Sunday, 16 January 2011

Organ Recital by Robert Millington

Robert Millington gives an organ recital
on the Bevington organ at Glenorchy
On Wednesday 12th January Robert Millington, organist at Sidmouth Parish Church, came to Glenorchy United Reformed Church in Exmouth to give a recital on the wonderful Bevington organ which was brought from Marylebone Presbyterian Church in 1898.
The programme was challenging from the outset.  Robert launched immediately into Bach's 'In Dulci Jubilo' (In Sweet Rejoicing' . . . now sing and be glad!) which Bach composed in Weimar in 1713 as he began to incorporate influences from Antonio Vivaldi into his compositions.  This involved rapid complex runs and demanded intense concentration from Robert.
Bach's  'In Dulci Jubilo' was closely followed by the same piece in an earlier arrangement by Friedrich Willhelm Zachow (or Zachau), teacher of Bach's contemporary George Frederick Handel.  Zachow must have been a good teacher as Handel was ready to take over from him as organist at the Church of Our Lady in Halle an der Saale at the age of only seventeen.  This earlier version was less complex and used the upper range of the organ for a high piping effect which was very pleasing.
Then came more Bach.  The prelude and Fugue in G was inspired by Bach's mentor, the Danish composer Dieterich Buxtehude.  Buxtehude developed the fugue and introduced the feature of repeated notes.  Bach extended this with his brilliant use of counterpoint.  Once again the full range of the organ rang out loudly.  Rapid arpeggios were augmented by counterpoint in the bass played on the pedal keyboard.  Robert was definitely having to concentrate hard now - and thoroughly enjoying himself.  The recurring theme of repeated notes was very restful and led us unsuspecting to the mighty final chord using the whole range of the organ.
The second half of the programme was much more modern.  First the music of Felix Mendelssohn (who revived interest in the music of Bach nearly eighty years after his death by conducting the first posthumous performance of the 'St Matthew Passion' in Berlin in 1829).  Robert played Mendelssohn's Organ Sonata No 3 (of six) from Opus 65 which was composed in Leipzig in 1845.  (Mendelssohn spent a lot of his time in Britain and the sonatas had a première here the following year.)  The sonata followed the traditional 'prelude and fugue' pattern, the prelude having been used for Fanny Mendelssohn's entrance at her wedding.  The music started on a grand scale and Robert was at full stretch from the outset.  One section involved a very beautiful bassoon line in one hand, but the general feature was the increasingly frenetic bass chords and there was a a deeply resonant part for pedal keyboard only.  As the finale approached David Lee (who was turning the pages) deftly 'pulled out all the stops' for a thunderous finish.
In contrast the next piece was gentle and romantic, Belgian organist Joseph Jongen's 'Chant de Mai' from his 1917 Opus 53 'Deux Pièces'.  (The second being 'Menuet-Scherzo'.)  This very gentle and wistful piece involved varying combinations of long bass notes on the pedal keyboard and very soft flute on the upper manual.  Robert controlled the combination beautifully throughout.
Robert's last piece took us back in time slightly to 1895 and French composer Léon Boëllmann's Opus 25, 'Suite Gothique'.  The suite is in four movements.  The opening chorale, played on full organ, has become familiar more recently as the hymn 'In deepest need we cry to Thee'.  Robert made this strident and forceful despite it's minor key before a gentler section led into the flighty and joyful C major Menuet .  Prière à Notre-Dame in A minor was slow and gentle and like a legato dream, skilfully controlled by Robert on the upper manual. Finally, the toccata with it's movie-style 'danger' theme, which Robert managed to keep just this side of Vaudeville.  Robert pulled out more and more stops before a repeat of the theme in the pedal led to the famous 'Tierce de Picardie' - C minor giving way to C major for a triumphant finish - and a sustained final chord!
After such an accomplished performance of the Suite Gothique there had to be an encore.  Robert took us back to a gentler mood with an organ arrangement of an English folk tune from the early twentieth century by Ralph Vaughan Williams' talented student Percy Whitlock.  The soft lyrical melody, with sustained bass notes and judicious use of swell, was just right to finish such a wonderful programme of organ music.
Many thanks to Robert Millington for coming to Exmouth to give us such a musical treat.  I hope we will see him in concert again soon.
(For those who may be wondering, Robert is not related to Exeter Cathedral organist Andrew Millington - but Robert's older brother is called Andrew, and Robert's brother Andrew is an organist as well!)

Lunchtime concerts at Glenorchy take place every Wednesday.  They are free to attend, with the option to contribute to church funds after the concert.  Next week (19th Jan) we can hear two veterans of the Glenorchy concert series.  David Lee and local composer Josephine Pickering will play a programme of duets on the Venables grand piano.  (See earlier posts for details of their previous appearances.)
In two weeks time, on Wednesday 26th January there is a very interesting combination: Wensleigh and Jackie Palmer have prepared a programme of pieces for organ and soprano voice!

Lunchtime Concert Series
Glenorchy United Reformed Church
Exeter Road, Exmouth
Every Wednesday 12.30-1.30pm
Admission free

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