Sunday Organ Recital – Westminster Abbey

Jeremy Woodside, 28th June, 2015

I’ve been trying to get along to one of the Sunday organ recitals at Westminster Abbey for a while, as much for a way to see some of the abbey for free as to hear some wonderful music! While some of the recitals advertised in May focused on arrangements of popular orchestral repertoire, I was pleased to see that Jeremy Woodside’s program for the 28th showed off some more substantial pieces.

Opening with Eugène Gigout’s Grand choeur dialogué, Woodside showed himself to be a master of the Westminster organ. Passagework was equally expressive and technically secure, and the dialogue of the work’s title was created through striking use of stops. Keen to use the full force of the instrument at key points, Woodside nevertheless showed a command across its varied timbres, with particularly clear use of articulation.

A relatively contemporary work on the program, the Siciliano for a High Ceremony by Herbert Howells explored a sparser, meditative musical space that is often absent from organ recitals. Though perhaps not the greatest of pieces, it was subtly and delicately performed with rounded melodic lines drawing towards the climax.

Woodside concluded the performance with J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV 582. Whether due to a lack of preparation or a fault of the instrument, the Passacaglia was sloppy where both the Fugue and earlier Grand Choeur were at their strongest – a lack of attention to unity of voices resulted in a confusing rendition. Luckily, this was remedied in the Fugue, which showed an intrinsic understanding of Bach’s contrapuntal writing. Excellent technical facility and attention to the interrelationship of fugal voices and harmony produced an exhilarating rendition that used the Westminster space to full advantage.

Day 112 – January 20th – A Gavotte and a Charleston!

This morning we were off up to London for another of William Bennett’s flute masterclasses. The repertoire was pretty standard, and the only work I hadn’t heard before was Philippe Gaubert’s Sonata No. 1. It ended up being my standout piece of the day – it’s stunning and was also played beautifully by masters student Katy Ovens. I’m rather tempted to see whether Trevor might let me have a go for the February piano masterclass!

As always, Wibb was an engaging and energetic teacher, whose use of little sung phrases (many of them rather naughty!) to show musical direction and emphasis had everyone in fits of laughter. Musical direction and musical intent were the themes of the day, and every note had to fulfill its proper place in the musical line. Expressive breathing was also key – even if a breath isn’t needed, it should be felt if the musical sentence needs it.

In the afternoon, Wibb seemed to become even more animated, breaking out into some impromptu dancing on not one but two occasions. The Allegro movement of J.S. Bach’s E major sonata was a jazzy Charleston – all the syncopation needs to be felt and played upon. Wibb’s Charleston itself was also quite impressive! Then the final work of the day was Paul Taffanel’s Mignon Fantasy, whose gavotte Wibb danced to show how light and flexible the tempo needs to feel.

Good coffee at St Pancreas Station, lunch with some lovely friends at the Royal College, and arriving home to Elmsted to find some faint traces of snow made for a nice day, though am hoping our dairy will warm up a little overnight!

Bach and Handel: Flute and Violin by Candlelight

January 8th, 2015
London Octave, St Martin in the Fields, London

Meditative if somewhat conservative, this concert presented a selection of trio sonatas and solos by Bach and Handel. Flautist William Bennett and violinist Andrew Watkinson are stunning musicians, infusing every note with a glittering vitality that made each work sing. The Chaconne from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 for solo violin was a particular highlight, and a brief introduction by Watkinson was perfect for those who didn’t know the work so well. Bennett’s performance of Bach’s E minor flute sonata was delicately coloured and a pleasure to listen to, though I did wonder occasionally whether he was finding the performance tiring.

Joined by Christopher Bevan at the harpsichord and last-minute ring in cellist Tim Lowe, the ensemble’s trio sonatas were fun and easy-going. As the concert progressed, the contrast between Bach and Handel’s writing was very noticeable. Though astutely composed and beautifully phrased, the Handel felt light-hearted and fleeting compared with the emotional intensity of Bach’s musical journeys. Moving from Handel Sonata for violin and continuo in E major Op.1 No. 12 into Bach’s Trio Sonata in C minor from ‘Musical Offering’ made for a luscious though weighty ending to the program, and I left feeling incredibly refreshed and musically content.

Others might have done something a little more daring with either programming or presentation, though I’m not sure that such a concert would necessarily have suited the serene grandeur of St Martin’s. As it was London, and all performers were of such a high calibre, the concert was well (though not stunningly) attended. It’s concerts like this, though, that make me wonder about the future of classical music – is this necessarily the best way to present small chamber works in a way that might draw audiences back? Or will the audiences slowly disappear in other directions?

Day 72 – December 11th – Rachel Brown

I’ve been avoiding writing this entry for a few hours now, so think it’s probably better to save reflections on the day until I’ve had some sleep! The masterclass with Rachel Brown went surprisingly well, and I felt like I learned a lot and ended up playing quite well. She really is a fantastic musician, and I really hope Trevor might be able to get her back down some time.


Day 71 – December 10th – Bach and bunnies

After my relatively slim practice yesterday I had a really productive day today. Though none of the warm-up exercises were exactly easy, that was because I was trying to push myself and play things that I couldn’t do rather than those I could. I’ve been practising Reichert No. 2 with either the first or second set of semiquavers in each bar at double speed, in the hope of convincing my fingers and brain that I know it and not to worry so much. So far it seems to be working, at least in the practice room.

I chatted with my little sister this morning and was introduced to her two gorgeous new rabbits – Rory and Danny. It rather makes me miss Horace from the weekend before last!

Tomorrow we have a masterclass with Rachel Brown, who is a flute and traverso player well-known in particular for her performance of Baroque works. I’m playing the C.P.E. Bach (originally thought to be J.S.) Sonata in Eb major. It’s been an interesting piece to prepare in that the notes themselves aren’t that hard but I still don’t feel terribly comfortable leaping into Baroque music from a stylistic point of view. Hopefully I’ve done a good job with this one – it’s really a trio sonata as the right hand part of the harpsichord is very important, and I’ve really tried to think of the way the flute fits into the ensemble.

Out walk tonight was cold and blustery, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the moon. A few nights past full, it sat fat and low in the sky with waxy, yellow glow. It felt like the setting for some Gothic novel!