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City of London Festival - organ recital

JS Bach/Dupré, Handel/Dupré, Robert Walker (World première), Franck and Thierry Escaich

James McVinnie organ

9 July, St Lawrence Jewry, London

Organ recitals are a world apart... This one, brought by The Eric Thompson Trust under the auspices of City of London Festival, was very loud !

After an elegant introduction by the Festival's director, Ian Ritchie (who seems to attend everything), we were glad to see and hear briefly from the organist himself, a diminutive figure who holds posts at Westminster Abbey and elsewhere, and told us a little about the music to be heard.

He then disappeared upstairs behind us to become totally invisible at the console inside the organ, first taking off his jacket before confronting his monster, which he unleashed with Marcel Dupré's piquant embellishments of 18 C classics, including an elaboration of a Handel recorder sonata (Op 1 No.11) which later became Op 4 No 5, one of the concertos played by Handel himself in the intervals or his oratorios on a small chamber organ without pedalboard.

If Dupré's elaborations are passé for you, try instead Ottavio Dantone's delicious recording of the Op 4s; reviewed at http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/cddvd09/BachHandel-withOrgan.html

In between those, there were some moments of comparative repose, Bach's Four Duets BWV 802-805. Otherwise, one really needed to have ear-muffs at the ready; I had to resort to covering my ears with my hands for the climaxes. Does McVinnie don ear-plugs? Otherwise, his hearing will be threatened...

There was a solemn silence after each of the first five items; following the Walker world premiere, seeing the composer sitting in the front row, I decided to break the spell. A single clap mobilised the audience to join in - Walker acknowledged this with a nod from his seat. His work was not ground breaking, but a perky theme made for a lively fugue. Franck's 2nd Chorale was portentous and heavy, rising to massive climaxes which belied the underlying simplicities of the music. Thierry Escaich is known for "relentless rhythmic driving force with passionate outbursts" and he duly pulverised me. I suspect that most of the organ afficionados there were perfectly content; they didn't look like pop fans...

Peter Grahame Woolf