Rochdale Parish Church Organ recital – Benjamin Morris virtuoso

Date published: 14 September 2021

ORTOA (Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside Organists’ Association) continued its series of recitals at St Chad’s Rochdale Parish Church with a hugely enjoyable virtuoso performance by Benjamin Morris on Saturday (11 September).

Assistant director of music at York Minster, Ben was previously organ scholar and then assistant organist at Jesus College Cambridge, graduating with a double first in music. Before that he spent a year as organ scholar at Gloucester Cathedral.

Ben is a prizewinning Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and regularly conducts York Minster Choir. As ORTOA president Mark Johnson put it: "Ben is the custodian of one of the finest organs in the country, if not the world, at York Minster."

The organ at St Chad’s was originally built by Hill & Son in 1885. It has been rebuilt three times, in 1926 and 1959 by Harrison and in 2011 by Principal Pipe Organs. Ben expertly put this fine instrument through its paces in a wide-range of musical styles.

We began with the incomparable JS Bach and his Concerto in G major and Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543. Inbetween them we had a setting of Vater unser (The Lord’s Prayer) by Georg Böhm, who was possibly one of Bach’s teachers.

Moving on from these majestic and uplifting Baroque masterpieces to the end of the nineteenth century we celebrated two American women composers. Firstly, Florence Price, the first Afro-American woman to gain acceptance as a composer. Her delightful Suite No 1 showed an absorption of late romanticism, jazz and spirituals into her own unique style. Secondly, Amy Beach and her atmospheric Celtic evocation, Prelude on an old folk tune.

Then to England with Diversion for Mixtures by Francis Jackson (who will be 104 years old soon, and spent 36 of those years at York Minster) with its sparkling interchanges between stops and manuals with spiky modern themes and vital rhythms. In contrast Chanson de Nuit by Elgar followed with its largamente solemn melody exploiting the instrument’s softer colours.

The final piece made its second appearance since its premiere recently at York by Ben himself. Celebration is an instrumental interlude from a new choral work by John Rutter, with his trademark use of popular rhythms and harmonies in his accessible almost cinematic elegance.

The next ORTOA recital at St Chads will feature Simon Lindley on 2 October 2021 at 3pm.

Dr Joe Dawson

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