David Briggs at Bridlington Priory
A chance to kill two birds with one stone, to hear the fine Anneessens organ at Bridlington after its restoration (three years ago now) by Nicholsons, played by a world class organist. I was not disappointed on either count. The Bridlington restoration has been well documented, both in these pages and elsewhere. As is usual in this country, a large nineteenth century (and in this case Belgian) organ has been altered according to the taste of various succeeding generations, and it has fallen to Andrew Moyes and his team to make something really sensible and reliable out of all this, in a large church building with a fine choral tradition. Keith Hearnshaw's video display meant for an even clearer sight of the organist, whose technique and sensitive musicianship were plain to see and hear.
David Briggs lived up to form. His music fell into three groups. The first was the modern French school. He began, courageously, with Apparition de l'église eternelle, in the composer's centenary year, communicating well the timeless grandeur which was Messiaen's vision. Franck's C Major Fantasie can easily come across as aimless. David Briggs is proud of his time studying with Langlais, effectively Franck's successor but one. The consequent subtlety brought this music to life, a second, and very different, incense-laden vision. The French group ended with Dupré's Prelude & Fugue in G minor, displaying Briggs' virtuosic technique to the full. The second group was chorale based, perhaps a cleanser after so much rich Parisian fare. Three contrasting preludes by Bach (Schmücke dich, Kommst du nun, Kyrie Gott heiliger Geist) gave opportunity for varied registration, and demonstrated once again David Briggs' skill in putting across the music without putting across too much David Briggs. Too often we hear more of the organist than of the music. This was not the case at Bridlington. And then we heard David Briggs the composer, in his own Variations on Laudi Spirituali, clearly under the influence of Briggs' hero Pierre Cochereau, with more than a hint of Dupré at the conclusion.
But David Briggs wears his interest in French music on his sleeve. Next we were treated to an arrangement by Seutlin of Ravel's Pavane pur une infante défunte. It was interesting to be able to see on the screen where this followed, and where it departed from, the composer's piano score. Briggs once again brought every ounce of colour and every ounce of nuance to the music. The final piece, and the second transcription, was Briggs' own working of Strauss' Tod und Verklärung. This was breathtaking. In his programme notes, the arranger communicates well his understanding of Strauss' purpose in this music. The arrangement and the performance brought both of these to bear, building to a wonderful final climax, and subsiding to a gentle and restful close. What a great pity that copyright considerations prevent the publication of this fine arrangement.
So a 150 mile round journey was more than worthwhile. Bridlington Priory is a fine church, with both a grand tradition, and an obvious mission to this seaside town. It has been without a vicar for 18 months, and shows no immediate sign of finding one (shades of things to come folks), but that has not stopped its commitment to its work. The organ recital organisers look for feedback from their audiences so as to continue to foster interest in music. We all know how much the English are notoriously uninterested in the organ and its music. Congratulations to Bridlington on their fine instrument and in their encouragement of its use. I'll go again, but David Briggs will be a hard act to follow.
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