The Organ

Daniel Roth

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
23rd February

Daniel Roth is one of those recitalists who impress more by solid technique than overt virtuosity. His musical credentials are impeccable enough: after all he studied with Marie-Claire Alain and Maurice Duruflé at the Paris Conservatory, and as the present titular organist at Saint Sulpice has inherited the legacies of his two most famous predecessors Widor and Dupré.

Despite that one couldn't help feeling that a concert given the title “Toccata!” should perhaps have delivered more than it suggested.

Apart from an occasional rhythmic wobble and hiccup in articulation there was nothing really wrong with Roth's execution of the various toccatas and toccata-style pieces, all dating from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, by Parisian organist-composers. But his playing, though extremely stylish and authentically decked out in French livery (the tonal resources of Symphony Hall's Klais never cease to amaze), often lacked full-blown fizz and sparkle.

Some items did take off. Franck's Choral in A minor, emotionally charged, even in the quiet central section, built to a fine climax; and Boëllmann's easy-listening Suite Gothique, with an ebullient Menuet and rip-roaring Toccata, pulled no punches. Duruflé's Prélude et Fugue sur le Nom d'Alain, with its marvellous double fugue arguably the most rewarding work in the whole programme, also erupted magnificently in the final moments.

Others were less satisfactory. An opening Gigout group was well handled but musically insubstantial, while Saint-Saens' inconsequential first Fantaisie and the Scherzo from Vierne's Symphony No. 2 seemed rather matter of fact.

Roth also included his own Petite Rhapsodie sur une Chanson Alsacienne, a quirky little novelty that sounded like a faltering musical box giving up the ghost. Its surprise ending caught everyone on the hop and garnered no applause at all – and this was an audience prepared to clap after each movement of Suite Gothique!

We also had that ubiguitous old warhorse, the Toccata from Widor's Fifth Symphony, which Roth saved up till last, playing it in resolute fashion and staccato throughout, as it should be. His encore, Guilmant's March on a theme of Handel, no doubt chosen to extend the Paris connection a little further (he succeeded Widor at the Conservatory in addition to spending 30 years at La Trinité), was stolid enough – but an improvisation would have been much more welcome.