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Brighton Year-Round 2020

John Collins Organ Recital

John Collins

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: Chapel Royal, North Road, Brighton


Low Down

John Collins played the Chapel Royal organ in a selection of lesser-known very attractive Iberian and German organ composers. Next recital in Brighton will be March 25 at St. Nicholas.


John Collins is widely known as the doyen of organist on th south coast. He’s also famed for his theming rare baroque and other musics. He has a particularly happy relationship with Iberian organ music – and how often do you hear that? Quite often with Collins, and it’s revelatory.

Collins started with two Tentos (or Ricercars, meaning ‘to search out’ like ‘research’) by Manuel Rodrigues Coelho circa 1555-1635. They’re from his Flores de Musica published in Lisbon in 1620, the first keyboard music in open score in Portugal. It contains 24 Tentos and a lot of liturgical music. The Ricercar got into its stride shortly before this point, in the late Renaissance and mostly early baroque period – say 1580-1630ish.

Like Ricercars the Tento form’s an elaborate contrapuntal affair, with canons and fugues which Collins relishes and you can hear rising and falling, contra-pointed with the stops. The first is really long, with a swooping insistence and build: like terracing harmonies with an ebb and flow of the Ricercar form, which has a few formal spikes.

The second Tento – much shorter – closes with a section in triple time. It’s quite chirpy rounding off a glimpse into this attractive composer.

Then Collins launched into a Toccata and Ricercar on the 6th Tone with a chanson setting from a posthumous print of 1591 by Sperindio Bertoldo 1530-70 of  St. Mark’s, Venice: these being the first Italian Toccatas in print. It’s fascinating, since toccatas were one of the great Italian standbyes and spread fast. They’re a powerful pair, quiet serious and prone to a tint of late Renaissance melancholy.

Next up were a Ricercata or Fugue from a set of 32 and 2 Canzonas, these two using high pitched stops, from 19 by Gottlieb Muffat, 1690-1770 born in Vienna, son of Georg (1653-1704), or Georgie Moffatt: the Concerto Grosso-composing son of Scottish parents, born the same year as Corelli and you can tell it. Both Muffats were important. The father’s music is famed because we still hear those concertos. His organ-composing son though is audibly someone who lived into the gallant rococo style, spanning baroque and classical, and his palate’s even brighter. They’re attractive fillets of white and gold, straight out of a Dresden party.

Collins finished with two Toccatas (Spanish spelling) by Francesco Mariner, 1720-89 who worked at Barcelona cathedral. No I’ve never heard of him either. The first was a Toccata Pastoril in a dotted 6/8 using the Hautboy or oboe stop full of a galumphing faux-rusticity. The second was a Toccata para Clarins, a piece of fun for the trumpet stops, bright with the dawn of the age of reason: so he hoped. It’s like an 18th century Lefebure-Wely – and his Sortie in B flat seems just over the horizon.

As ever a masterly, absorbing introduction to unknown composers – all served with a bright musicianship with a satisfying finish.