MIKE WHEELER listens to
Peter Williams at the organ of Derby Cathedral
Even without the surrounding mystique of it having been written by a twenty four year-old composer who, tragically, died the following year, Julius Reubke's Sonata on Psalm 94 would still be an astonishing piece. A big, bold fresco in Lisztian mould (Liszt was Reubke's teacher), it received a performance to match as the centrepiece of Peter Williams' recital (Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 15 July 2009).
In a work like this it would be so easy just to bludgeon the audience with sheer volume, but this was made of more subtle stuff, generating excitement through rhythmic drive and energy. The central adagio began in tranquillity, with a finely-judged gradual increase of tension leading to a concluding fugue marked by a strong sense of purpose.
A similar feel for cumulative weight characterised the Mendelssohn C minor Prelude and Fugue that opened the recital.
The ideal upbeat to the Reubke came in the form of Pachelbel's Aria sebaldina, a set of variations for which Peter Williams used the instrument's pre-1939 choir division, with delightfully soft, sweet-toned results; I don't think I've ever heard the instrument sound so -- well, secretive.
Most of the rest of the programme was French. The varied colours of Langlais' Chant de Paix positively shimmered, while Alain's Ballade en mode Phrygien included a central section marked by pungently nasal-sounding reeds. The third of Dupré's Op 7 Preludes and Fugues ended the advertised part of the evening, a mysterious, bubbling Prelude followed by a vigorous Fugue.
Before the Dupré came the evening's wild card -- Ives's uproarious Variations on 'America'. While just missing that over-the-top quality needed to carry it off, it was still an entertaining performance.
As an encore came a gentle account of the last of J S Bach's six 'Schubler' chorales, Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter.
Copyright © 25 July 2009 Mike Wheeler,