David Sanger, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

David Sanger looks almost too young to have won the prestigious St Albans Organ Competition as long ago as 1969. His playing in the Festival Hall's showcase series isn't often quite as light as the way he capers on and off that big stage, but for style it has kept up with fashion and the times.

Thus he really makes the Festival Hall's versatile organ sound like a real Baroque organ - pleasingly raw and raucous - in Bach's C major Prelude and Fugue, BWV547, and articulates its scales and arpeggios like stepping stones - some organists frown upon the word "detached" - instead of smooth tarmac or even water. (Of course, in a cathedral, the notes would fuse together because of the acoustic. Here, each note is exposed. I don't mind, except that the Prelude surely wants to swing, not stalk. On the other hand, the Fugue - again, with a very simple, strong choice of stops - flows nicely.)

The trouble with some of the programmes in this series is that each player feels obliged to show the full range of what he or she can do, which results in a strange kind of supermarket succession of composers. Thus, Hindemith follows Bach, with the first of his neo-classical Sonatas - sober utility pieces which reflect their date of composition (1937-40) all too grimly. It's the combination of pat, self-satisfied rhythmic shapes with sour harmony lacking any tension which makes them so depressing, but Sanger certainly pulls out all the stops, if you'll forgive the phrase, to make them attractive.

Even more stop-pulling and keyboard-hopping is involved in Sigfrid Karg-Elert's Valse Mignonne, a shamelessly exploitative celebration of the cinema organ, to which Sanger does full justice.

Flow, at last, comes with Max Reger's fulsome and formulaic Dankpsalm, cast in full-blown romantic organ apparel, and it shows that Sanger can, when he wants, produce legato even in the Festival Hall's comparatively dry acoustic.

That's a problem, too, in César Franck's music, which was designed to be heard in the resonant distance of a large church. In the Grand Pièce Symphonique, Sanger evokes the sonorities of a Romantic French organ quite miraculously, though his articulation in the complex orchestral textures of the first movement and the fast section of the second is sometimes a bit laboured. Still, the 20-minute symphonic span manages to hold, which is some achievement.

After it, Henri Mulet's Tu es Petra, purporting to evoke the quasi-Byzantine atmosphere of the Sacré-Coeur, in Montmartre. The piece makes an effective if conventional finale. Described by its composer as a carillon, it's actually a typically agitated French toccata in perpetual motion; it seems purposeful for a time, though at the end you wonder whether it ever had a destination in view, or whether its object was simply the excitement of energetic movement.