MUSIC-AT-HILL: MIDTOWN CONCERTS
Friday 18 March 2022
Andrew Benson-Wilson organ
Poppy Walshaw cello
Johann Sebastian Bach (1675-1750)
Pastorella per Organo (BWV 590)
[Alla Siciliana – Allemande – Aria – Alla Gigue]
Cello Suite No.3 in C. (BWV 1009)
Prelude – Allemande – Courante – Sarabande – Bourrée I/II – Gigue
Partite diverse sopra Il Chorale O Gott, du frommer Gott (BWV 767)
The four movements of the Pastorella per Organo are untitled in surviving sources. They may not always have been combined, but do make for a convincing suite. The first movement is in the lilting tradition of an Italian pastoral, as used by Handel and Corelli to represent the Christmas shepherds in the fields. The gentle second movement is followed by a C minor Aria which spins out a timeless highly ornamented and timeless melody above simple chords. The final movement is a three-part fugue. In the second part, the theme appears upside down, only righting itself for the final bass entry.
Bach’s six Suites à Violoncello Solo senza Basso were composed during his years in Köthen, where much of his instrumental music was composed. They were little known until Pablo Casals recorded them in the 1930s. They have since been transcribed for an astonishing range of other instruments, including euphonium and ukulele. The third Cello Suite is one of the best known. The Prelude opens and closes with a descending C-major scale, enclosing arpeggio passages and a cadenza starting with a distinctive sequence of four-note chords. The following movements follow the traditional sequence of Baroque dance forms. The Allemande and Courante also open with a descending motif, which is reversed in the concluding Gigue.
The nine Partitas of the Partite diverse sopra Il Chorale O Gott, du frommer Gott may well be responses to the nine verses of the chorale, which is heard in harmonised form as the first Partite. The second Partite deconstructs each line of the chorale melody in a highly ornamented fashion above an ostinato bass. The following variations show the influence of Böhm and Walther. The intensely chromatic and harmonically rich penultimate variation seem to match the text of the eighth verse “Let me at my end, die in the death of Christ”. The last variation is more triumphant and upbeat, with echo passages and an Andante section perhaps reflecting the ‘transformation of the body’ of the text.
The St Giles-in-he-Field organ dates back to the 17th century. It was built in 1678 by George Dallam and was repaired in 1699 by Christian Smith, nephew of the famous organ builder ‘Father’ Smith. When the present St Giles-in-the-Fields church was opened in 1734, the organ was incorporated into a new case by Gerard Smith the younger. Much of the pipework from 1699, and some from 1678, survives today. It is one of the few historic organs in central London to have escaped 20th-century ‘modernisation’. With advice from organ historian and consultant Stephen Bicknell, William Drake restored the organ in 2006, respecting the historic pipework and musical nature of the organ.
Andrew Benson-Wilson specializes in the performance of early organ music, from 14th-century manuscripts to the late Classical period. His playing is informed by experience of historic organs, an understanding of period performance techniques and several internationally renowned teachers. He is the only organist to have recorded the complete organ works of Thomas Tallis. The first of these CDs (with Chapelle du Roi) was Gramophone Magazine’s Record of the Month. The Organists’ Review noted that his “understanding of the historic English organ and its idiom is thorough, and the beautifully articulated, contoured result here is sufficient reason for hearing this disk. He is a player of authority in this period of keyboard music“.
Andrew’s concerts have ranged from the enormous 1642 Festorgel in Klosterneuburg Abbey in Austria to a tiny 1668 chamber organ in a Croatian castle, including the 1723 Hildebrandt organ in Störmthal (Bach gave the opening recital), the famous 1558 Ebert organ in Innsbruck’s Hofkirche and the reconstructed 1517 ‘wallow’s-nest organ in Biel/Bienne. His St John’s, Smith Square recital was described as “one of the most rewarding organ recitals heard in London in years”. A reviewer noted that his performance of Weckmann’s monumental Es is das Heil at St George’s, Hanover Sq “had a confident and assured touch of someone who understood the musical style“. Another review stated that “Benson-Wilson’s playing was exemplary”.
Andrew’s little book, “The Performance of Early Organ Music” is a required text in a number of universities. After 20 years as the principal concert and organ CD reviewer for Early Music Review magazine, Andrew now has his own review website at andrewbensonwilson.org/.
Some live performances can be heard at soundcloud.com/andrew-benson-wilson.
Poppy Walshaw read Music and Natural Sciences at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, then studied with Alexander Baillie in Bremen, Germany, gaining her postgraduate diploma with the highest possible mark. She was subsequently a Continuo Scholar at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Alison McGillivray and Louise Hopkins. She has since established a career throughout Europe with extensive solo and principal experience as well as tours with many of the leading UK ensembles such as the English Baroque Soloists, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, English Concert and Arcangelo. Poppy is currently continuo cellist for The Hanover Band and Fiori Musicali, frequent guest continuo player with Armonico Consort, and for over ten years was the continuo cellist for leading Polish orchestra Arte dei Suonatori and in Germany with Le Chardon. She has performed as continuo cellist for Sir John Eliot Gardiner on many occasions, including at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, to Prince Charles (also as soloist), and throughout several years as coach and accompanist for the Monteverdi Choir apprentices.
Solo concerto performances have included touring Poland and live on Danish Radio with Arte dei Suonatori, at many festivals with Fiori Musicali, and at St John’s Smith Square in London. She regularly plays chamber music with renowned violinist Simon Standage including for CDs of Haydn flute trios and Schubert Trout Quintet (Chandos).
Poppy has taught the Alexander Technique for ten years, one-to-one in Islington and for group workshops including for the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon and a regular series for Cambridge Music faculty, and is currently training as a Feldenkrais practitioner.