Embleton Playing Day with David Sanger
June 2003

Review by Clarabella

It was good to welcome four new players at this event, as well as two who have played previously and were eager to come back for more. All the players spent time that afternoon practicing on David's beautiful Bevington organ - and for most it can take a bit of time to get used to.

Sheila Wheeler, organist at St Bega, Bassenthwaite, started things off with arrangements of Handel's March from Scipio and Air from Rinaldo. Normally, she plays a harmonium, so `Bevy' was something quite different. David complimented Sheila on her good manual changes. Her technique was to cover the right notes with the right fingers before playing them. But he said that someone tapping their foot to the music would feel uncomfortable. How many of us struggle to keep a steady pulse and accurate rhythm!? `Keep the foot-tappers happy!' we were told.

In the Air from Rinaldo, David thought that the chords should be longer and calmer. The left hand smudging in bar 4 was corrected, and it was noted that the right hand notes in that bar should come off at the same time. And `Play from the knuckle', rather than using arm movement.

Alice Sheppard, aged 12, played Papageno's Aria from Mozart's Magic Flute very clearly and confidently. Alice plans to do Grade 5 organ next year, and David commented that her playing was very promising. For the Rall marking at bars 15-16, David suggested that Alice should especially use the left hand semiquavers in bar 16 to mark the slowing down. And care was needed to be quick enough when the demisemiquavers come in shortly afterwards.

Again, excessive arm movement was pointed out. We were told that concert pianists playing Romantic repertoire often need a lot of arm movement, but that it is different at the organ. When Bach was playing, he apparently made so little movement that it was difficult to tell that he was actually playing, and one of his techniques was to draw his fingers towards him while playing.

Yet another organ arrangement followed - this time by no less an arranger than J S Bach, with his organ version of a Vivaldi violin concerto. Doug Scott played the first movement from the Concerto in a minor. A wonderful piece of music, it is not one to be approached lightly, as there are many difficulties to be surmounted. In the first three chords, we were reminded that care needs to be taken that the notes of the chords are depressed together and released together, the latter being just as important as the former. And the actual length of the chords should be about half the written length.

David told us that the `common touch' in this period was to have a tiny space between notes. The right hand semiquavers in bar 1, for example, needed to show this. He suggested an alternative toes only pedalling in contrast to Doug's heel and toeing for bar 2. For example, for the quaver in bar 1 and the dotted quaver in bar 2, pedalling this right toe, right toe would make the A a definite upbeat. In bars 71-78 the pedal notes needed to be shorter, and the first one of each four stressed more. The common tendency of speeding up when the solo comes in was also pointed out.

Bars 55-60 contain some rather high pedal notes, and there was the firm instruction: `You can't move up the bench when playing at the top of the pedal board - you must stay in the middle!' Someone once told me to imagine playing a big Thuringian organ stuck in a central hollow of a straw-covered bench made by a big Thuringian organist!

Tamsin Brown, a relatively new member, played Bach's wonderful `St Anne' Fugue in Eb. The original chorale on which this is based we were told is actually not the St Anne hymn tune we all know, but another chorale (O Herzens Angst). Tamsin, who was not used to playing on tracker action, very bravely played the plenum with coupled manuals. David told us that an independent pedal is ideal, but often not possible on British organs. Baroque organs, with their pedal towers, sometimes have as many stops on the pedal as on the Hauptwerk (Great), and sometimes no pedal coupler. Tamsin was advised not to pull out the very loud pedal Trombone near the end, as this upsets the balance.

Again, the `common touch' was discussed - every note being articulated. Before starting the piece, David advised thinking of the last fugue, to help start at the right tempo. For the second fugue, David suggested playing minim equals minim, though the tempo relation is debated. For the four note figure in the first fugue, David thought that more detail could be brought out to make it more interesting. In the second fugue in the first few bars, one should stress the first of each group of six quavers. In the final section, he advised avoiding slurring together of the first two of the three quaver groups, and to remember that the stress is on the fourth quaver of the subject.

Vaughan Williams' beautiful Rhosymedre played by Anne Emmett followed. She obviously enjoyed playing this. David pointed out that, in contrast to the preceding pieces, this one required seamless legato and use of finger substitution. For example, 4,1 to 5,2 for the sixths in bar 1. And he advised using a bit more sound for the solo line than Anne was doing, and in bar 41 to take some notes from the left hand stave in the right hand.

Chris Price then played the Benedictus of Reger. David said he thought this was the finest miniature of Romantic organ music. Chris was using the Straube edition (Peters 1949) which David had some reservations about. He said that Reger was desperate to get his music played and published, and that Straube changed a lot of Reger's music, `improved' it, and Reger could do nothing about it. But they remained friends till later life.

Reger's metronome mark was crotchet equals 64, but Straube wanted it played at quaver equals 72. Reger's metronome marks are often too fast, and he was always trying to get organists of his day to play faster. David stressed the importance of smooth crescendi and diminuendi and that Reger had many aids, for example, the Rollschwelle. In bar 6, he thought Chris could `milk' the harmonies more, and in bar 7, where the end of one phrase is the beginning of the another, he suggested that the right hand A could be tied. And in the top line of the last page where Straube indicates sempre ritardando, Reger actually asks for piu vivace!

Our Chairman's keenly awaited speech at the end had our sides aching with laughter. And, as always, both players and audience came away that night having learnt much and enjoyed the evening tremendously. Our great thanks to David for inviting the CSO to his home each year and for making this event so worthwhile.

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