Royal Festival Hall, London 3rd February 2017
Robert Quinney’s highly anticipated all-Bach recital, the second in the 2016-17 Pull out all the Stops season at RFH, did not disappoint. A large and appreciative audience reflected the reputation of this Oxford based organist who has recently released a number of excellent Bach programmes on CD including many of the works which made up this recital.
Beginning with such a popular and sometimes over-exposed piece as Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 could have been a mistake but on this occasion, delivered with flair and colour as well as a few of the performer’s own flourishes which did not detract, this was an inspired opening to an evening of music consisting mostly of works that are heard less often.
The chorale prelude Vater unser in Himmelreich was a lovely contrast to the opening piece, with softer voices and tremulant throughout. With a lightness of touch that was heard frequently throughout the programme, Robert Quinney demonstrated the beauty of this measured music played with attention to detail to create an intimacy sometimes missing from performances on this large scale instrument.
Four Duets provided much interest. These pieces for two equal voices played just on the manuals have a complexity beyond what might be expected from such a simple structure. Once again the carefully chosen registration maximised the impact of each line and allowed melody to emerge from often very busy and dense writing.
Other works in the recital were Prelude & Fugue in C (BWV 547), Prelude & Fugue in Eminor (BWV 548), Canonic Variations on Von Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her and Prelude & Fugue in G (BWV 541). A rousing and full-throttled encore rendition of Bach’s Sinfonia brought the evening to a close.
My criticism of some of the programmes in previous recitals at this venue has been that some performers have been tempted to overdo the “fast and loud”. In the hands and feet of a careful and well-planned organist this instrument is capable of so much variety – from the most raucous low pedals and full on grand choruses played with gusto to the delicate flutes and soft reeds, with so much in between. The combination of tonight’s well-chosen and varied programme with this organ and performer certainly brought something of JS Bach’s vision of God’s heaven to this listener’s earth. I hope we shall see a return to the RFH from Mr Quinney in the not too distant future.