Review: David Liddle, organ recital, Derby Cathedral

DCQ_Summer_2013_066Organ buffs in the Derby area have been suffering withdrawal symptoms, thanks to the recent extensive interior refurbishment of the Cathedral kicking the annual summer recital series into the long grass. So Derby and District Organists’ Association were partly filling a gap by promoting a recital by David Liddle.

He styles himself an “organist who happens to be blind”, and his spoken introductions included insights into the mechanics of both learning new pieces and composing his own. So he told us how he goes about producing his own Braille scores, and the problems associated with ordering copies of repertoire pieces. Widor’s Symphony No 8 he had to “scour Europe” for, finally tracking down a copy in Amsterdam, not Paris as you’d expect. Nielsen’s Commotio he couldn’t get hold of at all, and had to give up the idea.

Braille music, we learned, uses the same symbols as text, but they have different meanings. It is laid out in single lines, with special symbols to indicate chords, octaves, phrasing, dynamics, and other details. And, of course, a Braille score is for memorising, not for playing from.

His programme included three English composers born in 1865, William Wolstenholme and Alfred Hollins, both of whom also happened to be blind, and Edwin Lemare. Charming, salon-style pieces (the outer sections of Hollins’ Morning Song could almost be Elgar in Salut d’Amour mode), they received a appropriately light touch, with skipping dance rhythms for Wolstenholme’sBohèmesque, and a finely-judged gradient from the amiable jog-trot opening to Lemare’s Scherzo Fugue to its flamboyant conclusion.

As to his own pieces, he described the process of “cooking” them in his mind, and producing an initial copy, which he then refines with the help of a sighted colleague at the piano. And there is the occasional nightmare to cope with, as when he discovered that one section of his Ripieno Giubilante had been transcribed in the wrong clef. Of the three he played, Eriskay Love-Lilt weaves a magic spell around the Scottish song, while Ripieno Giubilante and the delightfully bubbly Arabesque positively revel in their French ancestry (Arabesque’s torrent of notes are, he told us, definitely “for the brave organist”).

JS Bach’s organ chorale Jesus Christus Unser Heiland, BWV 666, was given a thoughtful reading, with the chorale melody well set off in relief against its surroundings. The third movement of Widor’s Eighth Symphony was kept purposefully spinning, with a deftly-handled final pay-off.

Towards the end Liddle invited questions from the audience: how long it takes him to learn a new piece (his answer, two to three days, produced astonished gasps from the audience; he went on to point out that assimilating the piece takes a lot longer); the physical process of producing a Braille score; and what music Zak, his guide dog, likes (we didn’t really get a straight answer to that one).

All round, an enlightening, as well as entertaining, evening.

Mike Wheeler