New School of Organ Studies Lunchtime Recital Series

I was working from home because I might have needed to go into London for a work matter, and that meant I was available to head along to the Methodist Church on Marlborough Road in St Albans for the lunchtime recital from the New School Of Organ Studies featuring Debbie Barnes on bassoon and Don Gibbons on piano.  Not surprisingly, given their name, these are usually organ recitals, so this was something different, and there was a reasonably sized audience there to appreciate it.

Debbie said that when she was putting the programme together she decided to keep it to light pieces, and that did mean there was a fun feel to everything that was being played.  They opened with Sicillienne et Allegro Giocoso by Gabriel Grovlez, an early 20th-century composer who was part of a tradition which came out of the Paris Conservatoire, whereby composers would write test pieces for the woodwind students.  This produced a wealth of repertoire for all woodwind instruments and particularly for the bassoon, which had largely been neglected since the Baroque period.  It was a smooth and flowing beginning with the Sicillienne, before the Allegro Giocoso was much more like the bassoon I remember from Ivor The Engine.  Yes, I am really showing my classical music credentials now.  This was followed by Piece by Gabriel Faure, which turned out to be my favourite piece (did you see what I did there ?) of the recital.  It was originally a piece for a treble instrument and has been transcribed for bassoon, and shows off the more lyrical aspect of the bassoon as it drifts along quite dreamily.  They then brought the initial part of the recital to a close with The Playful Pachyderm by Gilbert Vinter, which, as its name suggests, is a very playful piece about an elephant.  Vinter is best known for his works for brass and military bands, but he was a bassoonist himself, which explains how he came to write this jolly little piece.

This was then followed by a solo piano part by Don, playing Deux Arabesques by Claude Debussy.  The finale of the recital was the Bassoon Sonata by William Hurlstone.  This is an intruiging story because Hurlstone studied at the Royal College of Music under Charles Stanford (who is famous for his hymns), along with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, and Stanford considered Hurlstone to be his greatest pupil who seemed destined to become one of the foremost exponents of the English idiom.  Tragically, Hurlstone died from bronchial asthma at the very young age of 30, and his works remain largely neglected.  The Bassoon Sonata was one of the last pieces he wrote and it shows the quality of his composition.  It has four movements – Vivace, Ballade, Allegretto, and Moderato – with the first movement opening in 6/8, and it is quick fast and lively, a bit jumpy.  The second movement is slower and continues some themes from the first movement.  The third movement is a waltz and provides a nice contrast after the slower second movement.  The fourth and final movement is a big finale to the whole piece, and brought the recital to a stunning close and well deserved applause from a very appreciative audience.

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