Organ Concert – 21 July 2022 – Christopher Herrick

Programme notes for St John’s Upper Norwood 21.07.22

Mons Leidvin Takle (b.1942) – Yes!

Based near Kristiansand in Norway, Mons Leidvin Takle studied in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Chicago, New York and at Stavanger Conservatoire. Not only a church musician, he is also a well-travelled concert organist and prolific composer of vocal, instrumental and widely performed organ compositions. His unconventional style tends to break down barriers and often drives audiences wild! He manages by his faultless craft to make everyone smile.

Written in 2015 and dedicated to the Finnish organist Marko Hakanpää, ‘Yes!’ is as positive as its title. This non-stop joyous and celebratory piece is carried along energetically on the back of its stamping Spanish dance rhythms and catchy melodies.

Iain Farrington (b.1977) – Amazing Grace

Iain Farrington has an exceptionally busy and diverse career as a pianist, organist, composer and arranger. He has performed worldwide along with artists such as Bryn Terfel, Lesley Garrett and Paul McCartney; he played the piano at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics with the London Symphony Orchestra and Simon Rattle, refusing to be distracted by the antics of Mr Bean next to him; and he has had a number of orchestral works broadcast by the BBC including ‘Gershwinicity’, commissioned for the 2018 Proms and ‘Beethoveniana’ (a virtual performance) for the 2020 Proms. Two dramatic Choral Cantatas, ‘The Burning Heavens’ for strings, piano and choir and ‘An Old Belief’ for organ and choir, were commissioned and have been performed by Twickenham Choral under Christopher Herrick’s direction.

His numerous organ compositions include ‘Lay my burden down’, a set of five pieces based on African/American spirituals and traditional songs, composed in 2017. No. 3 in the set is ‘Amazing Grace’, a continuous sequence of jazz/gospel variations on the tune that needs no introduction, full of joy and optimism.

Théodore Dubois (1837-1924) – Fiat Lux [Let there be light]

Dubois was known in his time as an eclectic composer whose output included orchestral and operatic scores as well as sacred choral works and 88 pieces for the organ. He was organist at St Clothilde in Paris, before succeeding Saint-Saëns at the church of the Madeleine. ‘Fiat Lux’, in many ways a typical French organ toccata, comes from ‘Douze Pièces Nouvelles’, published in 1892 and dedicated to the English organist, composer and arranger W.T. Best.

The fanfare-like moments give the piece its especially brilliant character. Starting quietly, it grows and grows to the composer’s desired dynamic ffff – the gradual emergence of blazing light from initial obscurity, as in the Book of Genesis – ‘And God said, Let there be light.’

Julius Reubke (1834-1858): Sonata on the 94th Psalm

On the basis of his two surviving works, Julius Reubke was potentially one of the greatest German composers of the 19th century. But he died in his early 20s, and one can only wonder what kind of music he might have written had he lived on. After early studies at the Berlin Conservatory, where Hans von Bülow considered him the most talented student of his generation, Reubke moved to Weimar in 1856 to work with Franz Liszt, whose home had become a power house of the ‘New German Music’; it was always filled with pupils and visiting musicians, and Reubke was overwhelmed by the atmosphere of high idealism that accompanied this musical revolution. His own creative personality developed with amazing speed, and in 1857 he wrote two titanic works in the new style – a sonata for piano and a sonata for organ – works which immediately placed him among the most advanced of modern composers.

The Organ Sonata is inspired by the text of the 94th Psalm, a full-blooded Old Testament text in which God is seen to take vengeance on his enemies. There is some comfort to be had in the slow middle section of the piece and the final fugue brings strength and confidence. The Sonata plays continuously and all the melodic material derives from the mysterious opening phrase.

A selection of verses from the Psalm are quoted at the head of the score, and these can clearly be related to the different sections of the Sonata:

Grave: ‘O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show thyself. Arise, thou Judge of the world: and reward the proud after their deserving.’

Larghetto – Allegro con fuoco: ‘Lord, how long shall the ungodly triumph? They murder the widow and stranger: and put the fatherless to death. And yet they say, the Lord shall not see: neither shall the god of Jacob regard it.’

Adagio: ‘If the Lord had not helped me: it had not failed but my soul had been put to silence. In the multitude of the sorrows that I had in my heart: thy comforts have refreshed my soul.’

 

Allegro: ‘But the Lord is my refuge: and my God is the strength of my confidence. He shall recompense them their wickedness: and destroy them in their own malice.’

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Fantasia in F minor [K608]

This is a wonderfully intricate piece of music, written for an amazingly complex piece of machinery. Until the beginnings of the industrial revolution the most complicated machine devised by man was the organ, closely followed by clock-type mechanisms. In Mozart’s time, Count Joseph Deym was an enthusiast for ‘mechanical clocks’, clockwork devices that caused pipe organs to play. He set up an exhibition presenting tableaux after the manner of waxworks displays, making use of these instruments from among his collection of automata.

Mozart’s F minor piece for Deym did not gain the title ‘Fantasia’ until it was arranged for piano duet during the l9th century. However, it is a totally appropriate name for a piece that is even more fantastic than the machine for which it was created. It begins with a serious overture in French style; a beautiful melodic Andante follows, interrupted in turn by a short cadenza which leads back into the overture. Both parts of the overture explore the device of fugue – a reminder that Mozart had studied the music of Bach. Mozart’s technique and invention in this medium rival the mathematical precision created by the interlocking gears of the mechanism for which the Fantasia was written.

Edouard Batiste (1820-1876): Grand Offertoire

Batiste was a child prodigy who entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of ten and became Professor of Solfeggio at sixteen. He was appointed organist of the church of St Nicolas-des-Champs in 1842 and then St Eustache in 1854, at a time when church worship and grand opera were not too far removed from one another. The Grand Offertoire opens with solemn and pompous grandeur, leading into a stormy Allegro. A bel canto Andante maestoso with colorature decoration follows. A return to the lively operatic allegro is again followed by another Andante maestoso, this time a serene vox humana melody below flute decorations. The whole piece concludes Grandioso.

CHRISTOPHER HERRICK‘Herrick is a musician with a powerful urge to communicate. And communicate he does, drawing on his enormous technical and intellectual resources to turn out performances which sometimes amaze, often astound, but never fail to stimulate.’ Gramophone

Christopher Herrick’s career as one of the world’s leading concert organists is based on firm foundations. As a boy he was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral, singing in the 1953 Coronation and later that year going on a three-month tour of North America in which the choir performed over forty concerts. Later he was Organ Scholar at Exeter College, Oxford University, and post-graduate Boult Scholar at the Royal College of Music, London. He was then invited back to be Assistant Organist at St Paul’s Cathedral, followed by ten years at Westminster Abbey; here he played for many prestigious events including Lord Mountbatten’s State Funeral, as well as Sir William Walton’s eightieth birthday concert and his funeral service a year later.

In 1984 Hyperion Records recorded the album ‘Organ Fireworks’ on the Westminster Abbey organ, including Herbert Brewer’s ‘Marche Héroïque’ which Herrick played as Mountbatten’s coffin was carried from the Abbey. Since then, as an exclusive Hyperion artist he has recorded nearly fifty albums, including fourteen ‘Organ Fireworks’ programmes recorded on magnificent organs all over the world, as well as the complete organ works of J.S. Bach on Metzler organs in Switzerland.

Christopher Herrick’s many broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 include the Organ Prom during the 1994 Henry Wood Promenade 100th Season. The BBC also recorded all eight organ sonatas by Alexandre Guilmant on the van den Heuvel organ in Katwijk aan Zee in the Netherlands and sponsored a notable trip behind the Iron Curtain to record the big Liszt and Mendelssohn organ works on the historic Ladegast organ in Merseburg Cathedral; this led to an invitation in 1987 by the GDR Artists’ Agency to give ten concerts, less than two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

After his Russian debut in 2013 at the St Petersburg White Nights Festival in the Mariinsky Concert Hall, Christopher was immediately invited back to play a complete Bach cycle in twelve concerts during the first half of 2014. This echoes his previous 1998 New York marathon at the Lincoln Center Festival in Alice Tully Hall, where he presented Bach’s complete organ works in fourteen concerts on fourteen consecutive days. This was rewarded with a stunning review in the New York Times: ‘He is a virtuoso, no question. He was at the peak of his considerable form, combining precision with panache, interpretive freedom with sheer joy in virtuosity. The playing was, in a word, triumphal.’

During a busy international concert schedule, he has had the pleasure and privilege of encountering organs of every conceivable style. As he nears his ninth decade, he hopes to continue playing in cathedrals, concert halls or churches wherever there is a fine organ.

 

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