Friday 11 September 2015. Not a note commemorating the day the modern world changed forever. Christian Wilson is a England based organist, so perhaps that’s not so unusual.
Instead we got an interesting programme (his biography makes a point of his innovative and unorthodox programming).
Christian Wilson’s is youngish, but his CV is impressive, including a degree investigating the pre-Reformation English organ. For those who are a bit hazy about history, the English Reformation began in the 1530s with to King Henry VIII who wanted to divorce Anne Boleyn because she bore him only a girl child. He had already had his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled by the Catholic Church. The Renaissance dates are generally regarded as being from AD1300-1700, culminating musically just before Bach cemented the organ into the period known as the Baroque era.
Wilson’s first half of the programme began and ended with the Prelude and Fugue in E flat (‘St Anne’) BMV552, the latter item which St John members will recognise as a variation of the tune for our Order Hymn, a poetic variation on Isaac Watts’ O God, our help in ages past. The common metre hymn tune was first composed by William Croft in 1708 while he was the organist at the church of St Anne, hence the name of the tune. It is this that gives the E flat major work the nickname St Anne.
The virtuoso performance which we heard in the second half of the concert was muted for the first half, but don’t mistake that for a lack of musicality in the first half. We were treated to two works by Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) a Welsh composer who would have worked through the reign of Henry VIII, although he was Worcester based and didn’t really come to royal attention until the time of James I. William Byrd’s The Carmen’s Whistle charmed the audience and then Felix Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue in B flat (Opus 35/6) sealed the musical magic.
The second half began with a work, Fantasia 150, by Richard Pantcheff (1959-), the resident composer and director of music at St George’s Anglican Church, Parktown, where the concert was held. I thoroughly enjoyed this work, which held its own in a programme of works by some big names in western classical music.
This was followed by the gentle Gammal fabodpsalm fran Dalarna by Oskar Lindberg (1887-1955) and the Fantasia and Fugue on BACH by Franz Liszt.
The highlight of the concert for me was two Astor Piazzollo (1921-1992) transcriptions arranged by the organist. Oblivion and La Muerte del Angel. Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla was an Argentine tango composer, bandoneon player and arranger. His oeuvre revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style termed nuevo tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music. The Johannesburg based pianist, Malcolm Nay, introduced me to the work of Piazzolla in the 1990s, and I was entranced. Certainly Christian Wilson made me realise that Piazzolla on the organ provides the same upliftment that Piazzollo on any other instrument provides.
The concert ended with the Toccata on ‘Kings Lynn’ by Francis Pott (1957-)
Christian Wilson is famous for having transcribed the 24 Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich. I do wish that the people who do the programming at St George’s would take the brave step of giving audiences a musically meaty programme of works such as these (or a Messiaen programme).
I do enjoy these concerts greatly and am looking forward to the next Gala Concert which will be Choral and Organ Classics performed by the Choir of St George with Marnus Greyling on organ and Richard Pantcheff directing the choir. This will take place on Saturday 7 November 2015 at 7.30 pm.