Interesting organ recital ranging from 17th to mid-20th century from Paul Rosoman

St Andrew’s Lunchtime concert
Paul Rosoman (organ)
On the baroque organ and the main organ in the gallery
Music by Jacob Lustig, Johann Fischer, Franz Tunder, Jan Zwart, Flor Peeters, Johann Rinck

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 3 May, 12:15 pm

The chamber organ which is normally on the right of the sanctuary was moved to the centre for this recital, allowing the audience to be more involved in the performance. It struck me as an excellent idea, one that others could well emulate when it is to be played on its own.

It was a programme entirely given over to composers of Germany and the Low Countries. The baroque organ was used for the three composers of the 17th and 18th centuries. Jacob Lustig was born in Hamburg, about 20 years after Bach. Handel, Telemann, and worked for much of his life, from 1728, in Groningen in the Netherlands and died there. Rosoman played an unpretentious Fantasie in A minor, sounding rather spare on the baroque organ; I felt that this piece, modest as it was might have been better on the larger organ, more of the character, I imagine, of the instruments of the 18th century such as in St Michael’s church in Hamburg where his father played and he had his early experience.

The Fantasie danced to light, dotted, staccato rhythms, the textures were uncluttered, and certainly, at the baroque organ there was clarity and a good feeling of elementary improvisation, the essence of something called a ‘Fantasie’.

Then came Johann (Caspar Ferdinand) Fischer; New Grove dates his birth at ?1670, rather than Paul Rosoman’s 1756 which is evidently taken from Wikipedia. The earlier date may be the result of new research. Naturally, Wikipedia reads like a precis of the quite full account in Grove.

Fischer’s habitat was Baden, in south-west Germany, much exposed to French musical influence and Grove dwells on that to characterise his music. Rosoman told us that his Chaconne in F was from one of nine suites, Musicalischer Parnassus, dedicated to the Nine Muses; don’t know which. (Test of a good classicist: name the nine and their portfolios).

But in spite of French influence, the Chaconne seemed more serious in tone and more mainstream in a German style than I’d have expected. It grew steadily in muscle as Rosoman employed richer, more weighty registrations, though remaining fairly unambitious in terms of contrapuntal character. Its sudden, lovely calm ending might have been its high point.

Each of the first three composers took us a generation back through the Baroque. Franz Tunder, born 1614, was of the generation before Buxtehude who followed him as organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck where Tunder spent his life. His Praeludium in G minor was, unsurprisingly, not too remote from the sound of Buxtehude, who was celebrated last year at St Paul’s Cathedral in a multi-recital of all his organ pieces. It was an agreeable piece, inhabiting the lower registers for the most part which I felt the organ treated well. There was little of the more complex style that developed with Buxtehude and J S Bach, of course.

Rosoman then went upstairs to the main organ. Jan Zwart was a Dutch contemporary of composers like Ravel and Vaughan Williams, Reger and Rachmaninov. His music is regarded as French-influenced, and that was certainly the impression of his Three Dutch Folk Songs, entitled in Dutch, since you ask: Hymne: ‘Wilt heden nu treden voor God den Heere’; Bede (Prayer) (‘O Heer die daer des Hemels tente spreyt’); Aria: ‘Geluckig is het Land’.

I’m prejudiced in their favour as I love French music; they pleased me. I enjoyed the varied registrations that Rosoman used, exploring and highlighting their characteristics, somehow unifying the variety of related though different melodic ideas. The second piece consisted of a lively centre section framed by Adagio passages lower on the keyboards. The third had canon-like passages where Rosoman changed stops just enough to maintain interest.

Flor Peeters was born in Belgium in 1903, Making him of the era of – let’s say, Copland, Walton, Duruflé, Tippett, Gershwin, Rodrigo, Shostakovich, Poulenc, Khachaturian… , I noticed an interesting quote in an Internet file: that Peeters exemplified “the grandeur of modern organ music, [and] left a rich legacy of works whose spiritual depth and technical perfection continue to fascinate many listeners. Particularly captivating are his fluid, natural, finely wrought melodies.” I’ll borrow that, for my notes (that included Rosoman’s comments about the Aria’s origin in a sonata for trumpet and piano), remarked on about hints of a sort of neutral solemnity that could certainly have been nicely treated by a trumpet, but was given harmonic support to make it an idiomatic organ piece.

The last item was a set of variations, again by an unfamiliar composer, though one born the same year as Beethoven: Johann Rinck. Variations on a theme of Corelli. It was of the early 19th century, not especially memorable, but a very competent and traditional set of variations which Rosoman invested with considerable liveliness and variety.

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