The conclusion of the 2023 season of this long- running Summer series, featuring experienced and talented cathedral and concert organists concluded in style with the annual appearance (since the very beginning, over 30 years ago) of popular organist Gordon Stewart. There was a good mixture of the well-known and the unfamiliar, all presented with bags of enthusiasm and the fruits of a long association with this particular organ.
The familiar included J S Bach’s Fugue in G minor, here uncoupled from its usually associated Fantasia and instead following on from an arrangement of Sanctify us by thy goodness. We also heard the first movement of Widor’s 6th Symphony. Another familiar melody was the spiritual Deep River, but here in the guise of a very contemporary Prelude by David Hurd with wild harmonies which completely changed the mood of the original.
Alfred Hollins’ Concert Overture in C minor opened the proceedings and the first half concluded with the English premiere of a technically demanding but very satisfying (unpublished) Introduction and Passacaglia by an organist known to Mr Stewart, W D Bernard.
Other less familiar music included a gentle Church Sonata by Mozart, Frederick Wood’s Allington Lock and a beautifully haunting recent Song without Words by Andrew Carter.
The final programmed item was an unfamiliar Toccata, by Jules Grison which was followed by a lovely understated arrangement of Annie Laurie by Simon Lole.
This well-balanced programme was well received by an appreciative audience. Tribute was also paid to Malcolm Lock, recently retired Director of Music for the Old Town Parish, who has curated this series for a number of years. He has already booked next year’s performers but is now in the process of passing on the reins to the next organisers.
The next series begins on Monday 8th July 2024 when Daniel Moult will perform.
Making a return visit after her well-received previous concert Francesca Massey brought an interesting programme and fine performances throughout the evening.
Three pieces by Joseph Jongen – Cantabile, Pensee d’Automne and Scherzetto – featured some sparkling registrations which are characteristic of this particular composer’s style. Sweelinck’s Fantasia Chromatica gave a good example of the complexities of early (16th C) repertoire. Rheinberger’s Sonata No 16 and Brahms Fugue in A flat brought some solid 19th Century German Romantic fare.
The evening began with two brilliant 20th Century pieces based on well known hymn tunes – Egil Hovland’s Toccata on Nu la oss take Gud (Now thank we all or God) and John Joubert’s Chorale Prelude on the ‘Old Hundredth’. A further 20th Century work – Whitlock’s Plymouth Suite brought the programme to a stylish end with its contrasting movements ending in the partially understated Toccata.
A lovely fun encore in the shape of an excerpt from Ian Farrington’s Animal Parade brought the evening to a close.
Next week – the final concert in the 2023 series – Gordon Stewart, concert organist.
This series continues to draw some big names in the British organ world. Margaret Philips is certainly one of those. A prolific performer and recording artist as well as educator and campaigner, Margaret’s return to Hastings (after 20 years) was greatly anticipated and much appreciated by all present.
Throughout the evening we were presented with fine performances of a range of music from 16th Century England to 20th Century Sweden. Opening with the rousing Marche Triumphale by Lemmens and ending with Guilmant’s virtuosic Fantasie sur deux Melodies Anglaises (Home Sweet Home and Rule Britannia!) there was much more in between. Two extended works brought much variety – Mendelssohn’s Sonata No 2 and Partita sopra Nun freut euch by 20th Century organist Lionel Rogg. The well known Prelude & Fugue in A minor by J S Bach ended the first half.
Two contemporary Swedish composers also featured – Otto Olsson (Prelude & Fugue in F sharp minor) and two quirkier pieces by Fredrik Sixten, Tango (Variation on a Swedish folk tune) and Postludio. S S Wesley’s Andante in E minor also featured along with the oldest piece in the programme, a Voluntary by Thomas Weelkes’ which Margaret used to beautifully show off a single 16’ stop.
Throughout the evening we saw a calm confidence and a superb knowledge of both organ and this wide-ranging repertoire. Hugely enjoyed by the audience who coaxed Margaret back for a lovely understated encore.
Next week – Francesca Massey, Freelance organist.
Robert Quinney, based now at New College, Oxford, has a well-deserved reputation, alongside his excellent choral directing, as an expert performer of the organ music of J S Bach. He has produced a number of fine recordings and I know that several of us in the audience were particularly looking forward to hearing the two pieces of Bach in this programme.
Beginning with the well-known ‘Dorian’ Toccata and Fugue in D minor (not the other, more famous one) the evening got off to a very good start. Commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of the influential English composer William Byrd we heard his Ut re mi fa sol la – a freely composed piece based around the major scale. Three Dances from a Set of Five by the twentieth century English composer John Gardner, were delightful – rhythmic, melodic and at, times, surprising – I was really pleased to be introduced to these pieces. The simple but lovely Prelude in E flat by William Harris followed and the first half closed with three well-known movements from Handel’s Water Music.
The second work by JS Bach opened the second half. The fifth of the set of six Trio sonatas, this piece really demands completely independent control of the two hands and feet to weave a complex texture, registered to allow the different lines to be easily heard. Robert Quinney’s performance of Frank Bridge’s Adagio in E brilliantly demonstrated the ability of an organ such as this to create an enormous swell of sound from almost nothing and then back to where it began, in the 19th/20th Anglican cathedral tradition of music suitable to set the scene before worship. The evening ended with a complete contrast to this – Victorian jollity in the form of Stainer’s Jubilant March.
A most enjoyable and varied evening of music from an experienced performer who was last here twenty years ago!
Next concert – 14th August Margaret Phillips, concert organist.
Following last week’s concert by Durham Cathedral’s sub-organist, this time it was the turn of the cathedral’s Master of the Choristers and Organist, Daniel Cook, who has performed in this series on a number of previous occasions.
The varied programme followed a geographical structure beginning in Germany and moving through England to France. Handel’s Overture to the Occasional Oratorio got the evening off to a rousing start (with its own contrasting bridge to the concluding march). Bach’s gentle but complex chorale prelude: Dies sind heil’gen zehn Gebot’ followed before the technically demanding Mendelssohn Sonata No 6 in D minor.
Three pieces by late 19th/early 20th Century English composers followed – Francis Jackson’s Praeludium and Allegretto grazioso by Frank Bridge, with William Harris’ Flourish for an Occasion bringing the first half to a rousing conclusion. A variety of registrations were employed allowing some of the wonderful Willis solo stops to be in the spotlight.
French music filled the second half. A very inventive Fantaisie in D flat by Saint-Saens showed a great amount of dexterity from the organist, as did the concluding work, a new-to-me (and harmonically pleasing) Toccata by Marcel Lanquetuit, in similar style to the well-known Widor and others! There were also two examples of the more experimental early twentieth Century style by Langlais (Hymne d’actions de grace – Te Deum) and Alain’s impressionistic Le Jardin Suspendu. A strange inclusion was a repeat (from just last week) of Franck’s Cantabile which once again featured some lovely lower register solo reeds.
This was an evening of great contrasts and expert handling of the Willis from a performer who knows this music and these instruments very well. A good mixture of styles and mostly lesser known but accessible repertoire. We look forward to more!
Next week’s concert is by Robert Quinney from New College, Oxford.
The third concert in this 34th Annual Series forms part of a special pairing of two consecutive concerts featuring two different current organists from the same cathedral. Joseph Beech, sub-organist at Durham gave a brilliant recital and next week he will be followed by his ‘boss’!
Opening with a rarely heard early work by JS Bach, the Toccata in E, we were left in no doubt that the All Saints organ was once again in capable hands (and feet) with a wonderful rendition of this florid baroque German music. The first half featured further lesser known works – Cantabile by 19th Century Parisian organist-composer, Cesar Franck. Completing the half and nicely complimenting the preceding geography was a rather austere Sonata in A minor by British composer William Harris. I personally enjoy hearing music I have not heard before and I would like to congratulate Joseph for bringing us so much that was new (to me, at least).
The second half opened with two pieces by long-serving York Minster organist Francis Jackson, the fiery Intrada and the beautifully mellow Prelude on his own hymn tune, East Acklam. It was pointed out that Dr Jackson’s music could mostly be grouped alongside one or other of the two styles demonstrated here. Nadia Boulanger’s Trois Pieces are becoming a little more known and were followed here by another contrasting pair of pieces, this time by another French romantic organist who bridged the 19th and 20th centuries. Louis Vierne’s Clair de Lune and Carillon de Westminster are both popular pieces and brought the evening to a satisfying and fitting conclusion – well almost. We were treated to another popular piece in very different style – Alfred Hollins’ A Song of Sunshine, a cheeky but mellow offering, as our organist said, the desert to the main course which had just been served up.
A very enjoyable, well-balanced evening with performances of a high standard from an organist I had not heard before. He already has an impressive CV and much experience of some other notable Willis organs, which stood him in good stead for his expert handling of the Hastings “Father” Willis. I am sure he will continue to go far and hope he will not be put off journeying back to Hastings to entertain us again in the future.
Next week’s concert – Daniel Cook
The 2nd concert in the 34th Annual series saw David Bednall present an interesting and wide-ranging programme on the “Father” Willis organ. David combines responsibilities for the choir at Clifton (Catholic) Cathedral with sub organist duties at Bristol (Anglican) cathedral as well as other conducting, recording and composition work.
He saved the best until last – a wonderful improvisation on a theme given to him earlier in the day – combining two songs – I do like to be beside the seaside with a very special tune to this area, Sussex by the Sea.
Throughout we were treated to a number of mainly shorter pieces from a range of composers in different styles and from different periods. The first half opened with Sumsion’s stirring Ceremonial March. It ended with two pieces by Guilmant, including Sortie pour la Fete de l’Assomption de la Sainte Vierge. Much of this half consisted of quieter pieces, allowing different colours to be highlighted. There was music by JS Bach and Kenneth Leighton as well as two interesting pieces for chamber organ by Herbert Howells – Dalby’s Fancy and Dalby’s Toccata. The inclusion of Three Short Pieces by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a highlight for me. They are not often heard – I must dust off my copy!
The second half featured mostly music based on existing hymn and other melodies. It began with David Bednall’s own highly enjoyable Fanfare-Postlude on Hyfrydol. Another contemporary piece by Esther Bersweden (Interlude on St Botolph) sat alongside music by Dupre, Parry and Francis Jackson.
Three of Haydn’s Pieces for Musical Clocks and a jazz-inspired Greensleeves (Bluesleeves) by Malcolm Archer provided lovely contrasts. Before the wonderful encore we had Widor; as Mr Bednall said, “not that Widor”, but the equally triumphal Final from Symphonie 6.
A lovely relaxed evening, despite the screen being out of action, and enhanced by the not totally unexpected visit from the neighbour’s cat!
Next week Joseph Beech will be visiting from Durham Cathedral.
Jamie Rogers, Assistant Director of Music at Canterbury Cathedral, made his first visit to Hastings with a programme that drew heavily on the concept of freely improvised works. Opening with a spirited performance of Bairstow’s Allegro Giocoso- a work that sounds more modern than it is – his programme also included a Fuga in C by Buxtehude and a Prelude in E by his contemporary Bruhns. From the same period we also heard Prelude & Fugue in G by JS Bach. The choice to play this with much sparser registration than would normally be expected was an interesting one but it did result at times in rather indeterminate lower registers.
At times in other pieces there was also a lack of clarity due to the speed of the player and the response of the organ’s action. Jamie made great use however of the tonal qualities of the organ with a wide range of registration choices from varied combinations to well chosen solo stops. I applaud his decision to play two single movements from Sonatas by Percy Whitlock and William Harris instead of a complete Sonata. Together with the opening piece, this made for a good representation of the early 20th century English cathedral tradition.
There was an increase in drama and excitement in the last two pieces, both well known Romantic pieces with very familiar composers. Franck’s quirky Piece Heroique is a particular favourite of mine and was performed on this occasion with very suitable contrasting sections and a good balance between melancholy and exuberance. The best was definitely saved until last with a masterly execution of Liszt’s tour de force, Fantasia & Fugue on B-A-C-H. This work shows off the versatility of the ‘King of Instruments’ and needs a very skilful player to do it justice. There was no doubt that here the piece was in very good hands (and feet!)
A cheeky jazz inspired rendition of The Lady is a Tramp by his near-namesake allowed Jamie to share his other great musical love with the audience. This provided a satisfying further link with the idea of improvisation and a lovely end to the evening’s music.
There are two more concerts left in the series. Details from
Unlike many of the organists this season this was a first visit for the Director of Music of Westminster Central (Methodist) Hall. Gerard Brooks certainly seemed very much at home with the Willis organ as he brought some fine performances throughout his well planned and varied programme.
Every organ recital should include some Bach and this one opened with the Concerto in G, a reworking of an interesting piece originally composed by Johann Ernst. Four Sketches for pedal-piano by Schumann followed and the first half ended with Mendelssohn’s Sonata No 2 in C minor. Before this we heard the beautiful small-scale Reger work, Benedictus, with its exquisitely melancholy opening and closing and more robust middle section.
Having begun with music of Germany the second half shifted our focus to France. Gerard Brooks made some interesting comparisons between the organ builders Henry Willis and Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, both doing so much to advance the organ repertoire in their respective countries. Joseph Bonnet’s fiery Etude de Concert got the half off to a brilliant start, followed by a less familiar piece by Cesar Franck, Pastorale. It was lovely to hear this piece which seems to share several elements with the composer’s Prelude, Fugue & Variation. Lefebure-Wely is another familiar name these days and his style is a great contrast to everything that had featured before. It was good to hear a piece by him that I had not heard before, Sortie in G minor.
Throughout the evening Gerard Brooks gave us some excellent registrations and there were many times when quieter, more reflective music was played. A short movement, Andante cantabile, from Symphony 4 by Widor, was another such opportunity for showcasing a range of solo stops and quieter combinations which are so effective in this acoustic. A stirring rendition of Guilmant’s Morceau de Concert brought the programme to a fitting conclusion, which was topped off with another short Guilmant offering, Verset.
It is to be hoped that Mr Brooks will return in a future series.
For details of the remainder of this series visit www.oldtownparishhastings.org.uk