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FringeReview UK 2019

John Collins Organ Recital

John Collins

Genre: Live Music, Music, Solo Performance

Venue: St Nicholas Church, Dyke Road, Brighton


Low Down

John Collins plays organ music from the Italian/Iberian seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with a strong accent for once on German music – with some British stops.


John Collins’ latest organ recital yet again sweeps through the Italian/Iberian seventeenth, then eighteenth century – with some German and British stops. organist at St George’s Worthing 1984-2017 he’s recently moved to Christ Church there.


We began with a fine reedy piece, by a composer I don’t know – and this is typical Collins too. Gisbert Steenwick d1679                                     ‘Puer Natus in Bethlehem’ so topical and though expired on January 6th Epiphany and post-Epiphany is still with us.


With Johann Pachelbel 1653-1706 we think of that Canon, in fact he wrote 80. This though s part of the great organ repertoire he left, in addition to his rediscovered vocal music. Two fine Chorale Preludes ‘Der Tag der ist so freudenreich’ and ‘Vom Himmel hoch der komm ich her ‘. These are beautiful pieces, and shows us what we’re missing every time we play that single Canon.


John Marsh 1756-1828 is known for some symphonies and concertos, a composer in the Arne and Boyce tradition born the same year as Mozart Kraus (revered by Haydn) and Thomas Linley whom Mozart thought a genius. All died young. Marsh who outlived many of the next generation wasn’t at all negligible. Corelli persisted a long time in European music. Composers like Avison were still distantly referencing Corelli, whose creation of the Concerto Grosso and much else ushered in the orchestras we know now. We have two of his arrangements.


So first Marsh arranged Corelli’s Christmas Concerto Grosso – the Pastorale from Concerto VIII. Again it has a Christmas and indeed Shepherds and Flocks connotation. That’s a but unusual – Vivaldi was one composer who followed more rigorously the dea of programme music, a few times; but it was pretty rare. It’s an infectious piece and here has the bright light stops you’d expect, shepherds’ pipes, infectious fun.


Then there’s a lollipop, with trumpet stops – Collins relishes the change of registers and the remarkable sound-world of St Nicholas. Indeed the organ’s ever sounded better than now. This is Marsh’s second arrangement: Handel’s ‘And the glory of the Lord’ from Messiah with its pealing choral singing translated into vertiginous stops.


Now Francesco Mariner 1720-89  is another mid-18th figure I’ve never heard of.   His Pastorella in F inhabits the same world as the Corelli, an attractive and far more rococo take on similar territory. It’s amazing how much fine British organ music of the 18th century before the Wesleys we’ve simply never heard of.


Amton Mestres wrote in the 18th century but we know little more. His Toccata Amorosa Pastoril in G again plays on the organ pastorale but here it’s a little spicier, not the pastoral F either, and rather more flirty. The Toccta too touches off a bright trumpety pace and plays with flourish and yet amorous landscape. It’s pretty clear what it evokes, rather gently.


The earlier baroque composer Franz Xaver Anton Murschhauser – his dates1663-1738 show he’s late-mid baroque. That’s a bit younger than Purcell and Allesandro Scarlatti, and 22 years before Handel Bach and Domenico Scarlatti for instance. Murschhauser‘s nearest German contemporary is the great Georg Bohm (1661-1733) who so influenced Bach as well as Buxtehude of whom more anon. His Variations on Last uns das Kindelein wiegen per imitationem Cucculi show how more secular impulses and indeed showmanship was entering the organ loft. There’s a beautiful flowing tempi and a gathering momentum. It’s a fine piece


Off to the new world though for the extraordinary Domenico Zipoli 1688-1726 who left Italy eventually to work in Paraguay. Famed for his keyboard work in Italy, some remarkable masses and other vocal works taking on board the local peoples’ musicality have been unearthed. His Pastorale is from his Italian days and shows the attractive composer he already was, on the brink of something remarkable.


Dietrich Buxtehude 1637-1707 is the composer Bach tramped two hundred miles to see. His organ compositions bestride the alter 17th century and into the 18th like seem colossus, After Bach he might be the greatest till modern times and Messaien and the French school as well as Reger. But he’s still one of the great three or four. We now know his other surviving work, but he’s still being discovered, the work that survived the kindling of Lubeck church stoves.


His Chorale Fantasia on ‘Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern’ furnished a brilliant affirmative close to a another superb recital. The contrapuntal wizardry and power brings us close to the zenith of organ playing. I could hear a whole recital of this music.