Organ Concert: pieces by Buxtehude, John Stanley, J.S. Bach, Théodore Dubois, Jan Zwart, C.H.H. Parry, Nicolaus Bruhns, Noel Rawsthorne and C.V. Stanford
St. Peter’s Church, Willis Street
Friday, 15 April, 7pm
It was a pleasant change to be at an organ recital that was well attended; perhaps opportunity to hear again the recently-restored St. Peter’s organ was part of the draw, and maybe the time was convenient to more people than that of many organ recitals. The music was well played, the programme interesting, and we were in the hands of a capable and experienced organist. The programme was sufficiently diverse to demonstrate much of the sound variety and capability of the instrument.
This organ, of three manuals and pedals, is beautiful to look on, with its decorated pipes, and good to hear. It suits the building admirably and has a magnificent range of ranks of pipes.
Buxtehude’s Praeludium in C is an intriguing piece of writing. Although the printed programme had excellent notes, those for this work, written by Professor Hans Davidsson, were perhaps a little abstruse in places. The work is known in English as ‘Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne’, and this title makes the structure a little clearer, though it is not the original title. However, it was good to have the titles of the episodes of Kühnau’s first Biblical Sonata printed; Buxtehude used the opening of that work to open the Praeludium. Kühnau’s sonata outlined the story of David and Goliath, and so it has been suggested that Buxtehude had this in mind. The nine titles, as used by Kühnau follow the course of this story, including the Israelites reaction to what is happening.
Buxtehude’s splendid writing was well exploited by the organist, with contrasting and varied registrations resulting in a dramatic performance.
Compared with Buxtehude and Bach, John Stanley’s writing is not very interesting, However, in his Organ Voluntary Op.5 no.1, the splendid reed pipes got a good work-out, and there was a brilliant final section on the flutes.
Bach’s Partita ‘O Gott, du Frommer Gott’ (in which title occurred one of a number of unfortunate misprints in the programme) is a set of variations on the chorale, the original hymn being by one Johann Heermann. It is thought to be a very early work of Bach’s. The opening statement of the chorael was a bold forte; the eight following variations illustrate musically the words of the hymn. The first variation contrasted the great and swell manuals very engagingly, while another employed the delicious flute pipes. The final variation began with a bright forte and featured diapasons and reeds, the music contrasting the two manuals.
While the printed programme gave the dates for some of the compositions, the dates for the composers were not given, which was a pity. With so many composers’ works being performed, it would have been interesting to compare the styles and settings from different periods.
After Bach, there was a great leap forward, to Théodore Dubois (1837-1924), whose Adoratio et Vox Angelica was played. A quiet opening on the swell manual presaged a mainly quiet but charming piece, with little use of the pedals. Both vox humana and tremulant were employed in this attractive music.
Another jump in time brought us to Dutch organ composer Jan Zwart. Thanks to an organist friend (he who introduced Paul Rosoman to Zwart’s music), I have discovered his dates were 1877 to 1937. His Een Vaste Burg is Onze God (the Dutch version of the well-known Lutheran hymn ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’) began as a very straightforward piece, employing bright sounds and fugal passages on the pedals throughout the delightful working out of the hymn melody; at other times the music was pungent. The melody was always apparent, though occasionally it needed a little more phrasing. The final variation on the tune was grand and brilliant. The friend described it aptly as in ‘a romantic style for the twentieth century’.
Elegy for 7th April 1913 by Hubert Parry was thus named because it was written for the funeral of the 14th Earl of Pembroke on that day. One would hardly have believed that Stravinsky had written Firebird three years earlier when listening to this slushy piece of Victoriana. As mentioned in the programme notes, Parry also wrote the famous Jerusalem, and the coronation anthem I was Glad, both of which have much more character than this little elegy.
Nicolaus Bruhns lived from 1665 to 1697, in Schleswig-Holstein. His Praeludium in G was a brilliant piece, with solo pedal passages throughout. Based on alternating toccata sections and fugal sections, it called for considerable technical dexterity, which it received.
Contemporary British composer Noel Rawsthorne was featured next. Like the vast majority of composers for the organ, he is an organist himself. His waltz from Dance Suite was described by Paul Rosoman as a tongue-in-cheek little piece. The Suite was commissioned for a concert celebrating the completion of the restoration of the organ in Huddersfield Town Hall in England, so it was appropriate to play it here, to cele-brate the completion of the restoration of the St. Peter’s organ. Probably because of the motive for its composition, it used a variety of registrations, including tremulant.
To end the recital, Rosoman played the composition of another Englishman (making a total of four English composers, three German, one French and one Dutch), viz. Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924). Postlude in D is a fine piece, and not too Victorian in character, despite having some of the grandeur of that era, combined with ‘echoes [of] the Irish folk idiom in its modal language and melodic contours’, as the programme note had it.
The programme presented a span of historical periods and of nationalities, all played with taste, authority, variety, and an excellent technique.
Paul Rosoman is shortly to play in Poland, including at the 13th International Organ Festival. Friday’s appreciative audience would all wish him well for this well-deserved engagement, and others he will fulfil in Europe.