A Fine Balance

MIKE WHEELER listens to Thomas Hawkes playing J S Bach, Percy Fletcher, Pietro Yon, Johannes Brahms, C S Lang and Louis Vierne on the Compton Organ at Derby Cathedral


To compensate for Derby Cathedral's cancelled summer organ recitals, a series of Friday lunchtime events is under way - under strict COVID conditions - running until the end of November 2020.

Thomas Hawkes, former Organ Scholar at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, and currently Graduate Organist at St Edmund's School Witley, Surrey, began his programme on 9 October 2020 with J S Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 533. One of Bach's more sombre Preludes and Fugues, it got a purposeful reading, resisting the temptation to pile on the grand rhetoric in the final moments.

The second of the Twelve Divertimenti by Italian-American composer and organist Pietro Yon was originally titled Humoresque 'L'Organo primitivo', but it's better known by its sub-title, 'Toccatina for Flute'. In Hawkes' hands (and feet), it bubbled away happily, before the first of two chorale preludes from Brahms' Op 122 set, composed during the last summer of his life, brought a complete change of mood. 'Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen', probably the best-known of them, was a moment of calm introspection, as was 'O Welt, ich muß dich lassen'.

Thomas Hawkes
Thomas Hawkes

In between them came Percy Fletcher's Festival Toccata. In his introduction Hawkes called it 'a slight vulgarity', but there was nothing vulgar about the performance. The fanfares surrounding the central scherzo were brassy without being overbearing, and the scherzo itself - quiet, fleet-footed - was a neat link back to Yon's Toccatina.

After the second Brahms chorale prelude, another well-known English organ lollipop, C S Lang's Tuba Tune, bounced along, a kindred spirit to the outer sections of the Fletcher.

Hawkes ended with one of Vierne's Pièces de Fantaisie - 'Cathédrales', from Suite No 4. It moves between the monumental and the mysterious (it's very tempting to nick-name it, with a nod to Debussy, 'The Half-Submerged Cathedral'), and although the climax came close to sonic overload at times, those two expressive poles were kept in a fine balance.

Copyright © 18 October 2020 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK




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