Classical: Talk about pulling out the stops...

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The Independent Culture


I THINK some musical wag once wrote a concerto for "Page-Turner". It's one of the most underrated roles in music-making. I know virtuoso soloists who tremble at the thought of doing it for a colleague. Think, then, how infinitely more terrifying is the lot of the stop-puller at organ recitals, a task rendered obsolete on electrified, and computerised, instruments, and even then...

Nicolas Kynaston had his assistant (as usual, uncredited) dancing in his recital at St Andrew's, Holborn, on Thursday evening. It was part of the Royal College of Organists' series celebrating Italian music, and Kynaston had chosen mainly music of a very colourful orchestral character, full of swelling fluctuations of volume and stop changes, only possible on this all-mechanical organ with the aid of an athlete.

Not that Kynaston was idle. But as a seasoned virtuoso of over 40 years, he moves no more than needed,even when his feet travel as fast as a footballer's. At 15 he studied in Italy with the legendary Fernando Germani, and this was a tribute to his teacher, who died last year aged 92.

Three unpublished Germani pieces were unassuming, transient, with a slightly French flavour. His Toccata, Op 12, was more imposing: steadily moving harmonies articulated in rippling motion, like a stream becoming a powerful river.

An older Italian organist and composer, Marco Enrico Bossi, was represented by a grandly fugal Offertoire, its tonal and dynamic shading constantly changing, at least in this performance, to the point of overload. That also applied to Bossi's Scherzo and "Colloquio con le Rondini", though as designs in registration, or "orchestration" on the organ, Kynaston had planned his performances with consummate skill.

The only detail given on Ulisse Matthey was his dates: 1876-1947. His organ "elaboration" of Bach's famous Chaconne, originally for solo violin, kept Kynaston's hand and feet busy, with plenty of work left over for the stop-puller. And Matthey's Studio di Concerto was a substantial single movement, fulsomely romantic, with a very active pedal that made a rousing, if anonymous, finale.

The work that seemed to match the versatile St Andrew's organ most closely was Kynaston's opener, an arrangement of Corelli's third Concerto Grosso by the 18th century Englishman Thomas Billington. Kynaston is a past master at bringing large colourful canvases to life, but here he showed a different skill - in tightly controlled playing with a real spring in its step.