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Organ Recital - A Dazzling Performance

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Richard Gowers organist

An unusually rich musical experience was enjoyed by those who attended the latest Aperitif Recital at St Mary's on Thursday 17th October.

Richard Gowers, already an internationally distinguished organist at the age of 24, gave us a brilliant rendering of Julius Reubke's Sonata on the 94th psalm. Few in the audience will have heard of Reubke and most will have needed reminding of the psalm's dramatic theme of exulting villains, God's vengeance and consolation for the faithful.

Reubke composed the work in 1857, at the age of 23, while a student under Franz Liszt and living in his house in Weimar. Written for one of the new 'romantic' organs, offering heightened variety of colour and orchestral effect, the sonata has all the 'sturm und drang' and dazzling technique then (and since) associated with Liszt. There are those who consider the piece one of the organ repertoire's greatest works and it was a great loss to music that Reubke died the following year.

What made this performance special was, first, that it was preceded by a light-hearted but informative talk by the organist, playing samples on the organ with display on large screens; and secondly, the discreet insertion on the screens, during the performance, of signposts telling us where we were in the musical narrative, these linked with admirable programme notes prepared by Bruce Clarke.

This was exciting new musical territory and most of us will have left the church knowing a great deal more about the organ and organ playing than when we arrived.

The musical experience at these aperitif recitals is much enhanced by the screen display, which allows the listener to appreciate the physical demand on the performer.

Members of Thursday's audience were amazed by the incredible agility of Richard Gowers, both in the Reubke and in the earlier Bach Prelude and Fugue in D — the latter at unusually high tempo and demanding some lightning footwork (will they get him on Strictly?).

The Aperitif Recital is now in its 8th year and continues to develop. It has an enthusiastic following, fills the church, provides an opportunity for young organists and promotes appreciation of the St Mary's organ, now 12 years old. It is a successful formula and a notable addition to the variety and character of life in Haddenham. Full marks to the organiser, Bruce Clarke.

Andrew Gordon

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