Review: a French-flavoured organ recital at the Petersfield Musical Festival

Richard Pearce, the renowned organist and choral conductor, treated a packed audience to a varied programme of organ music at the Petersfield Musical Festival on Wednesday 17th March in St. Peter’s Church. He book-ended the concert with two works by JS Bach whom he considers the greatest composer of all time, but the rest of the music was by mainly French composers.

The evening started with the statuesque Prelude and Fugue in C minor by Bach, which demonstrates how Bach can sustain music over a long period of time – almost ten minutes in total. Bach is the greatest composer of all, Richard believes.

In complete contrast, the next group of pieces were by Jehan Alain, a French organist-composer who was killed in action in 1940 in the defence of Saumur. Richard said French music would suit the St Peter’s organ with its bright, colourful sound. The first piece, le jardin suspendu was dream-like; the second, Aria, was more lively. About the third piece, Litanies, Alain himself said, ‘if you’re not exhausted by the end, you’re not doing it right’. And it was easy to see why.

Next, Richard played the familiar (and less challenging) César Franck Chorale No. 3 in A minor, explaining that Franck was the first composer to write symphonic music for the organ. After the Interval (‘thank you for staying’ quipped Richard with a diffident smile) we heard Elgar’s Sonata in G op. 28, in four movements – a much more ‘English organ’ sound. Then we were back in France with Jean Langlais. Langlais, blind from the age of two, was a great improvisor and the first piece, the floaty Chant de paix lived up to its title. The second Chant héroïque, has been, Richard said, described as ‘really scary’, full of scrunchy harmonies – ‘the megalomaniac organist at work’. The third Langlais piece Mon âme cherche une fin paisible was based on the JS Bach Chorale O Sacred Head sore wounded, which led us nicely to the final piece, Bach’s great Fugue in E flat,nicknamed the ‘St Anne’. This is plainly divided into three sections, symbolising, Richard explained, the Trinity. The whole was a truly wonderful evening of splendid music.

Marcia Fielden

Read a profile of Richard and a description of the pieces he played

Photo: Richard with Mark Dancer

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