Daniel Cook, who recently moved from Westminster Abbey to become Master of the Choristers and Organist at Durham Cathedral, opened his Royal Festival Hall recital with J. S. Bach. The Fantasia was launched with the drama of Principal and Reed Choruses. A reduced registration was used for the contrasting second section which flowed like water before returning to the opening registration for a renewed drama of contrapuntal lines over snarling pedal reeds. A further contrast followed before descending pedal scales underpinned crisply articulated chords to deliver a conclusion of majestic clarity. The Fugue unfolded with passion and drive, never faltering and moving forward with well-controlled impetus.
Charles Villiers Stanford’s Organ Sonatas are rarely heard. The first movement of No.2 is entitled ‘Rheims’ (commemorating the Cathedral, extensively bombed in 1914 and 1917) and makes use of the Easter hymn ‘O filii et filiae’. It begins with a statement of the theme in the pedals and running passages for principals and flutes. A quieter section follows with a solo reed accompanied by eight- and four-foot flutes before we arrive at a stream of Alleluias that burst with energy. The elegy-like second movement featured super-smooth changes of colour that in turn led to moments of swelling drama and a quotation from the Marseillaise, revealing a mixture of emotions and compassion for those wounded or killed. The ‘Verdun’ last movement looks to the hard-fought French victory. With its big chords and cadenza-like passages Stanford created a triumphant Finale imbued with hope.
Cook performed the Duruflé with vision and insight. From the beginning we were taken into swelling and skipping flutes before the appearance ADAAF motif on Alain’s name. The Fugue was no less delightful and led to ecstatic growth that proceeded with clarity as voices were combined for a joyous conclusion.
Following the interval Vierne’s Symphony No.6 (1930), which was composed, mainly on the beach, at Menton on the French Riviera. The two themes of the first movement, full of drama, might illustrate the motion of the sea punctuated by incisive chords like waves hitting the beach. The ‘Aria’ second movement conjures up images of a walk with birds gently soaring; here the spatial placement of the swell and solo boxes were used to create dialogue between different reed-based contributions, In the Scherzo notes fly in all directions like mad traffic combined with incisive jazzy dances, and after such razzmatazz the Adagio is particularly dark and brooding, and then the Finale opens with joyful fanfares and moves into a toccata-like section underpinned by a bell-like idea on pedals, akin to a ship getting into full sail before reaching a virtuoso conclusion.
Cook had given us a wonderful programme and he added Vierne’s ‘Lied’ from Pièces en style Libre. This beautiful singing piece with its gentle strings, foundation stops and flutes was one of the first-ever to be recorded (by Guy Weitz at Westminster Cathedral in May 1928) and completed an inspiring evening of music-making.