It must be tempting to pitch into the start of an exuberant star-burst of a piece like Kenneth Leighton's Paean at full tilt, but Edward Turner, Derby Cathedral's Assistant Director of Music, adopted a more subtle approach - Derby, UK, 28 August 2019 - which allowed the music to sparkle rather than simply explode. It also left plenty of room for a steady build-up of tension, fuelled by the nervy rhythms of the middle section.
Franck's Chorale No 1 set off at an amiable andante, with the contrapuntal lines clear and distinct. Then comes a sudden wallop, twice, like running into some immoveable object, as two fortissimo statements rear up. Turner maintained the tension well through the built-in silences, before moving into the culminating section. Here, and earlier, Franck tends to meander a little, but any threat of structural incoherence was kept well in check.
Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele, BWV 654, is one of J S Bach's loveliest chorale preludes. The hard nasal tone of Turner's chosen solo stop was a bit startling, but it did allow us to savour the tendrils thrown out by the chorale melody.
To end with came vivid readings of five of Henri Mulet's Esquisses Byzantines. An unhurried unfolding of 'Nef' had a genuine sense of mystery in the subterranean motion beneath the slow upper parts, while 'Vitrail' came across as a gentle song without words. There was a sombre tranquility to 'Chapelle des Morts'. Did Mulet know Pictures from an Exhibition, I wonder, and is this an echo, conscious or otherwise, of Musorgsky's 'Catacombs'? In the ominous tolling monotone of 'Campanile' it's Debussy's submerged cathedral that comes to mind, although there are otherwise no obvious imitations of bell sounds.
After four slow, predominantly quiet movements we were ready for a change of pace. 'Tu es petra ...' ends the set with a racing toccata, Turner producing an apt welter of sound, without compromising clarity.
Copyright © 9 September 2019