Monday, 20 August 2012

Exeter Cathedral Organ Recital Series - Organist Emiritus Paul Morgan Wednesday 15 August

Paul Morgan
Organist Emeritus of Exeter Cathedral
returns to give a special recital
Over the summer organ aficionados have enjoyed fortnightly concerts by masters of the console from across the country, and some from much closer to home.

On Wednesday last week (15th August) a former organist at Exeter returned to play the great instrument he knows so well. Organist Emeritus Paul Morgan. joined a large and enthusiastic audience at 7.30pm to discuss his choice of pieces.

To save climbing up and down from the organ loft, Paul discussed all the pieces he was about to play from the floor of the Cathedral before ascending. Once in the loft, Paul could be seen on a vast back projected screen which displayed closed-circuit TV images from a camera pointing at the manuals.

as Paul plays
the audience watch him on closed-circuit TV

His first piece was 'Toccata, Fuge and Humn on 'Ave Maris Stella' by Flor Peeters, a very varied and entertaining piece from the late twentieth century. When the audience clapped loudly to communicate their appreciation to Paul in his lofty aerie, he had only to turn in his seat to give a friendly, disembodied, wave in return.

Beethoven's Adagio for mechanical organ was something quite different. Written for an (unsuccessful) job application, this tune is intended for playout by punched card - allowing chords and sequences not possible for human hands. With slight rearrangement, Paul was able to play the 'impossible' chord sequences and keyed glissandi. Far from seeming taxing, the whole piece was incredibly restful.


Bach's Fantasia and Fugue was classic Bach. Big chords were linked by fabulous melodious phrases. Each movement ended with a big pedal sequence. Watching Paul on the Screen, it was important to remember that this was not a recording - he was creating all this wonderful sound especially for us.

Sir William Harris's 'Prelude' from 'Four Short Pieces' returned us to something more restful - like the theme of a favourite movie. Sir William Walton's Coronation March 'Orb and Sceptre, on the other hand, was grandiose from the outset, with loud opening fanfares leading into a jazzy combination of the National Anthem and Mendelssohn's wedding march. The audience was further amazed as Paul's assistant turned back several pages during one of the more lively fanfares - so that we could enjoy it all again.

The mood changed again with Harvey Grace's 'Resurgam' from his 'Ten Compositions for Organ'. This was very ponderous in an ominous gothic style, interspersed with softer passages. Accasionally thrown in were real glissandi - quite something on an organ of that size.

Maurice Duruflé's 'Scherzo' was very complicated with many stop changes. The overall effect, however, was gentle and playful -almost dream-like, leading to a slow hypnotic last chord. Louis Vierne's 'Lied' from 'Vingt-quatre Pièces en Style Libre' featured two hands playing two voices on two manuals - a hymn with a recurring chorus. Each repeat was softer and slower until the last phrase, high on the top manual, and rumbling deep on the pedal keyboard.

Alexandre Guilmant's 'Final' from Sonata No 1 finished the recital in fast and furious style. Each phrase was an avalanche of sound, with lots of switching from one manual to another. The excitement built until a natual break, leading to a softer passage - and the inevitable increase back to full speed. After a little passage in the style of Bach, the grand finale ended with the fastest and most furious passage of all.

As the audience applauded, Paul had to race down the stairs from the loft to appear in person and receive his acclaim. Then he had a long walk 'off' into the transept. Sadly there was no question of a curtain-call or encore. The distances involved would have made it all take just too long. Nevertheless, the audience were well satisfied with their evening's entertainment. Superb music played by an acknowledged expert, and modern technology used to maximise the audience's involvement and enjoyment.

At £7 a head, these recitals are well worth a visit. They are on once a fortnight on Wednesdays. The next concert is on Wednesday 29 August. Adrian Partington, the Musical Director of Wells Cathedral (and Conductor of many world class orchestras including the LSO) will be here to perform a collection of tunes ancient and modern. (Full Details in the 'Concert Run-Down'.)

Two weeks later, on 5 September, our own Assistant Musical Director, David Davies, will give the final recital.

Many thanks to the Exeter Cathedral Musical Director, Andrew Millington, and the Cathedral Events Co-ordinator Laurence Blyth, for keeping up such a standard of music at the Cathedral. Long may it last!

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