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 164 – March 13th – Wibb and Whist

It has been another long day with both a final group trip up to London for Wibb’s masterclass and the Hastingleigh whist night. I didn’t come away with any prizes in whist, but had a nice time.

Hopefully I’ll have more time to reflect on the masterclass tomorrow. We heard the entire Bach E minor sonata, and I really feel like I got a lot out of Wibb’s teaching on this piece. I also feel like I was noticing much more of the things that Wibb then commented on in the students’ playing.

Day 163 – March 12th – Lambs!

Spring in the woods

Spring in the woods

An extra day of grace due to cancelled class, I did a bit of relaxing and plenty of practice. In the afternoon I took myself off on a long walk down a path I haven’t explored before. It took me across the fields and through some lovely woodland, eventually joining up with the North Downs Way near Brabourne. Though I didn’t spot any daffodils (I think up on the hills it’s still a bit cold) but in the woods could see that things were starting to become very green.

On the way back I visited some of our farm’s lambs – suddenly there are so many! The oldest ones are already out in the field with their mums, and round in the barn there are pens full of them. With the window open, my practice has been accompanied by the call and answer of bleats for a few days now, but I was amazed to see just how quickly the numbers have multiplied. The lambs were gorgeous, white and fluffy with over-sized ears and feet. Most were full of energy, and already eagerly exploring both their new world and each other. For some of them, though, play was all a bit too much and a nap in the sun was more enticing.

DSCN6250I often find I have a really good practice day when class gets postponed, probably because all of a sudden the pressure is released and I can enjoy things a bit more. This morning, I returned to a technical exercise that has been frustrating me – Taffanel and Gaubert-style scales with mordants on the first and third semiquavers of the descents. I’m not sure whether it was the Altès mordant study I’ve been working on, or my greater relaxation, but the exercise has definitely improved. I’m playing it a lot faster, and most of the mordants are clean and correctly-placed – which just makes the errors more frustrating! If I slip up, I can feel my hands tense up in anticipation of another slip, exactly what I need not to do. Most of the problem areas are up in the third octave, where the trill fingerings aren’t second nature yet.

Lots of new families. The numbers are to match the ewes and lambs.

Lots of new families. The numbers are to match the ewes and lambs.

One of my big problems in class of late has been inconsistency of intonation. It’s something I need to fix, but also something that musicians aren’t terribly keen to talk about! Trevor isn’t being very helpful, just telling me to listen more rather than offering any suggestions for practice. While practicing with a tuner and recording myself (I’ve been doing both a couple of times a week) do help, I feel like this area of my playing has got worse since I’ve been here for two reasons. The first is that I’m now using a much bigger dynamic range and being more daring in my playing, rather than playing it safe. The second is that I’m rarely playing with other people, which I was doing a lot of this time last year.

I think one of the things I’m missing is that reference point of others to pitch off, and so have decided to do some practice with drones over the coming week rather than playing with a visual tuner. Rather than beating myself up about it, I need to work on finding a solution even when I’m not regularly playing chamber music.

Tomorrow we’re off up to London for the final Wibb masterclass of our stay, though I’ll try and go to a few more in the coming months if possible. Then it’s back to Hastingleigh for the final whist drive. Time does move on apace!

Bed time!

Bed time!

Day 157 – March 6th – Piccolo and the Pub

Another busy day and so another short post. This morning I was off bright and early to London to attend Peter Verhoyen’s piccolo masterclass at the Royal Academy of Music. It was great to watch, and I really felt like I learned a lot, especially about how to conceptualise piccolo differently to flute. The class finished at 1pm, and so I went for a wander down to Oxford St – more for a change of scenery than for any desire to go shopping! 

My friend Sherlock is down in Kent this weekend, and met me at Wye station. We had a walk in Wye nature reserve (chilly, but the view was worth it) before heading to the Three Bells Pub in Brabourne for dinner. All in all both a lovely and insightful day. There’s lots to practice tomorrow though! 

Nash Ensemble

6pm, Saturday 7th February,
Wigmore Hall, London

The first of two concerts the Nash Ensemble presented last night as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations, this concert was fantastic but a little on the short side. This review isn’t the place for going into the musical politics of having all the contemporary music in the free concert and then the more mainstream works in a paid concert later in the evening, and I only went to the earlier one anyway. As a result it was rather short, and I was left feeling like I wanted more music.

The program featured three works commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, and opened with Debussy’s Syrinx, which morphed into Richard Rodney Bennett’s Sonata after Syrinx for flute, viola and harp. Flautist Philippa Davies played with energy and a rich, velvety sound, filling Wigmore Hall with what seemed like not effort at all. Joined by Lawrence Power and Rachel Wakeford, the Bennett was an intriguing and well-paced meditation on the Debussy. However, it didn’t hold my interest consistently, and I have to confess to admiring the hall’s decor as well!

The standout of the concert – both as a work and a performance – was Lawrence Power’s rendition of Prayer for solo viola by Julian Anderson. Far from a soft, mellow utterance, the piece was one of drama and tension. Only occasionally did the atmosphere relax a little. Power seemed totally at home here, and rendered every passage expressive and daring no matter what the technical challenges.

Finally, the original trio were joined by baritone Roderick Williams for Nicholas Maw’s Roman Canticle. This was a pleasant, colourful piece, the vocal line pastoral with the instrumentalists scurrying and running underneath. I could easily have listened to more!