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RHS hosts Simon Johnson

On Saturday 5 October Simon Johnson, organist of St Paul’s Cathedral, performed a fantastic programme on the Royal Hospital School’s Grand Organ. Roger Pulham was in the audience; here is his review:

“Saturday the 5th of October 2013 was a bright late autumn day and as I drove over the Orwell Bridge to Holbrook there was a glorious sunset in front of me. From the top of the bridge you can clearly see the campanile of the Royal Hospital School. All augured well for an enjoyable occasion. You will all by now be familiar with the sight and sound of the marvellous Hill, Norman & Beard organ at the west end of the chapel, and  to add to our delight a large screen was erected in the centre of the chapel, the cameras focused on the console and operated by two students.

Simon Johnson is the organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral and is well used to the acoustic challenges of large reverberant building so we were not to be disappointed.  His program was: The first movement of the Elgar organ sonata in G,  Andante from Widor’s Symphonie Gothique, Prelude and Fugue in G minor by Dupre, J.S.Bach’s Chorale Prelude on “Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Ehr”, Prelude and Fugue in E minor op35 No 1 by Mendelssohn transcribed from the piano by Reitze Smits, Scherzo and Cantabile from Symphony No 2 in E minor by Vierne and finally Herbert Brewer’s Marche Heroique. 

It goes without saying that every item was played with enormous skill and style, the interpretations fresh and clear. The RHS organ and the Elgar seem to be a wedding made in heaven, great use was made of all the solo stops and how splendid they sounded, now a clarinet, then an orchestral oboe, then viole strings.   

If there were more highlights they were surely Simon’s playing of the hugely energetic Dupre prelude and fugue in G minor. It was useful to be able to see the player because the rapid left hand and pedal passages were submerged in the famous long reverberence to great effect. Dupre would have been pleased.

The Mendelssohn was interesting being a transcription of a piano piece. It was a classic prelude and fugue in the Bach style, all the correct academic attributes, but what an astonishing ending, think of the last couple of pages of Bach’s fugue from the Toccata and Fugue in F and add a quotation from the chorale “Ein Feste Burg” (A safe stronghold) as it occurs in Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony.

The Brewer Marche Heroique is a march which Elgar could have written, and another composition made for this organ. May we hear many more.     

Our host William Saunders invited members of the audience to the music school to meet Simon Johnson afterwards over a glass of wine. Those of you who could not attend this recital missed one of the highlights of the musical year as sponsored by the Suffolk Organists Association.”