Jesu meine Freude (Krebs); Passacaglia (Kerll); Voluntary IX from Op 7 (John Stanley); Improvisation in A minor, Op 150 No 7 (Saint-Saens); Dir, dir, Jehova, will ich singen (Karg-Elert); Elegy for 7th April 1913 (Parry); Postlude in D, Op 105 No 6 (Stanford)
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday 15 February, 12.15pm
Paul Rosoman began his recital, the first for 2012, using the chamber organ located on the right of the sanctuary, an instrument which gives the church something of the character of European churches and cathedrals in which a smaller organ existed to accompany the choir. Few in the audience would have recognised any of the music and many would not have heard of half of the composers; that would have been no bad thing except that few of the pieces would fall into the class of neglected masterpieces.
The opening piece was by a pupil of J S Bach, Johann Ludwig Krebs who was contemporary with Bach’s oldest sons. Based on the chorale ‘Jesu meine Freude’, on which Bach himself based his great motet, it could hardly have suggested a less likely kinship. It followed a routine pattern which performance on the chamber organ did little to enhance, seeming to draw attention to its slender character.
The Passacaglia by Kerll, of a century earlier, offered evidence of considerable musical imagination, employing a chromatic, downward motif that retained interest through the variety of its contours and ornamentation. Its performance on the baroque organ proved a more satisfactory than had the piece by Krebs.
John Stanley was a contemporary of Krebs; this Voluntary opened on piccolo stops that seemed to need more support, but the following fugal section became more interesting, employing the organ’s resources more fully.
Rosoman now moved upstairs to the main organ for the rest of the programme, of 19th and early 20th century music. Much of Saint-Saëns’s music is chameleon-like as the composer hardly developed a recognisable style, melodically, harmonically, or in instrumental colouring; so he’s often difficult to identify and this was the case with this Improvisation, one of seven written in 1916/17. In this, Rosoman seemed determined to dramatise the contrast with the lightly voiced chamber organ, using registrations that for me were too heavy, too brazen.
Sigfrid Karg-Elert, as the programme notes pointed out, was more popular in his life-time than after his death in 1933, though I have to claim that I encountered him in my teens through the adventurous musical interests of a school friend. In one of his Choral Improvisations (Op 65) Rosoman succeeded with a thoroughly convincing performance that displayed both the composer’s imaginative invention and the organist’s command of the organ’s resources; its character seemed to owe more to the composer’s French contemporaries like Vierne and Tournemire than to Rheinberger or Reger, or the English organists of the time.
Pieces by the two major English composers followed. A calm, unassertive Elegy by Hubert Parry was written for the funeral of a brother-in-law. It used a melody with widely spaced intervals, alternating between open and closed ranks, avoiding any false piety or sentimentality.
The last piece was by Parry’s contemporary (and rival) Charles Villiers Stanford (Parry wound up as professor at Oxford, Stanford at Cambridge). An appropriate Postlude, to conclude the recital: a bold rhythmic piece in stately triple time, sombre and emphatic, that could not possibly dispel Stanford’s reputation as apostle of Victorian grandeur and self-confidence. It was a good choice to conclude, strong structure, interestingly evolving ideas even if unadventurous harmonically. Like so many neglected and denigrated composers, both these Englishmen are seeing their reputations dusted off and found far more worthy of attention than was the opinion 50 years ago.
Though there was nothing familiar in the programme, Rosoman had given us food for thought, and for the musically curious, places to begin fruitful explorations.