The Organ

All Saints Hastings Summer Series 2008

All Saints Hastings

The All Saints Hastings series, in its twentieth year - see the July issue of The Organ - commenced with former resident organist Richard Eldridge producing a popular programme and entertaining his audience with an assortment of anecdotes. Murrill's Carillon was a fitting entr'acte, followed by Bach's BWV 543 in A minor- challenging within itself. The warm interpretation of Mendelssohn's Second Sonata was especially well received, as was Morrigan by Philip Homes, written for the performer when he and the composer were fellow academy students and musically illustrating the tale of a goddess transformed into a crow! On a rather more conventional note, Pièce Heroïque is an established Hasting favourite, particularly suited to the clarity of the Willis and the All Saints acoustics. A lively post interval session jncluded the Jubilee March from Baker Guy, Sweelink's Mein junges Leben hat ein End, Fletcher's Festival Toccata and ended with the delightful Lefébure- Wély Andante 'Choeur voix humaines' and the B flat Sortie. The demanded encore was a 1983 birthday present for Richard - the Homes Toccata. This was a comprehensive evening from a talented local musician, requiring great dedication from a recitalist not part of the cathedral routine.

On 14 July, Robert Houssart, now to specialise in opera after his positions at Bath Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral, played a very varied classical programme, from his own arrangement of the Lieutenant Kije Troika, through Messiaen to the Vierne Second Symphony. A former pupil of Nicolas Kynaston and organ scholar at St. Johns Cambridge, he has given numerous performances on widely differing organs and his mastery of registration changes on this ageing instrument, lacking modern aids, was a study in itself. The Hungarian Rock and Uppon la mi re, once considered the earliest piece specifically written for organ, were substantial contrasts, both in passacaglia form. Use of Great and Choir reeds as solo and accompaniment without pedals gave a knowledgeable audience food for thought as did the Hungarian Rock with its '4½' beats to the bar. Messiaen's last organ work, Les Deux Murailles d'Eau, changed the mood dramatically and the sustained full organ chords held well - to the credit of the Willis wind pressure. The Reger arrangement of the JSB chromatic D minor Fantasia and Fugue followed, again with impressive registration changes and impeccable rhythm. The concluding Louis Vierne Second Symphony, with its five varied movements, provided a fitting finale with a beautifully delicate scherzo and effective cantabile using the Swell Cornopean as solo. The encore improvisation, a Houssart forte, was based on the French national anthem, with touches of the British version and was worthy of any Parisian cathedral.

Matthew Martin, currently acting Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, placed a seaside recital into an exceptionally active schedule. Another very varied programme, played with great assurance and colour, was enthusiastically received-the series goes from strength to strength. The Bach C major BWV 547 was a crisp interpretation with light baroque registration for the Prelude and pedal definition in the Fugue, enhanced with Swell reed coupled. Is the complete Alain Suite which followed ideal for this type of recital? It was an interesting inclusion, but perhaps lengthy for a mixed organ enthusiast / holiday concert audience. No doubt opinions will differ! Certainly the popular Guilmant March on a Theme of Handel really stirred the gathering with a sound extraordinary for the relatively limited specification of the instrument. James MacMillan's Gaudeamus in Loci Pace was another fascinating short variation, with its delicate top octave Choir flute exertions, while the Dupré B major Prelude and Fugue, with its extreme technical demands, was a magnificent first half finale. Fugues 2, 3 and 5 on BACH from Robert Schumann have not often come to the Hastings series and really appealed as, unsurprisingly, did the Albinoni Adagio. Walton's Orb and Sceptre March is probably the least played of the main coronation marches in organ terms and included every possible registration change, including some deft Swell to Choir and back - all very visible with the excellent full screen coverage. A scherzo improvisation provided an appropriate encore conclusion.

Nicolas Kynaston, erstwhile tutor of many of the recitalists, returned to Hastings on 28 July to a welcome from serious organ music devotees. In addition to a programme of strenuous technical requirements, he also had the benefit of 30° outside temperatures – the aforesaid greeting was warm in every sense of the word. The opening Bach Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, one of the 250 or so Reger transcriptions, was followed by BWV 663, 'Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Her', both pieces majestically rendered, reminiscent of Fernando Germani, a former tutor. The Willis Choir flutes and Great Diapason solo blended superbly in the chorale. Messiaen 's centenary would not be complete without a rendering of Combat de la Mort et de la Vie and this was a gripping performance, attracting favourable comments from the 'non-Messiaen' section of the audience, while a devotee was heard to comment mid-interval that it was the best musical triumph of life over death that he had heard. Bonnet's Elfes opus 7 and Deuxième Légende preceded the Fantasia and Fugue Ad Nos ad Salutarem Undam – the first and arguably finest Liszt composition for organ. The excellence of the Kynaston technique was there for all to see with the benefit of the video screen and there for all not to hear with fluency of pedalling on a console which can be given to considerable extraneous noise in less experienced hands. Nicolas's CV is almost legendary and it was a privilege to hear him again.

One of the delights of this series is the variety and contrast of performers, ably illustrated with an 'Old Town' week celebration with Nigel Ogden - a really well received light organ recital in Nigel's inimitable style, obviously in complete contrast to the closing Liszt of the previous week. To the writer's knowledge this was probably the largest audience to grace these concerts and seats were not easy to find in the capacious All Saints nave. 'Old Town' festivities, promotion and attendance by the Mayor, the performer and/or his programme, or a combination of these factors - whatever it was, it was popular, very popular and enthusiastically cheered at its conclusion. Few registration possibilities were left untried in an evening ranging through Curzon's March of the Bowmen, Bach Goes to Town from Templeton with its 'swing' fugue, Lehár, Vaughan Williams and a first half finale of 'Shakespeare at the Organ', courtesy of German, Walton and Rosse. Perhaps more frequently heard as a bandstand item, Horseguard's Whitehall from Wood preceded the established Ogden collections of 'Klassikal Kaleidescope', memories of song and a delightful Leroy Anderson centenary tribute. The encore, of being 'Shown the Way to go Home' in the style of as many composers as can be drafted into the space of around ten minutes, spoke for itself and if solos on the Great Mixture, adaptations of the Widor Toccata and so on are not for you, then leave this type of recital for others. I do not know how many 'others' there would be in Hastings, however, as this variety appeared to meet with universal approval.

August 11 saw the originator of the event, Nigel Spooner, return to perform a 'founder's day' recital based on the original bill of fare. Since that time, Nigel, a career Chemistry teacher and grammar school deputy head, has pursued his talent as a solo organist and the occasion was tinged with some emotion, commencing with a fiery and fairly rapid rendering of the BWV 565 D minor Toccata and Fugue. Some of the intricacies may have been lost in the exuberance, but the same could not be said of the Schumann Sketches with the beauty of the great and choir flutes in evidence. The Saint Saëns Prelude and Fugue in B emphasised the sonority of the Great Diapasons when soloed and provided an attractive contrast to the Liszt BACH Fantasia and Fugue. Criticism of this organ is difficult and certainly not in vogue with its enthusiastic audience, but the absence of a Pedal reed was notable in the majesty of this piece. The effervescent Lefébure- Wély E flat Sortie introduced a flamboyant second session with Rawsthorne arrangements following Vierne's Naiädes and preceding Guilmant's March on a Theme of Handel with the Pedal Open Wood really prominent in the opening theme. Keeping the nostalgic strand alive the closing item was a sparkling Mulet Carillon Sortie, the recitalist's first public performance piece when a pupil at Truro Cathedral. Once a Father Willis enthusiast……

To paraphrase the popular adage you know that you are getting on when so many of the brilliant recitalists seem so young. Such heartfelt comments echoed during the interval of Clive Driskill-Smith's programme, particularly following the technically fearsome toccata at the conclusion of the Dupré Variations sur un Noël. With his pedigree of international performances, following early success as RCO Performer of the Year and first place winner at the Calgary International Organ Competition, Clive attracted a Hastings gathering rich in classical organ enthusiasm. The opening Widor Sixth Symphony, first movement, with its vitality and breadth of dynamics, blended well with the different textures of the Bach Pastorella BWV 590 that followed. The contrast of the Choir flutes and Swell and Choir reeds produced a colourful effect in the four movements of this piece with its gigue conclusion. Parry's G major Fantasia and Fugue was an interesting inclusion and added variety as an example of English 20th century composition. Continuing the Messiaen centenary theme, his Diptyque was played with great sensitivity with the Swell strings in excellent balance over a wide compass. It is hard to remember that this ageing instrument has had little recent major work or restoration, although, to be hypercritical, the top octave of the Swell Oboe was less than 100% in places. Jean Guillou's version of the Liszt BACH concluded another superb evening and provided a comparison with the original played the previous week.

Arguably the final performer in an established set of recitals draws the short straw in the pursuit of producing a concert with a wide appeal at the same time as offering something different. This task has fallen to Gordon Stewart on August Bank Holidays and yet again he did not disappoint with a Hastings première of Purcell Mansfield's Concert Overture in F as his opening item, featuring a central fugue established on the renowned Great diapasons. A baroque interpretation of the Buxtehude Praeludium in D followed prior to a light and clear Bach Fantasia and Fugue in G minor. A major JSB work has been included in each of Gordon's programmes in this series over the years. A vibrant first movement from Mendelssohn's Third Sonata finished the firist half before a 20th birthday celebratory interval. Another first was Lionel Rogg's Bolero, which came after the Callearts E minor Toccata and Wolstenhome's Romanze and Allegretto with its contrasting Choir and Swell reed solos. The charming Impromptu in D from Sydney Nicholson led to a Widor finale; another interpretation of the Sixth Symphony first movement, both very warmly received, although some will have reservations on the virtue of a repeat from one week to the next. Gordon Stewart has perfected the art of communication with his audience and his recital brought to a close another chapter in these remarkable south coast concerts.