Lunchtime organ recital of Bach and his north German predecessors from Richard Apperley

Great Music 2012, at the Cathedral of St Paul

Richard Apperley, Assistant Director of Music (organ)

Praeludium in E minor, No 2 (Nicolaus Bruhns); Chorale Prelude – ‘Freu dich sehr o meine Seele’ (Georg Böhm); Canzona in E minor, BuxWV 169 (Buxtehude); Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564 (Bach)

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Wellington

Friday 6 July, 12.45pm

Apperley is a Buxtehude specialist, having recently recorded a CD of his organ music, and this recital took examples of music that was written by Buxtehude and composers of the generation following him: that included J S Bach (well, two generations in Bach’s case).

He began with a Paeludium by the short-lived Nicolaus Bruhns (in the IMSLP website two are listed: I assume this is the one entitled “Grosses”; Wikipedia writes that it is ‘cited as one of the greatest works of the North German organ tradition’). Seated as we were in the choir stalls, directly beneath the organ, with Apperley playing the movable console on the floor of the choir, offered a more than usually vivid experience of the contrasts between the different manuals and registrations. It fell into several parts: after the rather arresting introduction came more lively sections which seemed about to develop as fugues, but simply remained delightful, allegro, dance-inspired pieces. Apperley’s playing gave it substance.

Georg Böhm was Bruhns’s close contemporary and about ten choral partitas are recorded by him. This one began with the statement of a sunny melody and proceeded to a series of variations that more or less echoed the original chorale which moved from one manual to another, and widely from treble to bass. The variety of tempos and rhythms as well as the attractive combinations of stops ensured that interest didn’t flag.

It was Buxtehude, organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, that Bach walked from Arnstadt to study with in 1705; of the three organ composers represented at this recital, only Buxtehude seems to have had direct influence on Bach.

The Canzona in E minor was quite short, starting with low register flute and other open stops, and later moving to more sombre registrations, to end, conventionally, in the major key.

Finally he played one of the most familiar and well-loved Bach organ works – the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C – which crops up in many Bach organ compilations; it was probably composed during his years at Weimar.  This was a performance that had both integrity in its faithfulness to what we feel to be Bach’s essential music character, and a liveliness, clarity and variety that was deeply impressive in the reverberant acoustic of St Paul’s. Apperley gauged well the pauses between the short, arresting, opening chords; he skilfully decorated later phrases, and dwelt affectionately on the beauties of the Adagio which has an Italianate character.

The Fugue is a very virtuosic affair, from both the composer’s point of view, and the performer’s, time and again piling up sonorities as the fugal textures evolved with increasing complexity. The whole work seems to suggest being written for a rather grand occasion at which Bach hoped to make an impression that was both exciting and learned, and Apperley responded to all his opportunities, and finally made the most of the repeated feints towards a peroration as the end approached.