Jane Parker-Smith at the Royal Festival Hall organ

Marcel Lanquetuit
Toccata in D
Liszt, transcribed Jean Guillou
Orpheus, S672a
Andreas Willscher
Toccata alla rumba (Allegro barbaro)
Healey Willan
Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue in E-flat minor
Symphonie No.2 in E minor, Op.20

Jane Parker-Smith (Royal Festival Hall organ)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 3 October, 2016
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Jane Parker-SmithPhotograph: janeparkersmith.comJane Parker-Smith has been in the organist premier league for longer than it may be gallant to remember, and her playing still comes packed with panache and a sense of engagement. There is also an inimitable mystique and glamour to her performance style, enhanced in this recital by her sparkling Queen of the Night gown, with a train draped over the organ bench, which meant, inevitably, that most of her nifty pedal work went unobserved.

Her programme was predominantly from the early twentieth century, but it was the Liszt transcription, made in 1976, that sounded the most contemporary.Marcel Lanquetuit has the unenviable distinction of being known for one work. His Toccata, written in 1926, is very much in the style of that other Toccata, by Widor, in the way of punchy rhythms, a resonant pedal presence, and the sort of Cavaillé-Coll brilliance that can give you goose-bumps. Reeds spat, mixtures sizzled, the strapping full swell was like a beast straining for release from the closed swell-box, and Parker-Smith’s dashing account easily took command of the music’s power games.

Given that Liszt’s large-scale organ music is orchestral in concept, it is odd that Jean Guillou’s transcription of Orpheus doesn’t always work. The Festival Hall’s acoustic is partly to blame, but some individual detail, such as an arpeggio accompaniment and a staccato pedal feature, stood out too prominently. Parker-Smith, though, had a clear idea of the music’s slow-burn progress to a typically Lisztian climax, the seraphic close worked its magic, and it was a pleasure to hear so many solo stops deployed so effectively.

Healey Willan was a powerful, conservative presence on high-Anglican church music in Toronto for most of the first half of the last century, and his Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue, from 1916, is unashamedly late-Romantic in style, with a whiff or two of dance rhythm erupting in the Passacaglia. Parker-Smith’s reading was broadly conceived, and some of her quieter registration had a familiar, English, upholstered sound. She invested the Passacaglia variations with abundant detail and clarity, and the massive ‘Funeral March’ variant was saturated with Wagnerian weight. Before this she had played another toccata, the Toccata alla rumba (1981) by the German organist/composer Andreas Willscher, with yet more blasts of sonic splendour from the instrument. It’s another great display firework, and Parker-Smith went for its Allegro barbaro tempo-marking in a big way.

She seemed most at home with the scale and spirit of Louis Vierne’s Symphonie No.2, and her integration of its French grandeur and moments of intimacy sounded unforced and spacious in her cohesive rendition. The Harrison & Harrison instrument reproduced the Cavaillé-Coll ferocity and weight of sound with considerable swagger. There was an attractive encore, Rondo alla Latina by Hans-André Stamm.

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