Saturday, 16 May 2009

John Kitchen plays the organ of the Usher Hall, Edinburgh

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing this great organ recital by John Kitchen at the organ of the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. I have known John Kitchen since my school days. He was three years or so above me, and I first remember seeing him playing for a Christmas Carol concert. I was singing in the Senior Ensemble at that time. He was a regular star-appearance at various school concerts and performances of the annual Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
I felt that this is an exceptionally well-balanced programme that truly reflects the nature of a City Hall organist and instrument. I do understand that there is always a danger of organ enthusiasts railing against a ‘popular’ programme. Certainly, I myself have always confessed to being a bit of a musical snob when it comes to transcriptions and arrangements. Yet I can overlook any personal snobbery and enjoy this recital.
As an example of the programme I felt that “the Bach is brilliant. I do not care if there are some seventy other competing versions of this work played on anything from a barrel-organ through to a genuine ‘baroque’ instrument that JSB probably knew himself. I read with interest John Kitchen’s notes about whether it is appropriate to play the St. Anne Prelude and Fugue (or any other piece of Bach) on the Edwardian, Norman & Baird organ in the Usher Hall. There is a view that “one should simply not play it at all on an instrument so far removed in style from those known to Bach...” I agree with Kitchen’s conclusion that the music always “emerges triumphant, however one serves it up.” Interestingly, the so-called St Ann’s Prelude and Fugue are actually the first and last movements of the Clavierübung Part III. There is a school of thought that suggests they should never be played as a pair: nevertheless we are assured that Mendelssohn himself played them as such – and who would argue with him – especially when one considers what he achieved for the reappraisal of Bach’s music in the nineteenth century.

One of the most interesting pieces on this CD is the Little Liturgical Suite by the Aberdeen-based composer Geoffrey Atkinson. This makes use of Scottish folk-melodies. Atkinson has created a useful suite that can be used in church as a part of the ‘Mass’ or can be played at a recital. He uses three lovely tunes that are derived from the lesser-known Scottish airs – Bonnie Lass amongst the Heather, I’ll bid my heart be still and The Trumpeter of Fyvie. They were written for a competition organised by the Dr. William Baird Ross Trust and were composed in 1999. The work shows off a number of attractive soft stops on the Usher Hall organ. It is quite beautiful.

I would never have imagined back in 1972, when I was sitting somewhere in the second tenors in my school uniform and listening to John playing, that I would one day write a review of a recording of one of his fine recitals …

Please read the full review at MusicWeb International

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