Saturday 31st July 2010
Kevin Bowyer: Glasgow University Organist
- Second Symphony for Organ (1929). Kaikhosru Sorabji (1892-1988)
Price: £8 (Season ticket available for £50, reducing the series per recital cost to £6.25)
Attendance: Around 80
Star Rating: 3/5 ***
This was, in a word; interesting. I had never heard of this music, nor if I am truthful this composer, until this recital. Apparently this organ symphony is, when performed as a complete work, 9 hours in length, and with that staggering time frame in mind, it is of course the longest piece of organ music ever written. Obviously, we just had a snippet of it, around an hour and 20 minutes worth to be precise, which was the first movement. An interesting introduction was given by the Organist of York Minster, John Scott Whiteley (as has become the custom at these recitals), during which he asked Kevin to demonstrate the 16 themes. This was a good idea when it came to introducing the themes of this music, but in practice, even most of us 'hard core' organ buffs in the audience struggled to identify more than a handful of them in the 80 minutes heard. Nevertheless, Kevin was introduced in the usual way and there was a pause before he began, which held a real air of anticipation and intrigue.
I expect most of you are now wondering what on earth the music was like. It is extremely hard to describe it, other than to say that at a surface level, it was lots of going up and down the manuals with intermittent loud and quiet bits for most of the piece. Whilst I was extremely interested to hear the new work, after about half an hour, I have to say that boredom was setting in. It had been a non-stop performance, and this was set to continue for much longer, I knew! I wasn't the only one. A couple of people seemed to leave for a 'wander round' and others were shuffling and reading the biographies of the remaining recitalists in the programme, which nicely covers the whole series. This to me suggested that many people weren't that interested, with what was becoming a really rather 'dry' and academic performance. Once an hour had turned, 'num bums' were clearly setting in and frankly, in the words of a friend, I wanted to go up and press General Cancel. Unfortunately this whole movement ended on an extremely loud and rather unpleasant 'chord', of clashing notes, which lasted a bit longer than what I would call tasteful for such a sound. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that whilst this recital was not the cup of tea of many, and I acknowledge many of its fundamental weaknesses, I was really glad to have heard it. This was for two reasons, - 1. because it was interesting to hear something new and unusual and 2. because I now know not to rush out for the CD.
One thing that was noted afterwards was that, bar one very obvious wrong note, how would anyone have known if mistakes were being made, and for that matter, whether half of it was being made up? Obviously it wasn't, but you understand the point. It was hard to concentrate on music that one didn't recognise for that length of time, and there most certainly wasn't anything to hum along to. I wanted to give it 2 stars overall, because my enjoyment of it was limited to an academic interest and I dread to think what visitors/'non-organ recital people' thought, but I wanted to give it 4 stars for the sheer length of the performance, and the fact that Kevin played for this period solidly and with enthusiasm, which is obviously hard work. Sadly, the applause at the end was rather weak. Not my favourite recital ever, but an 'interesting' evening. I look forward to the remaining 7 York Minster recitals, which look in the programme to be a treat, and will all be reviewed here.