Brighton Year-Round 2019
Nick Houghton this time plays just three composers: Handel, his Organ Concerto Op 4 No. 5 in F, Frank Bridge’s Three Pieces from 1905, and Theodore Dubois’ Toccata in G from 1889
Nick Houghton’s one of the most stylish organists around and today rather than explore more 17th century Iberian or 18th century British music, he gave us a simple fare of three composers: Handel, Bridge and Theodore Dubois. More on him later. This provides an unusual concentration for Houghton who tends to play about 15 composers chronologically.
Handel’s Organ Concert in f Op 4 No. 5 is, – as Houghton had just discovered – the A flat Trio Sonata from Handel’s Op 1, which th London publisher had almost piratically assembled. Handel couldn’t have made much and in any case this reworking is so thoroughly convincing it’s even better-known. It originally ended with the Alleluja chorus, but this sprightly work from 1735 (Walsh again cheerfully published them in 1738) does something different than the old sonata form.
Houghton brisked off with an opening Allegro, which shows the pastoral innocence kind of language then an Andante which chirps with counterpoint too, and a quite profound Adagio, with another Allegro to conclude. This is the grandest finale too, famous for having the original chorus but this is thrilling too, contrapuntal, energetic, memorable, and joyous in its chucked about counterpoint.
Brighton-born Frank Bridge now far better known than simply being Britten’s teacher, wrote organ works in 1905 and 1939 when wishing to explore keyboard writing again after a lapse of time when his publisher fo any years casually rejected ‘Gargoyles’ in 1928 and he simply never wrote a piano piece again.
The Three Pieces form a triptych. The Andante Moderato of the first piece is thrilling for its mildly outrageous harmonies and its very exploratory chromaticism, recognizably Edwardian perhaps but with something bold about to break out even here. It’s a fascinating work and Houghton adjusts to the denser Art Nouveau feel of this richer thicker harmonics. The Eventide-like Adagio in E flat is profound and the most Edwardian perhaps but Bridge never lets even slow movements get the better of his chromatic searching and you’d think you were on a trip to France perhaps and a Cavaillé-Coll organ. Houghton rises thrillingly to this dense dark atmosphere. It’s not a work I’ve heard him explore before and he should be hear din more of this.
The last movement an Elgarian Allegro con spirito in brilliant B flat Houghton describes as rather pompous. And of course Elgarian, full of circumstance too. Maybe, but it’s a Wurlitzer closer in tone to the exuberance of the time and still those harmonies nudge to the outrageous ends as one musician put it.
Finally Theodore Dubois (1837-1924). Sadly he’ll be forever remembered as a bad director of the Conservatoire who thwarted Ravel getting the Prix de Rome, and in 1905 even played dirty tricks saying Ravel was now too old – he’d been trying since 1901. Fauré resigned in protest, Dubois had to resign and Fauré himself had to return as Director.
None of that matters here, the Toccata in G major Dubois wrote in 1889, and its bustling neo-classical counterpoint doesn’t sound a world away from that other Toccata, Widor’s from the end of the 5th Organ symphony. It’s still very popular, a staple throughout the organ-playing world. It’s also memorable, inventive, bright and a fine analogue to Impressionist paintings Dubois might not quite have approved of. Exhilarating.