It was wonderful to experience the return of live music-making on the first Wednesday of the new school year. Mr Peter Davis, Director of Music treated a small, socially-distanced audience to a programme of Bach and Beethoven on the School chapel organ. Since the recent building works, the building has gained an acoustic reverberation normally absorbed by the rows of wooden pews. This added sense of space lent itself beautifully to the opening of Bach’s Prelude in D major with its quasi-improvised virtuous runs, first, daringly, in the pedal line and, later, in the resounding of a punchy D major chord. This prelude offers clear contrasts in the way of self-contained sections. Mr Davis’s playing showed off a broad range of Bach’s intended characteristics: the way in which he balanced the use of the lighter chorus sounds with a larger reed sounds; the control of tempo, moving from liberal tempi to stricter, dance-like tempi, and the way in which he approached the articulation and phrasing to enable the different lines within the texture to have their own independent character.
The second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 followed. Adapting this work for organ requires no shortage of imagination, not least in realising the composer’s orchestral intentions. Mr Davis found numerous combinations of balancing voices representing the joining of different corners of the orchestra. The attention to detail in bringing out the inner textural voices through very precise articulation helped this well-loved movement retain the sense of wonderful symphonic blend from its original, orchestral version. The use of the swell reeds as solo stops and accompanying flute sounds helped to freshen our aural palettes. Pleasingly, the stylistic volatility in Beethoven’s terraced dynamics was adhered to in a fully committed way with whispering string sounds and punchy reeds being juxtaposed.
The Fugue in D shows not only Bach’s unbelievable level of musicianship but also a sense of fun and joviality. The fugue subject itself makes a large, ornate statement from a very small range of notes, almost as if it were an ornament itself. The technical demands of the fugue are uncompromising, requiring dexterity in abundance. Bach, being an organist of high repute, makes no concession for the treatment of the fugue in the pedal part. It was captivating to watch Mr Davis’s feet scamper through the whole range of the pedalboard, not least when the final subject entry on full organ came in for the final time on the pedals. This movement concluded a recital in which the music of two of Germany’s most confident composers was presented with heaps of expressive energy and technical flair to the amazement and enjoyment of an audience, many of whom will have missed such experiences in the past six months.