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A Right Royal 800th – Thomas Trotter at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall: February 10th, 2020
A report by Christopher Morley
Only seven people have been in the Birmingham City Organist saddle since 1834, and Thomas Trotter, the current occupant, has been in the loft since 1983, overtaking in longevity all his predecessors (even the great Sir George Thalben-Ball) bar one -- James Stimpson, who presided for 44 years.
Given the very young age at which Trotter was appointed, I anticipate (and hope to be there at) an event in 2027 which marks his overtaking even this milestone. Meanwhile, this present recital was a joyous affair, Trotter's 800th in his role, attended both by royalty - HRH The Duke of Kent - and a multitude of schoolchildren, a recital which was presented by the organist with both modesty and élan to a warmly appreciative audience.
The recital was dedicated to the memory of Tom Caulcott, Chief Executive of the City of Birmingham during the years in which the International Convention Centre housing Symphony Hall was conceived, and who indeed had had the casting vote in the appointment of Thomas Trotter as City Organist. A tribute to Tom Caulcott was but one feature of the sumptuous and treasurable programme-book.
Instead of remoting himself at the console amid the pipework, high above the choir-stalls, Trotter played on the portable console place centre-stage, where everyone could marvel at his relaxed dexterity with all four limbs, as well as his appropriately dramatic showmanship in signalling entries and flourished endings.
Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E minor BWV 548 (‘The Wedge’) made a tremendous curtain-raiser, a spectacular vehicle for the instrument as well as for Trotter's technique and musicianship -- as well as his intimate knowledge of the Symphony Hall acoustic, with the sound-chamber doors flung open wide, canopy raised to its very highest. The cumulative energy here was gripping, with bold, forward registrations.
Two Fugues from Schumann's touching BACH set were beautifully characterised: no.3 was pastel and sustained, growing in intensity, with no.5 merry and perky, the witty registrations bringing us close to the elfin sound-world of Schumann's great friend Mendelssohn (and founder of the organ which Thomas Trotter nurtures just across Centenary Square in Birmingham Town Hall).
Commissioned for this occasion, Variations on a Theme by Sweelinck by the French-Canadian organist Rachel Laurin received its world premiered here to huge and well-deserved acclaim. It explores all the capabilities both in terms of colour and articulation of Symphony Hall's magnificent instrument, and is an affectionate pastiche of so many styles (I detected Max Reger and various French composers). The new work confidently relies upon Trotter's amazing technical skills (including a variation for nifty pedals alone), and ends with a fugue bursting into a triumphant coda firing on all cylinders.
A total contrast came with Ad Wammes' Miroir, almost laid-back in its minimalist coolness, followed by Trotter's own amazing transcription, bespoke to this organ, of Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice: vivid, dramatic and totally engaging. All we missed was a back-projection of Mickey Mouse's hapless performance in Walt Disney's wonderful 1939 film Fantasia.