The Organ

Buxton Festival - Martin Ford

Buxton Festival - Martin Ford
21st July

The 30th annual Buxton festival took place this July, and it really was bigger and better than ever! For three weeks this picturesque town in the heart of the Derbyshire Peak District played host to a feast of opera, an eclectic mix of musical concerts and a series of literary speakers. All in all more than 130 events took place over 19 days; and that's not even including the wide array of comedy, theatre and dance that were staged as part of the Buxton fringe. I visited Buxton on 21 July. The town was bustling with activity, and I happened to stumble upon a craft fair, a classic car convention and a book signing all in the course of meandering around. For anyone considering visiting the festival next year, I would highly recommend booking an overnight stay at least, as one day is simply not enough.

The main purpose of my visit was to enjoy an organ recital by Martin Ford at St John's church, the second of two organ recitals that took place as part of the festival. Martin is currently an organ scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he is reading music. He began his performance with a piece by Buxtehude, the Praeludium in G minor. This was a thunderous opening which I found rather too disquieting, and gave me the impression that the instrument perhaps required a larger venue to do justice to the music of this particular composer. I felt this opening performance to be a little clumsy, and I didn't enjoy it. However, the beautiful melody of Gibbons' Prelude and Fantasia that followed soon restored my peace, and the softer sounds the organ produced here seemed more appropriate to the small church and audience.

My favourite piece of the evening came next, Bach's Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr. Martin seemed to have found his stride now and delivered a very moving performance of this superb composition. Louis Vierne's Symphony no.2 in E minor (Allegro and Choral) followed. These pieces seemed to show off the range of the instrument very well, and sounded elegant, clean and harmonic. After this we were treated to what Martin claimed was possibly the first ever British performance of Duruflé's Fugue in C Minor, which was written under exam conditions and only recently discovered. This was again very well executed, but didn't stand out as much for me as Gordon Balch Nevin's Will o' the Wisp, which came next. With this latter piece the more muted organ sounds again proved more in keeping with the venue, and the instrument and musician combined to produce a beautifully delicate and magical sound that was a pleasure to listen to.

Martin concluded his recital with Pierre Cochereau's Gigue from Suite de Danse, accompanied by a drummer. Although it was improvised in 1974 it sounded to be in the style of a stirring patriotic song from a much earlier era, full of pomp and circumstance (perhaps it was the addition of the drum that reminded me of a military band). It was a strong performance needless to say and the two musicians came together perfectly. I felt this was a good choice for the finale and a testament to the skill of the young organist. I will certainly be watching out for Martin Ford in the future.

Caroline Snell