Benjamin Sheen brought a touch of New York showmanship to his recital on the recently rebuilt and enlarged Wm Hill & Son organ at St. Patrick’s Church, Patterdale, near the head of Ullswater in the Lake District.
Difficult to believe he wrought such variety of sounds from just 20 stops. His playing of the Schumann piece was particularly rich in tonal contrasts. The ostinato theme of Ad Wammes’ Miroir, repeated throughout but building in weight as it is joined by other voices, showcased this fine instrument’s capabilities from really quiet to full organ.
The small church acoustic together with the state-of-the-art action on the instrument made it possible to hear the detail in Benjamin Sheen’s playing in a way that a larger acoustic would have clouded. The brilliance of William Harris’s Flourish at the start of the programme, the deep fondness he has of the Bach Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 541 (just a few ornamentations) and overwhelmingly in his rendition of Mozart’s Fantasia in F minor, K. 608, gave these pipes a thorough workout to the pleasure of the knowledgeable audience of the Society of Cumbrian Organists.
The Fantasia in A minor, MB 27, by the English Renaissance composer William Byrd turned out to be such fun, the composer developing both rhythm and themes in quite unexpectedly complex ways which Benjamin Sheen’s fluid playing and the responsive instrument showcased perfectly.
The Mozart, last piece in the programme, was a particular pleasure. Benjamin Sheen’s subtle bending of the tempi of the outer sections contrasted with his strict tempi for the inner, more dreamy, central section. His masterly playing and illuminating registration of Mozart’s culminating counterpoint was a wonder to hear in live performance, surely the equal in composition to the more famous passage at the end of the Jupiter Symphony. Mozart weaves the themes in the Fantasia sublimely and apparently effortlessly, leaving us with a sense of “did that really happen?” at the end of the piece together with the brilliant resolution of the Fantasia’s themes that Mozart offers.
An international concert organist playing a clever programme in a well-loved English parish church, this was the epitome of a live music-making occasion.
Benjamin Sheen - Organ Recital - St. Patrick’s Church, Patterdale
William Harris - Flourish for an Occasion
Robert Schumann - Four Sketches for pedal-piano, Op. 58
William Byrd - Fantasia in A minor, MB 27
Percy Whitlock - Scherzetto, from Organ Sonata in C minor
Johann Sebastian Bach - Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 541
Ad Wammes - Miroir
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Fantasia in F minor, K. 608