David Hill Organ Recital

Sonata in A, Op.65/3
Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV544
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.20

David Hill (organ)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 24 February, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

This recital, part of the South Bank Centre’s Organ Recital Series, gave a near-final chance to hear the instrument in its current position prior to the Royal Festival Hall’s refurbishment. As a piece of post-war kitsch the instrument has few rivals: the pipes are painted in different colours, their layout is far from symmetrical and there is a horrible central façade of mock pipes (which presumably made some sense to the designers of the period). Its sound is so clear and lightweight that it verges on being antiseptic, and it can only be hoped that the planned changes will impart greater body and reverberation to its tone. Certainly the writers deserve an award for their programme notes; fifteen pages of brilliant text devoted to the organ’s design and the planned changes.

David Hill is a multi-faceted musician, a conductor, choirmaster and organist. But his organ skills, on the evidence of this recital, do not equal his achievements in other fields. Throughout there were finger-slips and a lumpy approach to rhythm and decoration. Mendelssohn’s Sonata had suitable Victorian gravity but the more animated central section was under-characterised and the tonal palette unvaried. In the Roger-Ducasse Pastorale, Hill made effective use of the organ’s capacity for spatial effects, but couldn’t disguise the fact that the music itself is pretty thin and undistinguished. In addition, much of Hill’s phrasing lacked fluidity. Bach’s B minor Prelude and Fugue was a very smooth, evenly-voiced affair, the Fugue in particular lacking impact and definition – an approach you might get away with in a chapel.

Vierne’s Symphony No.2 is a peculiar work: it is in sonata form, with the unifying element of two first-movement themes recurring throughout the piece. But there is also an incongruously massive second-movement chorale, at the end of which several members of the audience applauded! Hill’s finger-work here was more precise and he effectively delineated the two core themes and gave an eloquent account of the elegiac third movement, although the last movement’s march theme would have benefited from more attack.

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