Benefit for organist Thomas Gaynor, studying in United States, covers satisfying range of organ masterworks

Thomas Gaynor, organ

Louis Vierne: Allegro, 2nd movement from Deuxième Symphonie, Op.20
J.S. Bach: ‘Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr’, BWV 676 (from Clavierübung III)
Mendelssoh : Organ Sonata, Op.65 no.6
Mozart: Andante for mechanical organ in F, K.616
Liszt: Fantasie und Fuge über das Thema B-A-C-H, S.260iii

Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul

Friday 8 May 2015, 6pm

Approximately 50 people were there to hear Thomas Gaynor on a welcome return to his home city, from study in the USA

The opening  item was full-on organ music, from one of the masters of the French organ school (Vierne’s dates: 1870-1937), but there were subtle contrasts in texture and volume, and melodies interwove the more dogmatic passages.  The audience heard some magnificent sounds, demonstrating that the organ is a spatial instrument, producing sounds from different quarters; the acoustic of the building amplifies them and resonates with them, distributing them to all corners.

There was much fast foot and finger work required of the performer.  It was a grand, if portentous, composition, amply well played.

Bach followed, with a chorale prelude.  Here a gorgeous flute registration accompanied a light reed stop playing the melody clearly.  The registration added to the lovely flowing lines and the glowing, peaceful quality of the music.

Mendelssohn’s sonata in three movements was full of interest.  The first movement consisted of variations on a German chorale.  Grove says of the composer’s organ sonatas: “[in] the noteworthy organ sonatas op.65 (1844-5) he reverted to the contrapuntal style of Bach…”.   Wikipedia expands the description in Gaynor’s printed programme somewhat, to: “No. 6 in D minor (based on the Lutheran Bach chorale Vater unser im Himmelreich [Our Father in heaven], BWV 416) (Chorale and variations: Andante sostenuto – Allegro molto – Fuga – Finale: Andante)”.

The first variation was quiet, with running quavers beneath the melody; the next was chordal with running pedals below.  Then there was an oboe solo with flutes accompanying, followed by a very fast and much louder rendition on diapasons.  The melody line, with variations, was finally on the pedals.

The grand fugue featured counterpoint between the pedals and the inner parts.  A big, thick organ sound gave way to the fugal complexity.

A quieter, hymn-like passage followed, with singing tones.  This andante was most appealing in a typically Romantic genre, unknown to Bach (despite Grove’s writer).

The short work by Mozart was a complete change.  The mechanical organ, or musical clock, had limitations with only slight appeal to the composer.  Searching on the Internet turned up this comment: “Less solemn and complex than its two companions, K616 possibly reflects Mozart’s increasing irritation with a commission that obviously bored him from the outset (Letter to his wife of October 1790)”.

While charming, it was reminiscent of his writing for glass harmonica, and in its tones.  The latter was also an instrument also limited in its range and opportunities for Mozart’s inventive skill.  The piece was for manuals only.  The cast of Thomas Gaynor’s head while playing this music indicated that this and perhaps other parts of the programme were played from memory. 

Despite the limitations, there was complexity and much modulation in the piece.  Rhythm and timing were nicely nuanced.  The music was pretty, but it was not a substantial work and became overly repetitive.

Liszt’s work was, as usual, full-on.  The organ got a good pedal work-out both near the beginning and again later.  Bach would not have approved of such shifting tonalities employed in the celebration of his name!  Rippling arpeggios made a grand effect in the fantasia.  The fugue left little doubt as to the theme.  It started quietly, with spooky notes on the pedals followed by the exciting stuff.  Much virtuoso playing was required, not least on the pedals.  Towards the end the music blazed out, Liszt being really carried away.  After a short quiet passage, Liszt let ‘em have it!

For an encore, Thomas Gaynor played one of Bach’s beautiful chorale preludes on the chorale ‘Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier’.  In a couple of places, I would have liked a little more of a break at the end of the text’s phrases.  However, the ornaments were beautifully managed and the whole effect was supremely musical and delightful.

There is no doubt that Thomas Gaynor is a talented young organist on the way up.  A varied, interesting and inspiring recital made good use of the splendid organ under his hands and feet.  The recital was  fundraiser for Thomas’s continuing studies in the US, in which all will wish him both pleasure and success.


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