And so this year’s season of organ concerts came full circle rounded off in spectacular style by an organist who has become a regular feature and staunch supporter of this annual musical festival. Gordon Stewart brought his customary flair and expertise to present a number of works from different eras and traditions which highlighted the versatility and beauty of the wonderful “Father” Willis organ.

Opening with the Victorian Town Hall splendour of Hollins’ Concert Overture in C minor we knew we were in for another fine evening’s entertainment. Flute stops were to the fore in A Maggot – an 18th Century work by Thomas Arne in this popular later arrangement (including pedals) by Harry Wall. Mendelssohn’s championing of the music of JS Bach was reflected in the three contrasting works which brought the first half to a close – his Theme and Variations in D followed by Bach’s Trio on Herr Jesu Christ and Fugue in E flat (often known as “St Anne”).

Throughout the first half Gordon had conjured many different colours from the organ, with his careful selection of stops and use of the various divisions. This continued in the second half where some lighter items were also to be found alongside more classical and romantic repertoire. Noel Rawsthorne’s arrangement of Schubert’s popular Marche Militaire provided a suitably rallying opening number. This was followed by Pierne’s Trois Pieces – the Cantilene being a particularly haunting piece.

Providing a complete contrast, Prelude on Faithfulness by Dan Millar is a quiet reworking of the familiar hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness. We were treated to a particularly sensitive rendition as Mr Stewart expertly brought subtle shades of American gospel and theatre organ out of the depths of this English Victorian instrument, helped in no small part by careful use of the recently re-constructed tremulant. Staying in lighter vein but of a more upbeat English variety Goss-Custard’s Chelsea Fayre is a classical pastiche which works so well. This was a very nice piece of programming, highlighting the links with this composer’s family to the local area and connecting with pieces included in this performer’s opening concert in this year’s series.

It is not unusual to end a concert with a Toccata but it is rare to hear one in such a context that is completely unfamiliar. Composer F de la Tombelle and this work were both unfamiliar to me. As was explained, this piece bears more than a passing resemblance to the well-loved Toccata by Dubois but there was much of interest – and surprise – to be heard here.

The performance provided a suitably grand and virtuosic climax to another superb programme which was topped off by a lovely reflective Prelude on Annie Laurie written recently for the performer by Simon Lole.

Thanks were expressed throughout the evening to many people involved in the organisation of these concerts. Congratulations to all concerned for another highly successful series. Once again it has been demonstrated that there is a good audience for organ music of all kinds and that we have instruments in this area which are worth preserving and promoting. I look forward to the next series in 2022. Make sure to be there!

Stephen Page

Prom: 25 August 2021 Academy of St Martin in the Fields Joshua Bell

It’s a bold idea to intersperse Vivaldi’s early eighteenth century Italian take on the seasons with Piazzolla’s twentieth century Argentinian one. It makes you listen to, and hear both, with new ears. I rather liked it but I suspect it is a bit of a Marmite concept – especially as the four Vivaldi concerti were played in a very sparky, un-Baroque way – modern instruments, with a fair bit of vibrato, less cross string work than usual and percussive effects.

Joshua Bell’s interpretation of all eight pieces is far more collaborative than directorial. In the opening Vivaldi concerto (E major, La Primavera), for example, we heard some immaculately pointed duet and trio work with harpsichord, cello, violas and violin in an account which soared (and sawed) along with warm energy.

And – now transported to the sultry world of tango – I loved the mysteriousness of the gorgeous glissandi in the Piazzolla Summer in Buenos Aires and the glistening charisma of the cello solo (Caroline Dale) in Winter in Buenos Aires punctuated by Bell with, stroked-in off-beat harmonic notes. There was some fearsome playing in Piazzolla’s Spring in Buonos Aires too – a hot, full blooded sound with cat-like upward slides, col legno and bowing above the bridge for manic effect.

Joshua Bell has been Music Director of Academy of St Martin in the Fields since 2011 having worked with them since 1986. He clearly enjoys a warm relationship with the orchestra and told the audience at the end (before the encore – Gershwin’s Summertime arranged as a schmaltzy mini violin concerto) that he was deeply moved to be back with them after eighteen months of enforced deprivation. He wears his 53 years lightly, thick dark hair bouncing energetically in rhythm with his apparently rubber knees. It always seems awkward to me when a soloist leads from the front facing the audience because there are, perforce, lots of over-shoulder glances but it’s clearly an accustomed – and effective – way of working for these players.

The two works were presented as an interval-free single piece running 75 minutes in eight sections, alternating between Vivaldi and Piazzolla from the former’s Spring to the latter’s – and from the elegant natural sounds and colours of Italy three hundred years ago to the garish, noisy street life of South America much more recently It is widely thought that Piazzolla was inspired by Vivaldi and this performance leant heavily on the connection – with references in the music. In a concert which is not short of chuckles (the Pachelbel moment, for instance) there’s a good, almost Haydnesque, joke at the very end too. I won’t spoil it here – it’s available on BBC sounds for a month.

The Royal Albert Hall was fuller for this concert than I’ve seen it so far this season. Hurrah. We really are gradually getting back to normal.

Susan Elkin


The penultimate concert in the series saw Tom Bell’s return to Hastings. As usual he brought great enthusiasm and an engaging manner to give background to his highly varied repertoire. Apart from changes to the advertised programme we would not have been aware that Tom had recently been suffering from Covid.

Opening with enormous energy Bonnet’s Variations de Concert caught the audience’s attention from the start of the very arresting first chord. Tom’s dexterity on both manuals and pedalboard were evident from the outset in this virtuosic work. A more recent work Paulus’ A Refined Reflection (from Baronian Suite) showed off some of the more subtle colours this organ possesses. Early twentieth century French works made up the remainder of the first half. First, two contrasting movements from Dupre’s Le Tombeau de Titelouze followed by two very different but equally emotional works of Jehan Alain. Aria has a haunting quality which emanates from stillness. Litanies is the polar opposite. In Tom’s hands (and feet) the tension was increased with the furious and unrelenting main theme being played at breakneck speed, frenzied and insistent until the latter slow moving chordal sequence with its surprising harmonic turns. The effect of the final resolution after all this unease was electrifying. He was right when he said we would all need a glass of wine afterwards!

The second half brought several pieces which chime with one of this organists’s particular fields of interest – the English Victorian organ and its repertoire, both original compositions and transcriptions of orchestral works championed through the tradition of the Town Hall organ. WT Best’s arrangements of Meyerbeer’s fiery Coronation March and Bach’s Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland were presented along with a reflective Andante in G. Brahms beautifully understated Schmucke dich, O liebe Seele provided another real contrast in its sparse registration.

The concert began with what could be regarded as a showstopper and it ended with another. A favourite organ work of many, Franck’s final Choral No 3 in A minor again combines fast moving extrovert passages with moments of intense introspection. The Andante never fails to move me with its plaintive solo line against gently moving and sometimes unexpected chromatic harmony. This is then left behind in the final few bars as the piece reaches its climax with another series of harmonic tension before the ultimate release. This was another powerful and very sensitive interpretation.

Tom was coaxed back for a beautifully subdued chorale prelude by Jacques van Oortmerssen to send us on our way after an evening of thrilling and at times highly emotional music. We hope to see and hear him back again soon.

Details of the final concert can be found at

Stephen Page

OPERA BRAVA – Tosca at Festival Theatre – Hever Castle 14th August 2021

Opera Brava had a beautiful summers evening at Hever Castle on 14th August when they performed Puccini’s Tosca. The seven musicians, occupied the left side of the stage, while the set for the singers filled the right, which affected the balance of sound considerably depending on which side of the audience one sat. Hats off to musical director, Robert Bottriell who conducted the whole from the piano in the centre.

The set consisted of a circular wall reminiscent of an ancient castle tower or church building, into which tables, chairs or statues changed the purpose. This did not afford a means for Tosca to leap from the walls, and so she was shot by guards at the end which was a little disconcerting for lovers of the opera, but understandable.

Natasha Day’s ‘I lived for Art’, was heartfelt and moving. Hearing Tosca in English added a different level of understanding and for me, ‘And the Stars were Shining’, sung by Dominic Walsh, became even more poignant .

Hakan Vramsmo was suffiently evil to elicit friendly boos from the audience at the end. The whole company gave a performance which grew in intensity of emotion , holding us spellbound to the cathartic end.

Sally Hick


BRIDGE 9558 58’28

This is a fine recording of ten choral works by Robert Kyr. All the music here has been composed in the last twenty years and comprises settings of English words by the composer alongside traditional Latin texts. The range of subject matter includes music itself and aspects of life in titles such as Freedom Song and Voices for Peace. The composer describes the CD as a celebration of “the many ways in which music can affect us as a transformative force; as a motivator for constructive action; as a spiritual catalyst; as a voice for freedom and peace; as wordless inspiration; and as a guide towards the light at the end of the tunnel.”

BRIDGE 9560 69’14

A very welcome release sees music by American composer Alan Shulman in these recordings from more than 70 years ago being brought into the light of day in accessible form. Sound quality cannot be judged by today’s standards but there is something about listening to these monaural sounds that makes them even more evocative of the period in which they were written. I know nothing about the pictures that this music was written to enhance but there is much to be enjoyed here in its own right. The longest track is of music from a feature The Tattooed Stranger (1950). The remaining 4 tracks (the last being very short in comparison) are all from RKO Pathe documentaries from 1946 and 1948. Listening to this compilation gives an insight into the creativity and effort that went into providing music for these films that were released in abundance for many years. Very enjoyable.

GREGOR BUHL, conductor
CAPRICCIO C5429 59’20

An early twentieth century composer not influenced by serialism Walter Braunfels music still has some fresh things to say despite continuing in the German romantic tradition. His music sadly was outlawed for many years under the Nazi regime, to which he took a brave stand against, and took time to recover afterwards. This is a very welcome release as part of a range featuring several CDs of Braunfels’ music. It is to be hoped that it may help to stimulate further interest in the music of so many who were silenced or sidestepped during those oppressive times. Alongside the three tracks listed in the title is the orchestral Ariel’s Song.


This short CD contains some lovely music mostly conceived by Thomas Torstrup and developed and realised by the quartet. Piano, trumpet, bass and drums are supplemented by mouth harp (on the opening track). Located in the jazz/experimental sphere this music encompasses laid back and more angular/percussive sounds in a series of contrasting tracks inspired by the natural world, Olivier Messiaen and the drum playing of the composer’s son. Lovely!

BIS BIS-2446. 78’03

This is a wonderful experience in pared back listening. Since 1975 Finnish composer Aho has written a number of works for unaccompanied solo instrument which challenge the performer to use highly technical approaches to achieve a wide range of timbre and expression. This development of the tradition found in the Bach cello suites makes for a focussed and very satisfying exploration of the particular qualities of each instrument featured here. In turn we have cello, viola, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn and flute in committed performances by each musician.

TOM WINPENNY, organ of Cathedral & Abbey Church of St Alban
NAXOS 8.574252-53 2’21 (2 CDs)

This mammoth work, a Passion Symphony for organ, is splendidly brought to life here by Tom Winpenny who is a fine exponent of new organ music. Bookended by shorter works based on chorales, Improvisation on Adeste Fideles (2005), Schmucke dich, O liebe Seele (2013) and Surrexit Hodie (Fantasia-Toccata sopra ‘O Filii et Filiae’) (2019), this is a feast of contemporary organ works from this masterful composer.

BRIDGE 9556 58’39

American composer William Bland has composed a cycle of 24 piano sonatas, moving through the major and minor keys in the same way that many cycles of Preludes and Fugues have been created. Only a few of these works have been performed to date and so it is particularly pleasing to have this release of two of them- No 17 in A minor and No 18 in G minor -recorded here. This is exciting music which blends a number of styles and influences, echoing different periods, genres and compositional techniques including tonal and atonal approaches to harmony. I look forward to hearing more.

ERATO 0190296698521 64’51

The music of French composer Louise Farrenc (1804-75) is only relatively recently becoming more widely known. Influenced by both German and French traditions she wrote successfully for piano and later for orchestra, including a number of larger scale works. The welcome release of these 2 Symphonies gives a good insight into this music, brought to life here by the Insula Orchestra, which has become a champion of this particular composer’s work. More releases are planned to highlight her music.

NAXOS 8.555222 69’27

Lord Berners (1883-1950) had his own distinctive style and compositional approach. This release combines the ballet music The Triumph of Neptune with puppet ballet L’uomo dai baffi (The Man with the Moustache) with orchestrations by Philip Lane of Valses bourgeoises and a short Polka.

BIS BIS-2409 61’27

Another very distinctive voice, ahead of its time, was Charles Ives. Taking inspiration from complete musical soundscapes as well as from particular classical and popular styles he combined them all in eclectic works which often require repeated listening. Here his first Piano Sonata forms the largest part of this CD. It is paired with the much shorter Three-Page Sonata. The work bridging these two is by contemporary composer Bernhard Gander. Taking its inspiration from the world of superhero comics, Spiderman to be precise, Peter Parker is named after the superhero’s human alter ego. As with Ives it is a meeting between so-called high and a further demonstration that such divisions are not necessary.

VIVAT 122 77’10

Three of the six Birthday Odes for Queen Mary are featured here in fine recordings from a roll call of excellent singers and instrumentalists under Robert King’s direction. Expertly recreating the sumptuous sounds of the Queen’s court the Odes are Arise my muse, Love’s goddess sure was blind and Celebrate this festival.

BIS BIS-2113

The title track forms the centrepiece of this collection of music for orchestra and soloists by this contemporary exponent of Chinese composition. Two works, The Song of Sorrow and Gratification and Starry Sky also feature voices. The latter work includes some sumptuously spacious piano writing. Another very distinctive soundworld here, blending traditions of East and West.

NAXOS 8.660426-27 (2 CDs) 1”45’27

Before reviewing this CD I knew nothing about its Iranian composer. Behzad Abdi (b. 1973) brings together elements of dastgah, the traditional modal system of Iran, and Western classical forms. This world premiere recording presents the recent (2013) two act opera with libretto by Behrouz Gharibpour based on the life of Hafez, the revered Persian poet and mystic. I really enjoyed the way the composer draws these different worlds together.

TACTUS TC611990 (2 CDs) 48’33 & 52’49

Barbara Strozzi’s music is becoming much more widely heard. Most of it is secular but here we have a wonderful complete presentation of her publication of sacred works from 1655. Including accompaniment on reproductions of period instruments which are helpfully documented in the booklet this makes for fascinating and uplifting listening.

HYPERION CDA68376 71’58

A CD by Christopher Herrick always makes for an exciting listening experience. At home here on the comprehensive and extremely versatile Nidaros organ he performs a varied and interesting selection which includes a good amount of contemporary works. The opening track, the spirited Yes! by Mons Leidvin Takle, gives a good hint at what is to come. Two contemporary Toccatas by Anders S Borjesson and Hans-Andre Stamm take their place alongside Gigout’s well-loved Toccata in B minor. A set of jazz variations on Amazing Grace by Iain Farrington and a piece by Yon (other than his famous Toccatina), the Second concert study:Flying Feet are to be found together with a Prelude and Fugue in G minor by Brahms and Dubois’ Fiat Lux. The inclusion of 3 chorales by the contemporary Christian Praestholm adds further interest.




Simon Bell has contributed to this series a number of times over the years. As on previous occasions he demonstrated fine musicianship and delivered a very enjoyable, well structured and stimulating programme, particularly welcome for containing a good cross section of representative but lesser known organ repertoire.

Beginning with the German baroque we heard the lesser known Nicolaus Bruhns’ Praeludium in G coupled with two pieces by JS Bach- the technically sophisticated Vater unser im Himmelreich and the more playful Trio in G BWV 1027a. A beautifully registered Cantabile by Cesar Franck transported us to 19th Century Paris. We were then immersed in music by two notable figures from the English cathedral tradition from the late 19th/ early 20th Century. Bairstow’s Scherzo in A flat was a more substantial piece than the title might imply. Alcock’s Marche Triomphale was well placed at the end of the first half, a rousing and entertaining piece demanding lots of energy from the performer in this suitably spirited rendition.

The second half was given over to a single work. Guilmant’s Sonata VIII in A major is the last sonata from this prolific composer for the organ. The five movements contained much thematic and harmonic interest and gave Simon plenty of scope to show off many different tonal combinations, often brought about by very rapid and brilliantly executed stop and manual changes.

Vaughan Williams’ Rhosymedre provided a suitably contrasting relaxing encore following on from the full and frenetic sounds of the final movement.

I have said to many people over the years that Simon Bell is one of my favourite performers. I admire greatly his controlled technique and his ability to master the console with such accuracy and apparent ease. His programming and careful exploitation of the features of this particular instrument always make for a very satisfying listening experience. I hope we shall see him again.

Details of the remaining concerts can be found at

Stephen Page

Mitsuko Uchida – Hastings International Piano. Saturday 25th September 2021 Fairlight Hall

One of the most revered artists of our time, Mitsuko Uchida performs a very special fundraising concert for Hastings International Piano.
Saturday 25th September 2021 Fairlight Hall 5.30pm (Main Hall of House)
One hour performance followed by drinks reception.
Hastings International Piano is delighted to offer their Friends and Patrons the opportunity to reserve seats for a very special concert and drinks reception taking place at Fairlight Hall (main hall of house) on Saturday 25th September.
Beethoven – Diabelli Variations – Op.120
One of the most revered artists of our time, Mitsuko Uchida is known as a peerless interpreter of the works of Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Beethoven, as well for being a devotee of the piano music of Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and György Kurtág.

For more information please visit

BBC Prom- Aurora Orchestra Nicholas Collon 11th August

Full biography - Aurora OrchestraEverything in this concert was beautifully played. First we had a warm, intelligent account of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with Pavel Kolesnikov at the piano. Each and every one of the 24 variations was spelled out with sensitive attention to all those different styles especially in the pizzicato variation and the frenetic finale.

Then, eventually, we got magnificent performance of Firebird with every nuance lovingly leaned on. Because this is Aurora Orchestra (founded by Nicholas Collon in 2005) most of the players stood up for both works and the Stravinsky was played from memory which meant that players maintained continuous eye contact with the conductor and each other and that introduces a very unusual level of cohesion. Of course this is a narrative piece – it’s ballet music after all – and I have rarely heard the story telling so clear or so well articulated. The moment in this performance when the horn breaks in with that final haunting hymn-like tune will stay with me for a long time because Collon made it grow from the previous pianissimo passage like a flower bursting into bloom. The low level attempt at “staging” by altering the lighting, added nothing though. There was enough drama in the music. It needed no highlighting.

Having said all that though there were problems – at least as far I was concerned. The concert was introduced by Tom Service on stage. Now although I listen regularly to his informative Radio 3 programme The Listening Service and admire his fluent, knowledgeable enthusiasm, I don’t need Mr Service to tell me what I’m going to hear or to whip up applause with arm gestures like a pantomime character. I go to concerts for the music and really don’t care for any sort of chat in that context.

Moreover, In the middle of this concert we got a 20 minute musicology/music appreciation lesson – the sort of thing I associate with concerts for young audiences. It was well enough done in its way although I don’t relish being asked to hum. Service and Collon are an effective double act and Collon talked about Stravinsky’s use of intervals, illustrated by Aurora players quite interestingly. Orchestra members even sang a couple of songs which are part of the source material for Firebird. But you can get this sort of thing on the radio if you want it. In a concert hall I want music and in this case I would much preferred to have heard an extra work.

I also found myself irritated that in a concert billed as “no interval” audience members had to talk among themselves for 10 minutes while music stands and piano were taken off stage and various other bits of stage management were attended to. Several people, puzzled, tried to slip out and were turned back by staff.

It was, however, a good idea to run this concert twice. I attended the afternoon performance as part of a good sized audience. It was the later, evening performance which went out live on Radio 3.

Susan Elkin


Francesca Massey, MusicianThe director of music of Rochester Cathedral, Francesca Massey, brought us a brilliantly executed recital of varied organ music in this latest concert in the series in Hastings Old Town. Throughout the evening she showed a great command of this particular instrument (despite having only met it earlier in the day) with well chosen registrations and some deft stop changes along the way.

Mendelssohn’s Prelude & Fugue in C minor opened proceedings and from the opening few bars it was obvious that this was going to be an evening of fine performances. Two pieces by Bach were featured, the gently lilting Trio super Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Her from the Clavierubung part III and later on the wonderfully contrasting Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C.

A rare treat was the inclusion of Nadia Boulanger’s Trois Pieces, hauntingly beautiful especially with the chosen registrations here. The Allegro from Symphonie II by Vierne brought a welcome reminder of the development of the Romantic French Symphonic style.

Further exploration of some of the quieter aspects of this organ was to be heard in the gorgeous Cantilene improvise, a transcription by Durufle of an early recording of his teacher, Tournemire. This was followed by the percussive and extrovert Fantasia II by Eben.

The final two pieces both had rhythm to the fore. Gardonyi’s Mozart Changes is a clever metamorphosis of classical Mozart into lightly playful jazz. The much more demonstrative Toccata alla Rumba by Planyavsky was a suitably thrilling conclusion to the evening.

A very entertaining and inspiring evening of a wide range of organ repertoire with excellent performances throughout.

Details of the remaining concerts can be found at

Stephen Page

BBC Prom: Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Martyn Brabbins 7th August 2021

It was interesting programming – and apparently unprecedented at the Proms – to pair Pergolesi and Stravinsky as a way of highlighting the influence of the former on the latter. Of course we now know that the direct source material for Pulcinella came from his early eighteenth century contemporise rather than from Pergolesi himself but the influence is clear for all that.

We began with an exquisitely moving account of Pegolesi’s Stabat Mater with the blending of voices – Carolyn Sampson, soprano and Tim Mead, counter-tenor – so subtle that at times it sounded like a single person miraculously able to sing two lines. The crystalline, vibrato-free purity was magical too. Then there was the Quae moerebat in which Mead and the orchestra duetted with subtle sensitivity like a baton being passed back and forth. The final Quando corpus morietur – the ultimate moment in a mother’s anguish for her son – was an edge-of-seat, lump-in-throat moment and it’s just as well that Pergolesi provides a relatively jolly Amen after it or the very well deserved applause would have felt inappropriate.

Brabbins (a short notice substitute for Joana Carneiro) is an unassuming conductor and a safe pair of hands in the best possible sense. He knows exactly how to deliver this gorgeous quasi-operatic eighteenth century stuff with all its colourfulness, variety and precision. He beats time unashamedly and the cohesion was spot on.

Then after the interval came a real change of mood – marked even before it started by the entrance of Carolyn Sampson in scarlet dress with glittery jewellery rather than the simple sober black she’d worn for the first half. The original 1919/20 version of Pulcinella was a hybrid “ballet in one act with song” and this is what was performed at this concert although many of us may be more familiar with the shorter orchestral suite which Stravinsky arranged later in 1920.

Sampson was joined by tenor Benjamin Hulett and bass Simon Shibambu all of whom did a good job especially in the Andante when the three come together as in an opera by, say, Mozart until the tenor leads off into some unlikely harmonies before his challenging patter song – all delivered by Hulett with warmth.

I also admired the verve of all that off-beat pizzicato scrupulously played by SSO and stressed by Brabbins as the winds deliver their many solos in this sparky narrative tale of skulduggery and love told in a series of reworked eighteenth century. And the dramatic jazzy trombone solo is always fun. The unexpected glissandi rang out with wit, thanks to principal trombonist, Simon Johnson who earned his moment of individual applause at the end.

Susan Elkin