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Peter Wright, currently Interim Director of Music at Ripon Cathedral, chose Vierne's Symphony No 4 as his contribution to Derby Cathedral's postponed commemoration of the composer's 150th anniversary – Derby, UK, 28 July 2021.
He produced an aptly celebratory opening, Simon Preston's Alleluias. It packs a lot of expressive variety into its short duration, from the opening fanfare, alternating with a more jaunty idea; soft, withdrawn music contrasted with jagged dance rhythms. Wright had the measure of it all.
J S Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 548, is known as the 'Wedge', thanks to the continuously widening intervals of the Fugue theme. Wright ensured the melodic lines were clear to follow in the Prelude, which he kept ticking along nicely. Bach's stream of invention in the Fugue was authoritatively laid out.
Herbert Howells' six Psalm Preludes are each based on a specific psalm verse. For the first of them – Set 1 No 1 – this is Psalm 34 verse 6: 'Lo, the poor crieth'. The opening is as sombre as that suggests. Wright allowed the sudden opening-up to really take off, and the climax properly blazed, dying back to a delectable soft purr at the end.
Sigfrid Karg-Elert is better-known inside organ circles than outside. Valse Mignonne is the second of his Three Pieces, Op 142, 'Mignonne' translates as 'pretty', 'dainty', 'cute', even. Following an aptly tentative opening, Wright ensured that the waltz itself lived up to the suggested translations, and the final cadence was charming.
Vierne's Fourth Symphony is a real blockbuster; 'juggernaut' you might even say, and it does have a tendency to outstay its welcome. But Peter Wright's alert, vivid characterisation helped to maintain interest. The Prélude is based on a dark pedal theme which here sounded suitably brooding. The second movement's assertive response includes a sturdy fugue, given robust treatment, though there doesn't seem much anyone can do to lighten the increasingly dense textures towards the end.
The Menuet, though a touch over-long, is a gentle interlude, with Wright finding some attractively reedy colours for the trio section. As the title 'Romance' indicates, the fourth movement is gently song-like, at least to begin with. As its world grew darker, Wright ensured that the main melody stood out clearly. In the Finale he maintained a strong current throughout, and in his hands it achieved a kind of troubled exaltation at the end.
Copyright © 6 August 2021
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