Saturday 18th September 2010
John Scott Whiteley: Organist of York Minster
- Allegro (from Symphonie VI, Op.42). Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)
- Passacaglia, Op.17 (2009). John Scott Whiteley (b.1950)
- Etude (Canon) in E Major, Op.56. Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
- Sonata Eroica, Op94. Joseph Jongen (1873-1953)
- Papillons Noirs (from 13 Preludes, Op.69). Joseph Jongen (1873-1953), trans. Whiteley
- Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548, 'The Wedge'. JS Bach (1685-1750)
Price: £8 (Season ticket available for £50, reducing the series per recital cost to £6.25)
Attendance: Around 400
This recital was of significant importance. Not only did it close the York Minster 2010 summer series, but it also closed a 35 year long career for John Scott Whiteley as Organist of York Minster, now Organist Emeritus. The large attendance, consisting of admirers from around the world, was testimony enough to the admiration and respect toward John and his playing from all who were present. With this in mind, there was a notably unsubtle feeling of anticipation before the recital began, as the Quire (and top of the nave) swelled up with excited audience members. Indeed several well respected Organists from York Minster both past and present, as well as from other places, could be seen amongst the sea of faces.
The Dean of York introduced the recital, and spoke in part about the release of the new CD, 'JSW Organ Works' from Regent Records, which was on sale after the recital. The Dean already had his copy, and held it up for all to see, which was surely a real statement of admiration towards John. John himself introduced the recital, and concluded his introduction with an amusing anecdote (with perfect comic timing) about when he met the composer Messian. He said that on the second of the two occasions Messian had written on a score of his that he hoped it would afford him at least a little joy. John concluded neatly with his hope that this recital would afford us all at least a little joy. Enthusiastic applause began as John made his way up the the console.
The finest moment, before the music began that is, had to be when John could be seen to arrive at the console, and close the door to it behind him, and we could see on the projection screen that he had no registrant or page turner. It was just him and the organ - fantastic. It would be impossible to single out any individual pieces from this recital, as they all had an individual significance, so I shall try to talk briefly about each. The Widor Allegro to begin, put a new meaning to the phrase 'a rousing introduction'. The use of the full organ at the opening chords, including the Tuba Mirabilis, was of immense effect. The dramatic passages that this piece includes in its 8 or so rather difficult minutes seemed to flow effortlessly and nimbly from John's fingers (and feet!), noted as everybody in the audience was completely transfixed on the screen (that including, I add, some of the countrys leading cathedral and concert organists)! The piece, delivered with such visible passion and energy, was clearly a favourite of the recitalist, and I personally marvelled in the use of counterpoint and colour in the music. More delighted applause broke the stunned silence after the final moment of decay in this amazing acoustic to acknowledge this phenomenal performance. Applause after every piece then occurred throughout, something that only Dr Francis Jackson otherwise seemed to get amongst the other recitalists of the series; perhaps that says enough.
The Passacaglia by Whiteley himself was very much a change in style, but was by no means unwelcome. The diversity and juxtaposition of styles and influences, as explained fully on the detailed and insightful programme notes for this piece that were given out as people entered, had both a rather varied and at times quite emotional effect, reaching a very dramatic conclusion which in part, perhaps, recalls earlier pieces by Whiteley. This is on the disc 'JSW Organ Works' from Regent Records, and is certainly worth buying to hear this yourself.
A couple of shorter and perhaps 'lighter' pieces also featured, including the Etude by Schumann and Papillons noirs (black butterflies) by Jongen. They were both enjoyed thoroughly, not least because it added some more variety to the programme, but also because we heard some more interesting tonal colours from the Minster organ - Whiteley clearly using his inestimable knowledge of the instrument and the building to great effect. The Jongen comes to an almost comic ending, but this was preceded by another 'great' organ work by the same composer, the mighty Sonata Eroica. This was a stunning 'tour de force' delivered magnificently by John Scott Whiteley who must be the worlds leading Jongen scholar, and was probably, just, my favourite piece of the night.
The final piece was the famous Bach 'Wedge'. Whilst speaking beforehand, John placed a bit of a disclaimer on this performance, saying that it wouldn't be exactly authentic, like on 'those funny TV programmes'. It turned out that the use of a bit of extra 'bulk', shall we say, in no way detracted from the quality of the music, which remained identifiably Bach, and at no point went over the top. In fact, it for me at least made the piece all the more enjoyable, and was ideally representative of John's mastery over the Minster organ and the wall of sound it is capable of producing. At the end of the recital, John received a long and enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience, which appropriately concluded both a landmark recital, and a landmark organist's career at York Minster.