I perform and record regularly as a soloist on both harpsichord and organ. My recital programmes are strongly themed, often setting well-known works in a new or broader context. I enjoy promoting the music of lesser-known composers, and exploring the influence of the Baroque on later composers, performing, for example, works by Frescobaldi transcribed by Brahms; I also have a passion for Messiaen.
- Harpsichord music by Bach, Froberger, D’Anglebert, Marais, Pasquini and Weckmann (with the Bach Players) and Schildt (with In Echo)
- Organ solos including Bach’s arrangement of the D minor concerto (in cantata BWV 146) performed on the historic Trost organ in Altenburg (with the English Baroque Soloists).
Of all the organ soloists during the Cantata Pilgrimage, I had the privilege of playing on one of the finest instruments to survive from Bach’s time – the famous Trost organ in Altenburg’s Schlosskirche. The other obbligato organ parts were performed on the Robin Jennings chamber organ that travelled with the orchestra, but for BWV 146 – with its truly monumental sinfonia – an exception was made.
The organ was built between 1735 and 1739 and Bach was invited – informally – to try it out on its completion. It has a large number of foundation stops, a characteristic of High Baroque central German design which offers a wide variety of tone colours. Of these, the fugara and gemshorn made an intriguing solo sound for the second movement, while the extraordinary deep-rooted power of the organ’s 16 and 32 foot pedal reeds brought an extra dimension to the opening sinfonia.
It was truly thrilling to play this wonderful instrument, but certainly not without problems. For a start I had to learn the music in a different key – old German organs are tuned higher than modern concert pitch. Then the unseasonably warm weather, together with the warm breath of a capacity audience, raised the pitch of the organ still further. The oboists were able to compensate by making extra-short reeds; how the flautist and recorder player managed I don’t know, but they did.
Then there was the issue of how to co-ordinate with the orchestra. We tried placing the instrumentalists at the same level as the organ loft in the gallery opposite, but had to reject this for practicalities of space. So we ended up with the orchestra on the chapel floor and a camera and TV relay so that I could see John Eliot’s beat.
And finally the unpredictability inherent in all old instruments had a trump card to play: just before the performance began it started to cipher – sounding the note ‘F’ without any key being pressed down. The local organist was in the audience and he quickly set about trying to sort out the problem, but to no avail. Luckily the cipher did not affect the solo stops I had chosen, so after some moments of panic and confusion (during which John Eliot accidentally got locked into the organ loft) the performance went ahead. It was an adrenaline-packed evening that I will never forget.
Musical offering: The Bach Players
This recording brings together two wonderful demonstrations of the art of rhetoric: a trio sonata by Dieterich Buxtehude and J. S. Bach’s Musical offering. For this recording I performed the two extraordinary Ricercar movements (in 3 parts and 6 parts) on harpsichord, created and published a new arrangement the enigmatic canons, and wrote the liner notes, ‘Bach, the orator’, which explore Bach’s knowledge and use of musical rhetoric as well as summarizing arguments over the ‘correct’ sequence of movements.
‘The orator and the musician have essentially the same aim: namely, to make themselves masters of the heart of their listeners, to arouse or still their passions, and to transport them now to this sentiment, now to that. Thus it is to the advantage of both, if each has some knowledge of the duties of the other. (Johann Joachim Quantz)
Other recent releases
Pergolesi, Stabat Mater: La Nuova Musica
Bach, Matthew Passion (live recording), Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner
From Venice to Hamburg: The Bach Players
Hear how the Italian ‘stylus fantasticus’ crossed the Alps to the centres of Habsburg culture, then on north to Hamburg.
As well as playing continuo, I contribute two toccatas for solo harpsichord, one by one-time Habsburg musician in Vienna, Johann Jakob Froberger, and one by Matthias Weckmann, organist in Hamburg’s St Jacobikirche.
The recording centres on pieces for an unusual combination of instruments – violin, cornetto, sackbut (trombone), dulcian (bassoon), and basso continuo: improvisatory in character, and jazz-like also in the way that each instrument is in turn given a solo spot.