The Organ

The 2012 Hastings Organ Recitals Series

The 2012 Hastings Organ Recitals Series
May 21-24 2010

Hastings Organ Recitals Series

Peter Cox Smith

The 24th Hastings series was opened by former All Saints resident organist Richard Eldridge in true promenade first night fashion with a blend of well known items from the established organ repertoire together with some interesting variations. The 1878 Willis, last described as being in need of some attention, has received a minor overhaul with the intention of lightening the action since the last series. It is still in good voice, however, and enjoyable to hear in the excellent All Saints acoustics.

Nonetheless, as mentioned last year, the instrument is not far from the need of major remedial work and the opening recitalist did not find noticeable benefit from the attention so far. That having been said, the church has the encouragement of the incumbent, with his ambition to see comprehensive restoration in the near future.

A powerful interpretation of Murrill’s Carillon opened proceedings on July 9, to be followed by JS Bach’s BWV 543 Prelude and Fugue in A minor, an essential ingredient of the series, this year at an early stage in the calendar. This was a colourful rendition, with widespread use of reeds, in contrast to the trend of comparatively light flue registration throughout both Prelude and Fugue.

Mendelssohn's Sonata No.2 , John Stanley's A minor voluntary and the popular Franck Pièce Heroïque completed a substantial first half with some memorable use of Great 8’ & 2’ flutes in the Stanley.

A much abridged (perhaps too much?) Mastersingers Overture followed together with the Fletcher Festival Toccata - a piece ideally suited to the vintage and origin of the organ - power and romanticism combined. 'Anwyn' from Homes, specially written for the performer and played in the series in 2010 was a popular request with its wide use of the organ in a modern idiom and preceded the Eldridge speciality of the Lefébure-Wély E flat major Sortie - complete with accelerated finale.

D’Arcy Trinkwon, playing on July 16, opened with the Johann Krebs Prelude and Fugue in C major, a piece unquestionably demonstrating the composer’s JS Bach pedigree and much appreciated by the Hastings audience, able to follow the Great/Swell echo effects and pedal solo via the video screen. Similarly, the ensuing Handel Fifth Concerto, with its numerous choir to swell intervals in the second movement, maintained the interest in the dexterity of the performer. Coupled with the excellent and copious programme notes, this recital provided a realistic illustration of the complexities of the organ repertoire for the non-specialist listener. It has long been a Hastings tradition to cater for, and encourage, holiday and casual visitors. A first half which continued with Mendelssohn’s D minor Prelude and Fugue and the delightful Frederick Holloway Scherzo from his C minor Organ Symphony - another beautiful example of the Willis great and choir flute voicing - concluded with the ever popular Boëllman Suite Gothique. There have been many different interpretations of the four movements in this series over the years and the use of the choir reed in the third movement and a brisk Toccata gave another angle on this well known standard.

Flor Peeters’ Suite Modale, with its four movement similarity to the previous offering, has been described as a modern version of the Suite Gothique and its immediate following inclusion provided an instant and interesting comparison. A tranquil Vierne Op.31 Berceuse gave way to a final Jean Guillou 'Version syncrethique' of Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on BACH - in reality a mixture of piano and pure organ versions. Brilliantly executed, this virtuous adaption always provokes a debate involving those with a preference for the organ original. All part of the attraction of the evening! An encore of Mushel’s Toccata completed an attractively played session.

Although in the Chichester diocese, Hastings and the immediate area have strong connections with the much nearer cathedral city of Canterbury and their Director of Music, David Flood made a welcome return on July 23. Thema met Variaties from the Dutch composer Hendrik Andriessen provided an entrée to an evening of powerful classics from the established repertoire. The piece gives an immediate demonstration of the resources available from variations on flute stops through to full organ and was an interesting contrast to the following JS Bach E minor (Wedge) Prelude and Fugue, played substantially on Great to fifteenth with pedal coupled to swell for added definition. This combination gives excellent sparkle and clarity to the semi-quaver movement and counterpoint. March on a theme of Handel by Guilmant is an established favourite and the opening passages with swell cornopean prominent yet again belie the relatively small resources of this renowned Father Willis. With judicious use of the swell it really was hard not to imagine one was listening to a far larger instrument with full reed and mixture choruses, with the same thought applying to the climax of the main theme and final reinstatement. Mendelssohn’s four movement B flat Sonata No 4, with delicate interaction between choir and swell flutes in the third movement, was well received pre interval to precede César Franck’s Cantabile, reminiscent of his Chorales with haunting reed solos. The technically demanding Duruflé Prelude and Fugue on the name ALAIN, with its dynamic fugue and played with consummate authority and enthusiasm led to the Flor Peeters Lied to the Flowers from his Symphony of the same name with a choice of the choir reed for its initial melodic profile.

A powerful and brave - complete with full couplers - Widor Sixth Symphony finale extracted a substantial encore – Dubois’ Fiat Lux – from a well known performer of excellence, undoubtedly feeling the weight of the coupled action by the close of the evening!

Nigel Ogden made his annual pilgrimage to Hastings on Monday 30th. to be greeted by the usual sizeable audience that has become traditional on these occasions. Those that attend are aware of Nigel’s established format of light traditional first half to be followed by Willis/Wurlitzer post interval and clearly appreciate and enjoy the evening. It is fascinating to find that the devotees of the formal organ repertoire also appreciate this type of programme if perhaps as a “one off” out of the series of eight recitals. Proceedings were commenced with a Walton dual selection highlighting the Coronation marches Crown Imperial and Orb and Sceptre - a touch more of the slightly lesser heard organ arrangement of the latter might have pleased some, but it was nonetheless an impressive intro to be followed by Bach’s BWV 565 - D minor Toccata and Templeton swing/jazz pseudo-Bach and an energetic Edward German Merrie England selection. Themes from the Jack Elliot arrangements of Luigini’s Ballet Egyptien coupled with an assortment of recent Ogden recordings brought the pre-Wurlitzer style session to a close before a Sousa march medley awoke the post-interval listeners.

For the author, the prime item of the evening was to come, a superbly crafted musical drama around the Titanic film track – a real masterpiece in its own right - and worthy of much wider acclaim. This was the best of Nigel Ogden as recitalist and composer/improviser and whilst the Merry Widow and George Gershwin selections that continued the evening gained their usual popularity the haunting strains of “Nearer my God to thee” seemed to linger on. The assortments, complete with Postman Pat and For all the Saints in the style of Widor drew the evening to a close, and as ever there is relatively little to add other than the obvious enjoyment of the paying public-and that memorable Titanic improvisation!

Timothy Wakerell, from St. Paul’s Cathedral opened his recital the following week in a contrasting vein with a powerful interpretation of Bach’s BWV 537 Fantasia and Fugue in C minor and the imposing fugue with its rising chromatic second subject was brought to a close on full organ with gripping intensity. As if to demonstrate difference between father and son, the CPE Bach F major sonata brought out the delicate Willis flutes, especially notable in 8- and 2-ft. combinations in the third movement Allegro. There was strong rhythmic phrasing throughout the Schumann F minor Sketch, originally written for the pedal piano, and for obvious reasons these pieces adapt readily for organ. For the Franck Prelude, Fugue and Variation the recitalist opted to choose the swell cornopean for the soaring melodious main prelude theme, repeated in the concluding variation, and whilst meticulously played the top octave of the Willis reed was less than 100%. With the grand benefit of hindsight, the oboe might have been a better choice.

For the Willis enthusiasts, of which there are many, the opening of the Best arrangement of Mendelssohn’s overture to St. Paul is perfect listening with rich great diapason tone coupled to a minor full swell chorus. The piece is known as one of the most celebrated transcriptions with fragments of the underlying chorale distributed between different voices and a demanding pedal section.

Passacaille proved a modern second half intro from Valery Aubertin (b.1970), part of his Première Sonate, could not have been a greater contrast with the previous Mendelssohn. It drew an interesting response from the audience, some of whom were highly appreciative and some who were clearly struggling with its modernity and brooding harmonic themes. A worthwhile experiment, however, to be followed by the light hearted Karg- Elert Valse Mignonne and Max Reger’s Fantasie on the “ Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” chorale. This extensive work, with its elaborate final fugue was enthusiastically performed, ably assisted by resident organist Malcolm Locke and produced an excellent comparison with the earlier Mendelssohn overture on the same theme. A well thought out and interesting recital with some brave departures from Hastings tradition.

Stephen Disley, on his debut performance in this series, demonstrated that he had spent some time with the heavy action of the All Saints Willis, somewhat in contrast to his home instrument at Southwark Cathedral. A few minor changes were made to the advertised programme, however, in order to accommodate the difficulties of the recital organ. Giullou’s arrangement of the Vivaldi D major violin concerto, with its opening reminiscent of a French ouverture, was a bright entrée played on uncoupled great with swell to pedal giving added definition. A similar registration was employed for the ensuing Buxtehude Bux149 G minor Prelude and Fugue, probably the most popular of the three composed in that key. Another set of comprehensive programme notes explained the J S Bach choral preludes Allein Gott and Ertodt uns durch dein’Gute, executed with effective, but not over-pronounced rhythm, providing more evidence of the beauty of the Willis choir flutes, together with diapason and reed solos. This was rapturously received by appreciative Bach devotees. The short, but delightful Carvalho Allegro, with those charming 8- and 2-ft. flutes gave way to Vierne and Carillon de Westminster, a powerful first section finale.

The initial programme change saw Goss-Custard’s Handel Occasional Oratorio overture prior to a slightly faster than usual Thalben Ball Elegy, complete with copious manual registration changes - the recitalist understandably wary of the effectiveness of the aging foot combination aids. A well balanced continuation – the Joseph Bonnet Pastorale and the ever-popular Peeters Lied to the Flowers featured the swell oboe - the better of the two divisional reeds, in excellent tune. The dramatic Herbert Howells first Psalm Prelude from set 2 which followed is ideally suited to the era of the organ and a prelude the light hearted Nevin scherzo toccatina “Will o’ the Wisp”. With the recitalist preserving energy for the final well known Bonnet tour de force of Variations de Concert it became a question of whether organ or organist would run out of power first. In the event, an exciting interpretation ensued, with the Willis wind pressure not quite holding for the toccata climax.

Tom Bell, now resident at St. Michael’s Chester Square, can always be relied upon to spring a few surprises and his concert on August 20 was no exception. An opening Mullet Carillon Sortie, clear and powerful in registration, preceded JS Bach chorales with delicate choir reed phrasing and the series’ obligatory BWV 552 E flat St Anne Prelude and Fugue. The latter interpretation gave predominance to 8 ft. diapason in the Prelude, giving way to a strong Fugue with swell to great and manual 16ft. from the outset. The only difficulty remaining for the recitalist with this format is that there is relatively little opportunity to emphasise the final pedal entries with the limited resources available. Oh for a pedal reed! By way of complete contrast and minimalist in nature the excerpt from Satyagraha Act III by Philip Glass was, in the words of the performer, designed to “wash over” the audience with an option to listen intently, or not with thoughts elsewhere prevailing. Either way, it was obviously a popular item, as was Bell’s arrangement of Ellis’s Coronation Scot with its familiar theme and steam like effects - aimed at the resident incumbent, a fellow rail steam enthusiast. A minor point, perhaps, but it all adds to the entertainment and enjoyment of the evening.

'Contrast' would not do justice to the second half, with Volumina by Ligeti providing what the current television reality series would describe as 'Marmite' - love it or hate it material. As a composition, it relies on the performer giving freelance interpretation to an indicative pictorial score, utilizing the effect of the organ blower being switched on with full stops drawn and subsequent nuances from part drawn registration throughout - in a way giving an illustration of the mechanics of the instrument at the same time as providing an extraordinary range of sound. A wild item and courteously received, if a trifle lengthy. Ideal for the video screen, but would one purchase a CD of the same (if available)? - very unlikely. On more familiar territory, the concluding Byrd Fancie and Jongen Sonata Eroica demonstrated technique and ability to the full and drew a deserved encore of nursery rhyme variations. The Jongen was excellently registered, and, yes, this would be worthy of a CD purchase!

On the last night, and this series has become something of a south coast organ promenade season, Gordon Stewart entertained a capacity audience both on and off the organ. Having played in every session since the inauguration in 1988, his “tales from the organ bench” have become something of a legend and add to the attraction of the evening in some style. The opening Respighi Marcia Festiva, with great reed soloed against closed full swell, provided a spirited intro as a prelude to Handel’s ‘Cuckoo and the Nightingale’ Concerto - superb material for the Willis flutes with exceptional individual effects. Bach’s C major Toccata, Adagio and Fugue has also become something of an essential item for the serious devotees in the Hastings gathering and there was no disappointment in an interpretation with the favoured Gordon Stewart Prelude manual registration of great diapason 8, 4 and 2ft to demonstrate the clarity of the instrument without the need for further resources. A highly decorative Adagio and powerfully rhythmic Fugue completed this item prior to Felton’s A Little Trio and the elaborate Callaerts E minor Toccata - a fitting first half conclusion.

Not every recitalist feels able to “mix and mingle” during intervals but where it is possible it is greatly appreciated and probably adds to the value of CD sales. The compositions of C.H.H.(Hastings) Parry coincide with the era of the organ’s origins and his Fantasia and Fugue in G could well have been written for Henry Willis voicing. This starter to the last night finale underpinned entertainment in the form of In a Persian Market and the W. T. Best Variations on “God save the Queen” - a fitting addition in the jubilee year and a suitable offering prior to the final Elgar Imperial March. Proceedings did not end at this point as planned as three E-mail encore requests had been received by the recitalist before the concert. This enthusiasm obviously speaks for itself and took the form of the finale of Bach’s Trio Sonata No 1.

The reader may well detect some over enthusiasm on the part of the writer for this series, but for a seaside parish church to provide this degree of outstanding quality over an annual session of eight recitals and to be financially viable without external sponsorship is no mean achievement. Series co-ordinator Marion Lovell and resident organist/console assistant Malcolm Lock deserve full credit for the considerable efforts involved and the Hastings recital audience (some of whom travel from north London to attend!) look forward to the 25th anniversary celebrations next year.