Impressive performance of some powerful passacaglias

First published in Entertainments

DR PHIBES ORGAN MUSIC
Salisbury Cathedral

IN his recent performance as part of Salisbury Cathedral summer organ recital series, the young Hampshire-based organist Richard McVeigh themed the entire programme around works known as passacaglias.

As he explained at the beginning, Pachelbel's well-known Canon is a good example; a sequence of increasingly complex variations is constructed over a recurring bass line. With their dramatic openings, two works would not have been out of place in a Dr Phibes movie starring Vincent Price.

The Rheinberger Introduction and Allegro and Max Reger's Introduction and Passacaglia are composed with full organ in mind. These excellent and essential choices from the 19th century lend themselves well to this splendid Romantic period instrument built in 1877 by Henry Willis.

If you’re going to have a recital of music constructed over repeating bass lines then music by Purcell is a must. The airing of his Ground was less successful because of the organ stops used, though we were warned not to expect the sort of sounds that this 17th century composer would have recognised.

That said, there was an excellent attempt on an English instrument to try and replicate the distinctive tone-colours prescribed by the composer in Cesar Franck’s sombre Choral No 2 for a French Romantic organ, though the cathedral’s tremulant does need slowing down.

This impressive recital ended with a couple of delightful pieces by the English composer Andrew Carter.

By the way, the cathedral needs to switch off its quarter-hour chime for concerts please. This happened during the recent arts festival.

Stuart Robinson

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