Month: May 2013

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Simon Lindley (organ). Mill Hill Chapel. Leeds. Tuesday 14th…

City Square is a curious mix of the old and the new. While Victorian patriarchs stand surrounded by lamp-brandishing, female nudes, a flock of seagulls ascends the building of what seems to be some sort of law firm. This is from a purely sculptural perspective. However, the visitor to Leeds might be forgiven for supposing that some of these statues come to life on Friday and Saturday nights. Standing with one’s back to Mill Hill Chapel the view is of the old post office. It seems to be a sort of fish restaurant now. Official formality has given way to greater leisure. The balance between these two forces was perfectly struck on Tuesday at Mill Hill Chapel. The graceful though severe Gothic arches of the fine, stained glass windows housed much warmth and mirth. Dr. Lindley reflected that it didn’t seem like a year since this series started previously. He put this impression down to “seniority”. It seemed that, to the amusement of many in the audience, they were able to empathise with this sentiment.

The effect of this organ is quite different to that of those in Leeds Minster and the town hall. Mill Hill Chapel is a much smaller building. The sound of the organ seems softer and somehow slightly muffled in comparison. In this acoustic the overall effect is one of relative modesty. This was quite charming.

We kicked off with Elgar’s Imperial March. Because there is virtually no decay to the sound in this space, the dynamic contrasts (between loud and quiet), both gradual and stark, were much more easily discernible. These were expertly sculpted through phrasing that saw descending flourishes and bright, brassy fanfares over the walking bass. The passages that were less march-like came across very jolly as an insoucient melody in a very synthetic sounding timbre jumped above ‘um-cha’ interplay. We were tantalised with the expectation of resolution as what’s known as a dominant pedal brought us to satisfaction. The overall sense of modesty made this a joyful rather than triumphal rendition.

Two pieces by Alec Rowley followed. The first – Benedictus – was based on a poem by Christina Rossetti. A hymn-like melody soothed above an undulating bass line. Here was much more variation between the different stops, and therefore pipes, than in the Elgar. Many different kinds of sound (timbre) were used as a result.

The second piece by Rowley – Heroic Suite – was in four parts. Heroic Postlude began sounding very angular because of the use of modes. Fanfares vied for domination with ascending flourishes here. This initial section was very arresting owing to the precision of the execution. It came back towards the close. sandwiching a quieter, more piano section that employed the normal (diatonic) scales. The second movement – Lament – saw a stern, oboe-like sound for the hopeful and yearning melody over a chordal accompaniment in a timbre that reminded me of the taste of ginger beer. Third from Rowley’s pen came Mood Fantasy. This began antiphonally with rapid, regular exchanges between treble and bass. The whole movement was very quiet and put across by Lindley with a very tender lightness of touch. The bass pedals seemed to steer the direction of the piece with economy. Finally came Triumph Song. This did what it said on the tin. It really woke us up with its rapidity, loudness and unexpected harmonic shifting.

Four Extemporisations, by Percy Whitlock, came next. The first – Carol – began in triple time with the melody in a flute-like timbre. This was underpinned by a descending bass in the pedals. Overall it was playful and nonchalant. Divertimento was, as Lindley described, “skittish”. A clarinet-like timbre saw a relentless, rapid running melody: very light. Harmonic stabs underpinned this in a soapy timbre.  This came back at the end, sandwiching a more reflective, slightly triumphal section. All was rhythmically spruce and finely sculpted. Fidelis was the title of the third movement, which was very meandering. Fanfare was the fourth. A trumpet-like timbre rang out as expected and descended several times in sequence. This piece confused the ear with surprising results because it  was chromatic and employed additive rhythm (bars of music of differing lengths one after another). Certainly here, and with the rest of the works performed, Lindley’s execution shone with brilliance. Possibly, this was due to the greater comparative intimacy of the venue.

Next came Sanctuary of the Heart by Albert Ketelby. Full of resonance and connotation, the piece was reminscent, at least melodically, of the sort thing one might associate with The Salvation Army. This in turn has a quality somewhat redolent of music hall songs. The highlight of the piece came when a throbbing triplet accompaniment, beautifully sculpted with the phrasing and dynamics, added a degree of drama. It was extremely moving.

The recital closed to a work from the pen of Liszt – although it sounded, in its complexity, like Bach. This, of course, was the intention. It was titled ‘Prelude and Fugue on BACH’. Here, the letters of ‘Bach’ are employed throughout as the names of the notes employed as the main theme (in German). This was astonishing. No written word can do the piece justice. I would suggest that the reader listens to it for him/herself. The performance conveyed Liszt’s homage with immense power through boldly measured execution. Mill Hill organ recitals continue on Tuesdays at 1.00pm. Payment is voluntary.