In 1705, Bach famously walked 250 miles to visit Dietrich Buxtehude in Lubeck. Today, in order to pay similar tribute, I walked maybe 5 miles to hear some of his music played. It was by no means a comparable effort but in order to do so I wanted to cross the water which, on a fine Autumnal day, is a bracing thing to do.
The organ in Holy Trinity, Gosport, was commissioned and almost certainly played by Handel, but not in Gosport. It was sold on there later but is a great hidden treasure in these parts and it would have been a shame if Thomas Howell hadn’t played any of the great man’s music on it. A subdued but ceremonial part of the Organ Concerto in F, HWV. 274, used the piccolo stop in an airy dance.
It’s very useful, especially for non-organists, to have the screen for the audience to see both the keyboard and the pedals. I suspect Thomas and all organists are capable of a spritely jig. In the opening Praeludium in D, the Buxtehude, one could watch the feet in conversation with the hands in what was a miniature compendium of musical ideas.
Thomas explained that the Bach Das alte Jahr vergangen ‘sighs, cries and bleeds’ through its New Year chorale and, soft and sepulchral under his sympathetic fingers and shoes, it maintained the meditative mood of the programme through the Handel to Messaien’s Prière avant la communion. Unsettling and disembodied, it’s not difficult to see why Messaien’s ‘harmonic language’ has an ‘unfortunate reputation’ for those of us more accustomed to C18th music but the piece added another dimension to the programme and happily, even if that’s not quite the word for it, demonstrated Thomas’s wider repertoire.
Until, after such quietude, the brassy, grand, marching Fanfare by Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens, a new name to me, was a crusading, big finish and it would have been a shame not to hear the organ allowed to show how much else it can do by way of contrast.
I’ve not been to an organ recital for some time but I’m encouraged by this evocative and informative performance to go back more often. More of it wouldn’t have gone amiss. And so, til the next time, we’ll thank Tom for this and we’ll hope that he’ll come back again.