Anna Lapwood: organ recital

Anna Lapwood, organ recital
Salisbury Cathedral. 23 July 2022

Anna Lapwood is not just a breath of fresh air in the rather stuffy male-dominated world of organ music, but a mighty rushing wind, challenging the orthodoxies of the organ world and fighting, in particular, to support girls and young women in music. Unusually, she only started playing the organ aged 16 (and then rather reluctantly), but by the time she was 21 had completed an Organ Scholarship in Magdelen College, Oxford (the first female to hold that post in the history of the College), and had been appointed as the youngest ever Director of Music at an Oxbridge College. She has a prolific and well-promoted social-media presence, and an enormous range of achievements to date, as evidenced by the lengthy introduction to her recital in Salisbury Cathedral. This was the first time I had heard her play live.

She opened with Star Fantasy by Kristina Arakelyan (b1994) a piece Lapwood commissioned with Stainer & Bell in 2020. It is based on the Epiphany chant Alleluia: Vidimus Stellam, the chant theme initially sounding over a drone before an increase in tension and volume leading, perhaps inevitably, to the theme sounding in the pedals under manual flourishes. The concluding two minutes can be heard here. The second of the four young composers represented was Owain Park (b1993) whose evocative Images was inspired by a passage from Walt Whitman’s Civil War poem ‘Reconciliation’: “Word over all, beautiful as the sky, Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost…”. The opening trumpet triad forms the basis of the entire piece, reoccurring in a variety of keys and elaborations contrasting with sustained chords and little twiddles.

The youngest of the young composer credits went to Anna Lapwood herself (b1995), as the arranger of the Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. This imaginative interpretation of the famous orchestral suite resulted in a work that seemed to be specifically designed for organ performance, making a welcome addition to the tiny number of Britten’s works for solo organ, only one of which is generally known. Lapwood’s excellent use of the organ’s textures and timbres and her clever conjuring up of the details of the orchestral score was a delight. I particularly liked the way that she recreated the little opening transients of the muted horn calls at the start of Sunday Morning

In Paradisum, by Ghislaine Reece-Trapp (b1992) is a touching elegy that clearly had a special resonance for Anna Lapwood (who commissioned the piece) – she dedicated her performance to the memory of a university friend. It is a beautifully constructed piece, the melody unfolding on a 2′ pedal stop beneath a manual filigree of. A short extract can be heard here. Ghislaine Reece-Trapp is the Co-Chair of the Society of Women Organists, one of whose campaigns is for adjustable organ benches to aid, not just women, but all organists who are not of a standard size. Salisbury Cathedral should also consider height-adjustable lecterns (or, at least, more appropriate microphone positions) as, on the several occasions that she scampered down from the organ loft (running across the transept) Anna Lapwood had to speak from a lectern that completely obscured her slight frame.

The only piece from the traditional organ recital fare of music by dead white men was an arrangement by Herbert Brewer of the Prelude and Angel’s Farewell from Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. The lengthy combined effort of the two Edwardians left me cold, although it did give a chance to admire Lapwood’s console management, choice of colours from the Willis organ and impeccable playing style.
The ‘Angel’s Farewell’ made an effective follow-up to In Paradisum. It was Elgar’s musical interpretation of what happens to the human soul immediately after death, and the rising melody at the end echoed the earlier piece. A nice architectural contribution came at the first climax when a beam of the setting sun illuminated the North Transept in a golden light.

An Elf on a Moonbeam (aka Retrospection) was a characterful bit of fluff from the African-American composer Florence Price (1887‒1953). Like the previous two pieces, it also finished with an ascending melodic line. The final programmed piece was Taking your Leave by Cheryl Frances-Hoad (b1980), one of a pair of voluntaries inspired by the mysteries of space. The grand Toccata-like piece was intended as a final Voluntary of a service, with the surprise ending perhaps intended to catch out those who try to leave as soon as they think the final voluntary has ended. It can be heard here, from Anna Lapwood’s own CD.

Anna Lapwood had clearly invited some young ladies up to the organ console during her rehearsals. I overheard a c10-year-old sitting behind me describing the console and some of the stops to her even younger companion. Another young lady sitting in front of me, called Florence, was the dedicatee of the encore – the theme from the film “How to train your Dragon”. If Florence wants to hear it again, she can find it here.

With the exception of the contribution from the pair of “dead white males” which didn’t do much for me, this was a very refreshing recital, played with considerable panache and self-confidence, and giving a welcome airing to the music of young, mostly female, composers. Anna Lapwood’s effervescent energy and enthusiasm shone through.

Photos: ABW