north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

New music for organ
Roger B. Williams

Written by Alan Cooper

reproduced with permission


Music in the University | New music for organ | Roger B. Williams

At first glance it might seem a strange conceit to twin the keyboard music of the English Renaissance master William Byrd with works by contemporary composers who use electronics in their compositions. It was not just Byrd's reputation as a pioneer of keyboard writing that suggested a vague connection between his music and the works of some modern day composers. The textures and sonic complexities of Byrd's music especially when played on the many voiced Aubertin Organ made it sound surprisingly at ease in the company of the new music we were about to hear.

As Roger Williams said in the introduction to his recital, before Byrd, keyboard music was mainly used as an adjunct to singing or dancing. Byrd was the first composer to write specifically for the keyboard specialist per se and in so doing he achieved a quantum leap in the language and technique of keyboard playing. Byrd's Fancy in C was a perfect example of this. With its increasingly ornate cascades of runs it was demonstrably a celebration of a new world of dazzling keyboard finger magic which Roger Williams navigated with remarkable fluency and ease.

Hughe Ashton's Grownde which Roger played with loving delicacy on flute stops started as a dance-like tune but soon took off on splendid flights of keyboard fancy as did The Seventh Pavian which maintains a steady dance in the left hand while the right hand weaves ever more intricate patterns above it. The Carman's Whistle had its best ever performance from Roger Williams as he rang the changes of stops from bold and masculine to delicate and feminine throwing the different variations of the piece into brilliant relief. Finally Byrd's essay in building wonderful complexities from a simple scale Ut re mi fa sol la was imbued with a delicious richness on the Aubertin.

Pete Stollery's splendid tour de force b3:dz dedicated to the earlier composer is packed with musical references taken from Byrd's music referred to by Roger William's on the organ along with multiple other references to the word "bird" in music, e.g. Charlie Parker or otherwise the birdsong and the swooping sounds that went winging through the whole Chapel courtesy of the wizardry of electronics.

Paean by Jonathan Stephens dedicated to the memory of Aberdeen University Music lecturer the late Chris Cadwur James was a joyful clarion of a piece bursting with fanfares, fulsome brightly coloured harmonies and exhilarating rhythmic surges. Rich organ mixtures gave it all the brilliance it demanded.

Matthew Milne's Toccata No.1 played in its computer derived CD version was the very embodiment of bracing Toccata form delivered in a huge Cathedral organ sound. It filled the Chapel and seemed to expand its walls to something far more spacious.

The final modern piece brought Roger Williams together with the young electroacoustic composer Claire Singer. Using the music of Frescobaldi as a starting point it was as if two parallel sound mirrors had been placed on either side of the music so that its reflections carried on as if to infinity. The result was both dizzying and wonderfully compelling.

It was the Japanese-American historian Francis Fukuyama who said that history had reached its end. He was wrong. When I was a student, some claimed that western music too had reached its end. Tuesday's concert proved that it can still fire the imagination and will surely have a lot more in store to amaze us.

Original article reproduced here with kind permission.

events mentioned
  Date Day Time Location Event Details

Click on the short event titles above to see details of the events themselves.

11Tue 7.45 pmAberdeenRoger Williams, organ recital