Froberger: Capriccio III
J.S. Bach: Partite Diverse ‘O Gott du frommer Gott’ BWV 767; Prelude and Fugue in D minor BWV 539; Prelude and Fugue in M minor BWV 544
Paul Rosoman, organ
Old St. Paul’s, Mulgrave Street
Tuesday, 29 May 2012, 12.15pm
Tuesday saw the first of the lunchtime concerts at Old St. Paul’s for 2012; the first of a series that runs weekly until late September. It was well-attended, in a rather cold church – though the under-seat heaters were on.
Cold fingers may have been a bit of a problem for Paul Rosoman, especially early in the concert, since a number of ‘fluffs’ occurred in an otherwise well-executed recital. There were, too, a few out-of-tune pipes in the organ.
A problem with most organ recitals is that the audience cannot see the performer’s face, only their back view. Therefore, compared with almost any other musical performance, there is less of a feeling of communication between player and listener. I have been to exceptions: at Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul when the downstairs moveable console was used, and in Calgary, Alberta, when a similar console was played.
This organ is a relatively small two-manual and pedal organ in the baroque style, installed in 1977. It works by tracker action; that is, a direct mechanical action, not electro-pneumatic, electric or electronic. It has a strong, clear sound and a surprising array of tonal qualities can be obtained.
The Froberger piece was a pleasing example of pre-Bach organ music. It was very well suited to this instrument. A range of colours was employed; the pedal tone was particularly fine.
Paul Rosoman’s brief spoken introduction to the Bach pieces singled out the Partite Diverse as being ‘Bach at his finest, particularly in the last stanza’. That is, the last stanza of the hymn on which the parts of the whole were based. He explained that each variation corresponded with a verse of the hymn, being eight in all. Some illustrated the texts musically, perhaps illuminating the ‘seven ages of man’, through from joyful childhood to old age and death, finishing with the joy of resurrection and heaven. It is thought to date from Bach’s late teens; if so, it is remarkable.
The work, written for manuals only, opened with a strong rendering of the chorale (hymn tune). A splendid reed solo was the feature of the first variation. The second was not so lively, being calmer and less colourful. The third employed flute stops, including the 2-foot, to give a bright yet light timbre.
All the variations were abundant in invention and variety. Number four featured the Principal, and was relatively solemn and steady, while the fifth variation gave us reeds – was this illustrating man’s bombastic stage of life? A less brightly resplendent, more contemplative sixth variation followed. The swell pedal was used to introduce a quieter section in this partita.
The seventh variation began very quietly and slowly, probably to illustrate old age. This was not the vibrant ‘third age’ that many of us today aspire to! Death cannot have been far off . The last variation’s brightness on the reeds perhaps spoke of resurrection and heaven, while flutes pictured bliss and peace. Rosoman achieved considerable contrasts between the manuals; a more sombre and sober section was followed by declaiming reeds again, at the end. This was a most interesting and attractive work, played in an accomplished and satisfying manner.
The Prelude in D minor was composed separately from the Fugue, and there is a theory that the pair were matched up long after Bach’s death. The prelude was written for manuals only, and after the delights we had just experienced, it sounded rather dull by comparison; it was a relatively plain work – described in the excellent programme notes as ‘modest’. There was good phrasing from Rosoman, but I would have liked a little more crispness and separation of notes in both movements; this would have made the fugue, particularly, more engaging.
The fugue had no rumbustious ending, just a few flourishes, unlike many of Bach’s fugues; this prelude and fugue constituted the weakest item in the recital. Not that I was after mere noise; harmonically and even contrapuntally this work was less than arresting.
The B minor Prelude and Fugue were a complete contrast to the previous work. Known as ‘grand’, it lived up to its name in breadth and excitement. The prelude was vintage Bach, with lots of contrapuntal complexity, including surprising harmonies and modulations. A bold fugue followed, utilising the mixture stops on the instrument. The pedal version of the fugue melody was very clear; the piece demonstrated the clarity and versatility of this small organ, and the competence of the performer.
This recital was a fine start to the year’s season at Old St. Paul’s.