Proms 2011 – Judith Bingham’s Everlasting Crown/organ recital by Stephen Farr

Prelude ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen’ [arr. Winterberger]
Chorale Prelude ‘Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott’, BWV721
Judith Bingham
The Everlasting Crown [world premiere]

Stephen Farr (organ)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 17 July, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Stephen Farr. Photograph: KT BruceOrgan recitals are a regular feature at the BBC Proms, enabling this most impressive of instruments to unfurl its technical and expressive possibilities to the furthest reaches of the Royal Albert Hall acoustic. Well established among the younger generation, Stephen Farr here offered a diverse programme which played to his strengths.

Breezily prolific before his untimely demise at the outset of World War Two, Jehan Alain pursued an uninhibited take on matters spiritual, scintillatingly to the fore in Litanies (1937) – its jazzy interplay of registers and motifs an ideal entrée. Quite a contrast to Liszt’s Prelude (1859) on Bach’s chorale ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen’, probably best-known today in its organ incarnation (arranged by Alexander Winterberger) and whose grief is heightened by a simmering anger such as has barely abated by the close. After which the unworldly musing of an original Chorale Prelude by J. S. Bach could only provide consolation: its hieratic juxtaposition of theme and accompaniment may be so singular in the composer’s output as to have made many commentators doubt its authenticity, but the aura that emanates from its so doing can only be described as Bachian in spirit if not thereby conception.

Royal Albert Hall organ. Photograph: Chris ChristodoulouThe programme was dominated by the premiere of Judith Bingham’s ambitious cycle The Everlasting Crown (2011). Inspired by a volume describing the provenance of a number of (in)famous precious stones, the work evokes eight of these (the last two interlinked in music as they are by association) over seven movements that deploy the full range available from an instrument of this scale. That said, opportunities for display are fairly outweighed by passages both inward and speculative – often brought together within the same movement – so that the whole sequence feels appreciably more intricate and involving than its overall conception might suggest. Certainly Farr had the measure of its diversity – culminating in a darkly impassioned evocation of ‘The Timur Ruby and the Koh-i-Noor’, which set the seal on this substantial and increasingly absorbing undertaking. This first outing will not be its last.

That the Bingham came in at slightly under its allotted duration meant Farr had time for an encore in the guise of further Alain. Alternately withdrawn and sinister, his Deuxième prélude profane (1934) presented this composer in a very different light, while making for an arrestingly understated close to a worthwhile concert.

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