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JESUS COLLEGE ORGAN RECITAL, Tranchell, The Cambridge Review, 17th November 1951

I have always had a suspicion that Bach was not such a monument of Teutonic stolidity as he is sometimes made out to have been. I have always felt, for instance, that the very opening phrases of the Toccata in C are a sign that the old boy liked a joke as well as any of us. But the joke must be allowed to tell itself.

Peter Hurford’s organ recital of Bach in Jesus College Chapel[1] on November 7 made me quite sure. He began with the said Toccata (followed by its Adagio and Fugue), and those first phrases left no doubt as to his understanding. This welcome level of intelligent artistry was sustained throughout the performance, the more sombre moments receiving their due respect without over-emphasis, and the gayer ones their just vitality without being underplayed.

But the quality of an organ recital is not entirely in the hands of the organist; and though Peter Hurford did all in his power to convey light and shade and contrasts of time and timbre, the Jesus organ (I could not help noticing) seems a somewhat limited contraption.

Some of its stops are delectable, some of them probably almost heirlooms, but the ear will not be titillated indefinitely by any one unvaried delectation. The nuns were doubtless satisfied, but life moves faster now; and the senses, like the Athenians, require novelty in ever-increasing stream. That is the penalty of living in the twentieth century.

But there it is, the Jesus organ, whilst being in many ways a charming instrument, has not enough variety.

Still, the programme was nicely balanced, with the Fugue alla Gigue, the 4th Trio-Sonata, and a number of Chorale Preludes: in fact the evening was an enjoyable one.

But we are to hear more. Boris Ord and Ralph Downes (organist of the Brompton Oratory) are to give further Bach recitals on the 21st and 28th of November respectively. It will be interesting to see how these two master-musicians cope with the rather constricted medium that awaits them.

Peter Tranchell

[1] Hurford was Organ Scholar of Jesus, 1949-1953.