The Organ

David Goode plays Organ Fireworks

Birmingham Symphony Hall
24th May 2005

Flagged as Organ Fireworks! (it certainly pulled in the punters), regular organ-goers probably cringed at the prospect of endless flashy novelties, but David Goode is far too sensible and sensitive a musician for that. He even began with Bach, not the well-worn D minor Toccata and Fugue as one might have expected, but his own arrangement of the Third Brandenburg Concerto no less. It was fairly straightforward and took no liberties with registration, so contrapuntal lines were consistently maintained (if occasionally flurried in execution) and the outer movements sounded extremely light-fingered and fleet-footed. Goode even provided a short, twiddly improvisation in place of the missing slow movement.

Better was to come. By the time he got to George Thalben-Ball's Variations on a Theme of Paganini, via Karg-Elert's subtly coloured Pastel No. 1and a couple of Liszt transcriptions, Goode was well into his stride. This unique composition - for pedals alone with a toccata finale - by Birmingham's illustrious former City Organist is tremendous fun, especially when heard on an organ as transparently voiced as the Symphony Hall Klais. Goode threw off the work's crippling demands (ask any organist) with effortless brilliance, making far less heavy weather of it than even the great man himself did sometimes on the Town Hall's old William Hill instrument.

During my year as a student page-turner for his weekly Wednesday lunchtime recitals (he gave more than 800 between 1949 and 1983) T-B once confessed, when the Variations re-appeared by popular demand on the programme, that he hadn't had time to practise anything else, because “these damned Variations are much more difficult than I remember!” How he would have loved to play them on the Klais.

Goode also made spectacular use of the fabulous tonal resources available – and the instantly responsive swell pedals – in Lemare's transcription of The Ride of the Valkyries. As warhorses go – and this one goes all the way – it sounded even more highfalutin than and as unintentionally hilarious as the Wagner original.

In his French second half Goode satisfied serious tastes with an ecstatically relished Joie et Clarté des Corps Glorieux of Messiaen, though goodness knows what the man I overheard beforehand discussing a forthcoming Syd Lawrence Orchestra concert made of it. The easy delights of Roger-Ducasse's Pastorale were no doubt much more to his liking – but what a long-winded thing it is. And Vierne's Naïades, however dashingly played, as it was here, is nothing more than an attractive finger exercise.

All was redeemed, though, by a beautifully registered and elegantly sculpted account of the first-movement variations from Widor's Symphony No. 5, and the famous Toccata. For this ubiquitous showpiece Goode adopted exactly the right speed to maintain its impetus and all-important staccato articulation. Measured it may have been, but far more exciting and majestic than a typical whiz-kid's reading.

David Hart