Archive for August, 2012

Review of Sarah McDonald’s organ recital in Ely Cathedral on Sunday 12th August 2012

August 13, 2012

It was Sunday, Ely Cathedral was warm and inviting, the ticket collectors absent and the Nave looked longer and more impressive than ever. As we took our seats near the octagon, we were greeted with a screen showing the Ely Cathedral organ. As the French family in front of me gestured – wow what a magnificent instrument! The father pointed in amazement mouthing ‘four’ to his children as they looked at the four gleaming manuals.

Jonathan Lilley, Assistant Organist at Ely Cathedral introduced Sarah after which Sarah herself introduced the pieces she was going to perform. Her enthusiasm was immediately apparent. The first pieces she played were positively charming and demonstrated some of the amazing variety of sounds of the organ. In the Three Choral Preludes: the main tunes were treated in a number of different ways by John Sebastian Bach. The first, ‘Gelobt seist du, Jesu Christ BWV723’  rang clearly with a strong trumpet tune, the second ‘Jesu, meine Zuversicht BWV728’ contrasted strongly with very soft, highly ornamented decoration and the third ‘Allein Gott in der Hoh selt Her BWV711’ featured  a fascinating virtuosic continuum in the left hand.

These were followed by a mammoth work that gave Sarah the opportunity to do what most of us would dearly love to do: be seated at Ely Cathedral organ let all the stops out (as it were) and let the organ sounds fill the cathedral. It was obvious Sarah thoroughly enjoyed performing this major work. Her assured technique, her understanding of the instrument and the way in which she exploited its amazingly varied levels of volume and tonal quality created a most effective performance of this  work: Symphonie Gothique op.70. by Widor. In this composition, the first movement, ‘Moderato’, a menacing atmosphere developed into glorious full blown climaxes. The second movement: ‘Andante sostenuto’ was positively angelic, with constant tuneful sounds of the flute.  The ‘Allegro’ that followed leapt into the fray with its striking opening melody and its lively rich texture. In the final ‘Moderato – Allegro’ strong reeds penetrated the Cathedral and the variations demonstrated amazing possibilities of composition and effects ranging from extremely quiet and delicate moments, rapid runs, masses of thematic strands to moments of exquisite simplicity and purity such as those of the final gentle, traditional chords.

This was a very impressive recital. Next week David Humphreys from Peterborough Cathedral will be playing.