Carl Jackson, Director of Music at Hampton Court Chapel, gave an eclectic and wide-ranging online organ concert from the Grand Temple of the Freemasons’ Hall in London on 30th March, a YouTube premiere which showcased the adaptability of both the Henry Willis organ, and Jackson’s own technique. The global online audience sprinkled plenty of ‘thumbs up’ emojis around in the chat box in response to the thought-provoking choice of music, which included 20th-century composers unfamiliar to many organists, let alone the general public.

Carl Jackson

Rapidly becoming better known since her recent rediscovery as an accomplished symphonist, African-American composer Florence Price (1888-1953) also wrote for the organ. She had a European musical training, but, as Jackson said in his short informative introduction, other influences on her music included the theatre organ, and blues. He played the Fantasy and Air from Price’s Suite no. 1 for Organ, a welcome and refreshing addition to mainstream organ repertoire.

Classically-trained organists are fully aware of the adroitness needed to play the music that forms the theatre organists’ repertoire, and not all pipe organs can successfully mimic the suave tones of a cinema Wurlitzer. But, adjusting his always elegant and economical footwork to suit the theatre organ style, Jackson persuaded the stately 1933 Henry Willis organ to don a few sequins and twirl a little, in Nigel Ogden’s Ritzy, from the Art Deco Suite: a nod, no doubt, to the splendid architecture of Freemason’s Hall.

Edward Elgar’s Chanson de nuit, followed – the less-familiar companion to his Chanson de matin. Chanson de nuit has less melodic appeal, though it is the more thoughtful piece. Written, like its companion piece, for violin and piano, it was both orchestrated and arranged for other instruments by Elgar. This version was arranged for the organ by Elgar’s friend, and organist at Gloucester Cathedral, Herbert Brewer, though the piece remained a little too pianistic in style to be totally successful on the organ.

Carl Jackson plays in the Grand Temple of the Freemasons’ Hall

It was a pity that the quieter moments in this pre-recorded recital were marred by a prominent background hiss, probably from the microphone picking up some aspect of the organ’s wind mechanism. It overpowered, for example, the magical pianissimo of the opening of Alexandre Guilmant’s Prière et berceuse. However Georgi Mushel’s furious and improvisatory Toccata gave the Willis a good fortissimo workout.

Jackson ended the concert with Obangiji by Fela Sowande (1905-1987). Sowande composed for many different musical forces, influenced by three musical cultures, Nigerian, African-American, and European. He grew up in a church music environment in Nigeria, and travelled to Britain in 1935 to study organ and composition, where he swept the board with the highest marks in the Royal College of Organists’ Fellowship Diploma (FRCO). (Jackson added that in order to fund his studies, Sowande not only became one of the BBC’s resident theatre organists, but worked as a duo pianist with Fats Waller.)

Sowande’s organ music is sometimes based on African-American spirituals, but he also wrote many works based on Nigerian melodies, or hymn tunes written by Nigerian organists and choirmasters. In Obangiji, Sowande borrows a hymn tune from Yoruba: its text translates as “Almighty God, thou art worthy to be worshipped”. Celebrating a walk towards the throne of God with shouts of praise, this triumphant piece rounded off an intriguing recital.

This performance was reviewed from the United Grand Lodge of England video stream