, that the set of variations are based around. Thankfully I did so, and found it mostly quite enjoyable, particularly the latter movements, through which you could feel the theme and feel for the whole piece very much shining through. I think twenty minutes for this kind of work is long enough, though.

The Wammes 'Miroir' was a joyous and refreshing little number of around four minutes, and another that I had previously not encountered at all. It was very quirky and achieved a couple of sniggers from the audience at the best highlighted points. The jewel in the crown of this recital had to be the Widor Symphony 5, from which David played the 1st, 4th and 5th of the 5 movements. The precision, virtuosity and thought given to this performance was notable without exception, and the Widor Toccata, whilst not the usual 'full organ' with the biggest reeds on show, in fact concluded in a blaze of sheer brilliance from the Minster organ, without being too over the top. The key part of this whole recital for me was the superb ways that David played and interpreted the music, and how he handled the organ. David has clearly gotten to know this instrument well, and had obviously thought long and hard about his choices of registration. A thoroughly enjoyable evening, and with note to Davids playing of absolutely impeccable accuracy and seeming effortlessness, I think his will be a name to watch out for in the future.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Central Methodist Church, York: Thursday 19th August 2010, Francis Jackson

Central Methodist Church, York
Thursday 19th August 2010
Francis Jackson: Organist Emeritus, York Minster

The Programme
  • Prelude in C and Scherzo. Edward Bairstow (1874-1946)
  • Prelude & Fugue in B minor (BWV 544). JS Bach (1685-1750)
  • Choral Dorien. Jehan Alain (1911-1940)
  • Partita, Op.19. William Mathias (1934-1992)
    i) Maestoso: Allegro non troppo
    ii) Lento alla marcia
    iii) Allegro, ma non troppo
  • Prelude on 'Repton', Op.150/2 and Scherzo amabile, Op.92. Francis Jackson (b.1917)
  • Tuba Tune. Norman Cocker (1889-1953)

Time: 12:30
Price: Free (retiring collection)
Attendance: Around 100
Star Rating: 4/5 ****

A very enjoyable recital was given here by the well known organist and composer Dr Francis Jackson CBE. Dr Jackson, an adorable character of 92, delivered what was a very varied programme of music, which had 'something for everybody'. Appropriately, Francis began with the Bairstow prelude, which stretched the resources of this rather large organ to their limits. It was evident, from the very nicely placed screen with a live view of the console upon it, that this piece was very dear to Francis. Following that was the very melodic Scherzo, also by Sir Bairstow. The Bach that followed is one of the 'classics', and was executed with great accuracy.

A piece played with which I was not too familiar was the Mathias Partita. This certainly sounded hard to play, but as usual, Francis did not disappoint. It was quite lengthy, causing the recital to run over a bit (not ideal for those on lunch breaks, and a small handful dressed relatively smartly had to leave after this) but nevertheless it was enjoyable to hear. The piece on the hymn tune Repton, which we all know most frequently as being set to 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind', was a most reflective and stirring piece by Jackson himself. The recital ended with the very well known Cocker Tuba Tune. This is a piece Francis is very well associated with, following his landmark recordings of this using the Tuba Mirabilis during his time at York Minster. Whilst the organ at Central Methodist in York does not have a Tuba stop, the choir Tromba ranks certainly managed to pull it off well. Francis Jackson was on top form for this recital, and he spoke both with amusement and interest, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.