Piet Kee still in good shape

Westminster Cathedral, London

Adrian Jack
Thursday 22 June 1995 23:02
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Piet Kee is one of the most respected names in the organ world, linked for many years with the most famous churches, and their venerable organs, in Haarlem and Alkmaar. He's now in his late sixties and his recital on Tuesday evening, part of Westminster Cathedral's Centenary Festival, showed him in good shape.

His programme, considerably changed from the one advertised, was old- fashioned, based on the polarities of music by real composers like Bach and Cesar Franck - though Franck isn't to everyone's taste - and the sort of note-spinning exercises of more recent years which assume that civilisation came to an end somewhere around 1900.

Piet Kee played Bach's Prelude and Fugue in F minor, BWV 534, in the straight, no-nonsense way which used to seem proper. The Prelude was tightly disciplined, bar the brilliant sally of its cadenza, and the Fugue flowed very nicely at a judiciously chosen tempo.

The Westminster Cathedral organ, built by the long-established firm of Willis between 1922 and 1932, is not the instrument one would choose for Bach, and its full sound is coarse and brassy. When new, it was criticised for sounding too Continental, since the English preferred organs which anticipated the friendly roar of vacuum cleaners. In fact, this beast is worlds away from the organs of Cavaille-Col, with their luminous orchestral quality, fiery reeds and delicate stringy sounds.

Kee did his best with Franck's Trois Pieces, which were written with Cavaille-Col's palette in mind. He paced the opening Fantaisie and final Piece Heroique with confidence, giving both a sure sense of shape; but the Cantabile in between was a bit laboured. And the chiaroscuro seemed highly exaggerated: did every change of registration really have to be cued in by such sudden and violent diminuendi?

An arrangement of a Pastorella by the obscure baroque composer, Joseph Blamr, set solos on pretty reed stops against a foggy accompaniment, and the "olden style" of the baroque haunted Piet Kee's own setting of a Dutch song from Valerius' Gedenckklanck, while in a short meditation he pitted the Lutheran Passion chorale, Hetzlich thut mich verlangen ("O Sacred Head, surrounded"), against an obstinately disagreeable counterpoint.

Having braced us for the harshness of modern life, Piet Kee then plunged into Walter Piston's Chromatic Study on the Name of BACH, though with its worthy, solemn polyphony, entirely at a slow tempo, you might have called it a wallow rather than a swim.

To end in a suitably upbeat mood, Sonata da Chiesa, by Hendrik Andriessen, father of Louis, was a set of variations on a tune in 18th-century style, which, having paid lip-service to the wilder regions of contemporary harmony, ended by reaffirming solid tonal ground.

n Next recital in the series: Peter Planyavsky, 4 July, Westminster Cathedral, London (Booking: 0171-344 4444)

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