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.