Saturday evening saw two concerts in succession as part of Bach Day. The first was an organ recital, and the second featured orchestral transcriptions of Bach’s work.
As the first recital was a more informal, early-evening affair, the audience was treated to an introduction and an interview with the organist David Briggs, although the latter turned into more a stand-up comedy routine than a discussion of the music. We were told that the organ is more powerful than a symphony orchestra – indeed, it is probably as powerful as three or four symphony orchestras. What they didn’t tell us was that it’s the largest organ in the country, having snatched back the record from Liverpool Cathedral during the recent refurbishment, when they added some new pipes for that very reason.
Despite there being a huge catalogue of Bach organ works, only two of the pieces played were originally for the instrument. The final three works were other music by Bach arranged for organ, the very last by the organist himself. Some of the long German titles were unknown to me, but once I heard them it was, “Ah, it’s that one!”
The second Prom featured Bach’s music arranged for modern symphony orchestra. Several of the works were the same ones featured in the earlier Prom, linking the two concerts together nicely.
There were also two world premières of works by young composers, commissioned by the BBC. They were said to be inspired by Bach’s music. For the piece in the second half, Alissa Firsova’s Bach Allegro, this was clearly in evidence, as it was Bach with a modern twist (and unusual percussion instruments) but I couldn’t quite see much Bach in Tarik O’Regan’s Latent Manifest. That aside, both pieces were surprisingly listenable. Whenever I’ve experienced world premières at the Proms by more established composers, I’ve not felt I would rush to hear the work again. Yet both of the new works played in tonight’s concert would have been perfectly suited to either a concert hall or a film soundtrack, rather than to Radio 3 in the middle of the night. I certainly recommend listening to them via the link below.
The second Prom started with Stokowski’s well-known version of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which was notably absent from the organ recital. The concert ended as the first Prom began, with the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, in an arrangement by Respighi. This is a fantastic orchestration, with too many details to go into, but I liked, for example, the solo viola part at one point. Most importantly, Respighi still finds a use for the organ, even in his orchestral arrangement. Perhaps he realised he could never match the power of an instrument four times as mighty as the orchestra.
J. S. Bach Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582
J. S. Bach Chorale Prelude on ‘Wachet auf, rüft uns die Stimme’, BWV 645
J. S. Bach, arr. Stainton B. Taylor ‘Cantata No. 208 – Aria ‘Schafe können sicher weiden’
J. S. Bach, arr. Virgil FoxChorale ‘Komm, süsser Tod’, BWV 478
J. S. Bach, arr. David Briggs Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major
David Briggs organ
J. S. Bach, orch. Stokowski Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
J. S. Bach, orch. Henry Wood ‘Suite No. 6′ – Prelude; Finale
Tarik O’Regan Latent Manifest
Walton The Wise Virgins – suite
Grainger Blithe Bells
J. S. Bach, arr. Sargent Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 – Air
Alissa Firsova Bach Allegro
J. S. Bach, arr. Bantock Chorale Prelude ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns due Stimme’, BWV 645
J. S. Bach, arr. Respighi Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Andrew Litton conductor