Alexander Binns' first full-length organ recital as Derby Cathedral's Director of Music was a programme of two halves, English and French - Derby, UK, 24 July 2019.
Alfred Hollins' Concert Overture No 1 is a substantial piece, strongly influenced by Mendelssohn but with plenty of individual touches, such as the bold, rhetorical opening punctuated by echo effects, and the ease with which the main allegro theme later becomes a fugue subject. Binns kept it all from sounding overly sectional.
As the former assistant Director of Music at St Edmundsbury Cathedral he is committed to championing the music of its one-time Director, Harrison Oxley. He steered Oxley's Elegy from its soft opening, through a climax with a window-rattling pedal part, and subsequent sombre meditation, to a lullaby-like conclusion. By contrast, his Clarinet Tune is a pleasant, airy miniature, Binns heightening its vein of slightly Elgarian whimsy. Reginald Goss-Custard's jolly Chelsea Fayre received an appropriately bouncy reading.
The French half of the programme began with Duruflé's Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain, his tribute to a younger colleague killed in the Second World War. Binns made something secretively scurrying of the Prelude's opening, allowed the quotations from Alain's Litanies to stand out bright and clear, and launched the Fugue with the kind of easy-going motion that actually suggested plenty of energy in reserve. And so it turned out, with every change of tone-colour and every layer of additional weight meticulously placed.
Echoing Oxley's Elegy, Joseph Bonnet's In Memoriam Titanic, the first of his 12 Pieces, Op 10, is to all intents and purposes a fantasia on the hymn-tune 'Nearer my God, to Thee', which the ship's band is said to have been playing as it went down. Binns' broodingly atmospheric opening was allowed to expand in its own good time to a fierce, dark climax, and descend gently to its sombre ending.
César Franck's Grande Pièce Symphonique can, as Alexander Binns suggested, claim to be the start of the French organ symphony repertoire. In spite of a nagging feeling that it is just a bit longer than it really needs to be, it's a convincing several-movements-in-one structure that clearly owes a lot to Liszt's example. Binns maintained continuity between the sections, while ensuring that the more rhetorical moments made their full effect, and setting the central scherzo spinning. The way he laid out the scraps of material at the start of the finale teased our curiosity as to where it was all leading. The answer came with a faster tempo leading, predictably, perhaps, to a climactic fugue and a triumphant ending, all delivered by Binns with panache.
Copyright © 5 August 2019