St Andrews Organ Week

Caird Hall, Dundee

St Andrews Organ Week, which began in 1980, is an event of international standing, with students at the current event travelling from Australia, Hungary, Spain and Italy and tutors including Massimilano Guida (Italy), Katelyn Emerson (Cambridge), Henry Fairs (Berlin) and St Andrews’ own Chris Bragg.

Events are not limited to the East Neuk university town, with Crail Parish Church and Dundee’s Caird Hall , both home to Harrison and Harrison organs, also recital venues. The large Caird Hall organ, 100 years old, with 51 stops, and maintained by an active Friends organisation who were co-promoters of this Dundee concert, was given a showcase recital by Henry Fairs on the Tuesday evening of Organ Week, surely a revelation to any hearing the instrument in its solo glory for the first time. 

Fairs found every nuance and contrast in sound and texture this organ can supply, and clearly enjoyed the wide range of registration the instrument offers.

Opening with Bach’s B flat minor Prelude and Fugue (from the Well-Tempered Clavier), he chose the Max Reger arrangement, which gives the work an orchestral feel, the rich elaboration perhaps at the expense of the composer’s template-setting originality.

The Caird Hall organ has some brilliant solo stops, as Fairs demonstrated with the oboe and clarinet lines in Bossi’s Colloquy with the Swallows. Switching from full organ to sudden pianissimo was a dramatic device that worked superbly here and throughout his entire programme. 

The highlight for this listener was the Four Sketches by Robert Schumann that followed, a treat from a composer not renowned for his organ works. Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s surreal Pastels from the Lake of Constance were less effective in comparison.

Percy Whitlock’s Fanfare brought the concert to a close, the organ’s tuba stop reverberating through the hall. Is this instrument the finest concert organ in Scotland, as is sometimes claimed? Last week that was a question of international as well as local debate.

Garry Fraser