Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV565
Canonic Variations on ‘Vom Himmel Hoch’, BWV769
Prelude in E flat, BWV552 (St Anne)
Chorale Prelude on Vater unser im Himmelreich, BWV682
Chorale Prelude on Aus tiefer Noth schrei ich zu dir, BWV687
Clavierübung III – Duetto in F, BWV803
Fugue in E flat, BWV552 (St Anne)
Simon Preston (organ)
Reviewed by: Graham Rogers
Reviewed: 24 August, 2008
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
The three-Prom “Bach Day” celebrating the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach, each concert dedicated to a different area of his extensive output, began with an organ recital by veteran Bach specialist Simon Preston.
The most impressive aspect was Preston’s use of the colossal Royal Albert Hall instrument: he was not afraid to employ spine-tingling muscular sonorities which, while grander in scale than anything Bach would have experienced, kept within stylistic boundaries and were entirely appropriate to the occasion. Preston’s poise and sense of drama at the outset of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor (probably not by Bach or even for the organ!) produced a shiver of excitement that overcame any sense of over-familiarity in this most famous of all ‘organ’ works.
Passages of this, and the other big Toccata and Fugue on the programme (the great ‘St Anne’), blazed magisterially – exhilarating power never compromising the organ’s crystal clarity; but for much of the time Preston’s academic approach lacked sparkle and imagination, resulting in an unnecessarily dry experience. The Canonic Variations on ‘Vom Himmel Hoch, though sensitively scaled, rarely stepped off the page from intense contrapuntal complexity into engaging live music.
Preston made admirably light work of the fiendish chromaticism of the Chorale Prelude on ‘Vater unser im Himmelreich’, but technical brilliance was not enough to impress by itself. The lumbering rendition of the Chorale Prelude on ‘Aus tiefer Noth schrei ich zu dir’ lacked charm.Melodic lines were often uneven, and many of the fugal passages suffered from a woolly bass line, which desperately needed beefing-up.
The performances could also have been enlivened with more variances in registration – though clearly defined, the flamboyant and extensive ‘St Anne’ Prelude came perilously close to monotony. The accompanying Fugue, separated by other pieces on this occasion, made a stirring climax to an enjoyable but mildly disappointing concert.