Celebrity Organ recital by John Scott

By Susanna Jones

Even among musicians, never mind the general run of humanity, organists are surely a race apart in their ability to multi-task at superhuman levels, producing whole orchestras of sound single-handed. So it was a huge privilege to hear the distinguished organist John Scott at the console of the Hereford organ last Friday. He chose a wonderfully varied programme, spanning the organ repertoire from Bach to a world première piece by Anthony Powers.

Mendelssohn's Overture to his oratorio, St Paul, arranged for organ by W T Best, in which a quiet chorale on Wachet Auf builds to a triumphant 'tutti' climax made a fitting introduction to a programme which explored the full range of this wonderful instrument. After the Mendelssohn, the items were grouped in three different 'moods' , beginning with three great pieces by Bach, Mozart and Franck in the sombre keys of C minor, F minor and B minor. Bach's imposing Passacaglia and Fugue was probably intended as a tribute to Buxtehude, who had died in 1707; Mozart's K594 was a commissioned memorial composed in the extraordinary intensity of his late style and Franck wrote his Trois Chorales in the last year of his life. John Scott's performance emphasised the elegiac character of these moving works.

Next came an interesting insight into Bach's Orgelbüchlein, originally conceived on the not-so-little scale of 164 chorales. John Scott played contributions by Anthony Powers and Cecilia McDowall (written to fill a couple of the 118 gaps in Bach's project), beside two of Bach's own 'büchlein' pieces. It was interesting to note the influence of and homage to the master in these attractive and contrasting modern compositions.

Any misconceptions (unlikely in this audience of obvious enthusiasts) that organists are a staid and nerdy bunch of obscurely gifted souls, would surely have been blown away by Edwin Lemare's Concert Fantasia as the recital moved into the lighter vein of mischievous improvisation.

Improvisation is also at the heart of Dupré's tremendously colourful set of 10 variations on the French carol, Noel Nouvelet - an ideal vehicle for displaying the Hereford' organ's phenomenal range and beautiful character, from the twinkling Glockenspiel stop in variation 7 to the bright toccata finale with imperious pedal theme.

It is hard to find the right superlatives to describe the excellence of this recital, but the abiding memory is of great admiration for the virtuoso John Scott and for Father Willis's masterpiece, the magnificent Hereford organ.