S&H Organ Recital review

BACH Prelude & Fugue in E minor BWV 548; Pastorale in F major BWV 590; FRANCK Chorale No 3 in A minor KARG-ELERT Poema esaltato 'alla Scriabin'; Rondo alla Campanella REGER Prelude & Fugue in D minor ELGAR Sonata in G major Op 28 Nicolas Kynaston (organ) Royal Festival Hall, London 8 March 2001

Nicolas Kynaston's contribution to the well-attended series of recitals to re-launch the RFH's renovated organ, which had been built in the early 1950s under the supervision of Ralph Downes, concentrated on music by leading organist-composers of the past. Changes under the new Curator, William McVicker, have been minimal and it remains the versatile instrument originally envisaged.

First, and best in this auditorium, was the Bach, every detail clear in the phrasing and part playing. The Prelude in triple-time was satisfying in its alternating episodes and ritornelli and the jagged 'wedge' theme of the Fugue was easily followed through its permutations. Two small pieces by Karg-Elert showed him in lighter, pictorial vein. The little Poema esaltato was written for harmonium; the other is imaginative in its colourful harmonies and (not too literal) images of bells & their resonance. The Reger item was one of his shorter and 'easy' preludes & fugues - more to my taste than some of the more massive examples.

I had problems with the two major works, which I enjoyed less than anticipated. The playing seemed as fine as I have come to expect from Nicolas Kynaston, but they did not make their full effect because of the dry acoustic of the Festival Hall and the sudden cut-off without the reverberation through the building which is what these composers would have had in mind. I was left with serious doubts about the viability of the early Elgar sonata, which dates back to 1895, especially its larger, rather bombastic outside movements; the inner allegretto and expansive slow movement were more to my taste.

It is a paradox that organs are now so well recorded, with organists hunting far and wide to capture the best of them, new and historical, that home listening to the King of Instruments is no longer necessarily a second best. I have had great satisfaction recently from Kynaston's new CD of Liszt (Guild GMCD 7210), which brought back vividly the far superior memory of his playing in recital at Southwark Cathedral, where his playing judged the ecclesiastical reverberation to perfection. I was left wondering whether he is wholly happy with the refurbished organ and its setting in a hall which has itself needed acoustic treatment since it opened.

The last recital in the present series is by the spectacular and versatile concert organist Wayne Marshall, Organist-in-Residence at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall. It will be interesting to hear how he puts the Festival Hall organ through its paces on 30 April in Messiaen's celebratory Transports de Joie and Dupré's Symphony No.2. That should be a good evening, with a pre-concert discussion of twentieth-century organ building and a special late night session of jazz for chamber organ and sax! Another reason to go is to pick up the lavish illustrated programme book with essays about the Organ Music Society, organs in general, and this organ, with photos and full specification.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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