Prom 68: Cameron Carpenter plays Bach & Mahler on the Royal Albert Hall organ

Bach
Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV542
Cameron Carpenter
Étude-Fantasy for Pedals on the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 in G major, BWV1007
Improvisation on the Bourrée from Bach’s Cello Suite No.3 in C, BWV1009
Bach and Mahler, arr. Carpenter
‘Syncretic’ Prelude and Fugue in D

Cameron Carpenter (Royal Albert Hall organ)


Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 2 September, 2012
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Cameron Carpenter. Photograph: Michael HartTwenty-four hours later, here we were again. Cameron Carpenter, 31, returned for his second BBC Prom with more music by and inspired by J. S. Bach, and what proved a mixed and ill-judged programme. Carpenter was at his best when playing “the old wig’s” music ‘straight’, not in his own arrangements. Thus, BWV542 found Carpenter relishing the free form of the Fantasia, and giving its opening a Gothic treatment, with powerful and immediate playing. Whilst the Fugue was too weighed down, his command of the instrument was spellbinding, though the big-sudden-bang close – and he does seem to like these – was misjudged.

Carpenter’s Improvisation on the ‘Bourrée’ from the C major Cello Suite was questionable for its purpose. He only occasionally summoned this organ’s vast possibilities of dynamics, colours and registrations: the choice of the cello’s dance hardly helped his cause, Carpenter not taking on its jaunty ideas, and proving limited over eight minutes. However, this was nothing to the sheer awfulness of his preceding Étude-Fantasy for Pedals, based on another movement for unaccompanied cello, one of Bach’s most sublime, and recognisable, creations. From Carpenter, the purity and beauty of the original is destroyed in favour of the circus tent and gaudy glitter.

The ‘Syncretic’ Prelude and Fugue (syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, a sort of bridge-building exercise) binds first Carpenter’s re-working of the ‘Chaconne’ from Bach’s D minor violin Partita (BWV1004) and then Carpenter’s transcription of the finale (part fugal) of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony; some fifteen years ago Carpenter transcribed the whole symphony for organ but put it aside, finding what he had done too difficult to play. The Chaconne works quite well in this treatment: Carpenter gave it a big and bold Victorian soundworld, and elsewhere explored the notes in revealing fashion. However, the transcription of the Mahler, in this performance, swallowed-up Mahler’s meticulous writing. As an encore, Carpenter had fun with the Jeeves and Wooster TV series theme tune.

Carpenter is a very talented organist, and an imaginative arranger, but this second Prom proved one too many.



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