Organist Jeremy Filsell kindly told the audience in Chapel on June 21st that it was good to see some familiar faces, and there were indeed three of the current Common Room (JCEM, RAC and myself) among the listeners who were colleagues of Jeremy from 1985-88, when he was organist and Resident Tutor in East. After Cranleigh this Keble organ scholar went on to be organist at Ely Cathedral and is currently artist in residence at Washington’s National Cathedral.
The palindromic recital began with a transcription which reminded us that Jeremy is perhaps the most distinguished of the very few world musicians who have a top-level career as a pianist, as well as an organist. The composer was the same as on his recent SIGNUM label cd, Rachmaninov, and we heard the last of the op 39 Etudes-Tableaux, the last substantial music this composer penned in Russia. Respighi orchestrated this piece (with four others) in 1930, but Jeremy Filsell’s transcription also adds the extra colour, while maintaining the virtuosic challenge, adding only two feet to the ten fingers. There followed a Bach chorale prelude, featuring the beautiful cornet stop, which had a gentle touch of rubato and proved the veracity of what Jeremy told me after the concert, that the new Mander organ is especially suited to baroque music. The organist certainly enjoyed the extra power in the voicing of the new instrument, later reminding me of how hard it used to be to compete with the lusty Cranleigh congregational singing on the previous organ.
There followed Jongen’s most celebrated composition, the Sonata Eroica, and it was certainly heroic to play this complex, dark piece from memory. It did indeed end, as the organist stated in his erudite and fluent introduction, in a ‘chaos of virtuosity’. From a Belgian writing in exile in Eastbourne, we switched to Marcel Dupré: Jeremy has recorded his complete works and is a leading authority on this legendary Saint-Sulpice organist. From op 27 we were treated to a tender ‘Souvenir’, a quirky ‘Canon’ and a dazzling ‘Final’. A brief Reger chorale prelude followed, cleverly chosen as one on the same chorale as the Bach we had heard, and contrasting the previous purity with enticing chromaticism.
The climax of the recital was the organist’s own transcription of the ‘Symphonie Improvisée’ that Dupré’s pupil Pierre Cochereau improvised and recorded in 1956 on Boston’s Symphony Hall organ. The piece is based on two songs of the Auvergne, one in particular has become well loved in a version by Canteloube, and this featured in a delightfully dancing scherzo, in which the sonorities of the organ matched the sunniness of the evening outside Chapel. In the ‘Final’ the organ sounded like a massive set of rustic bagpipes and the ecstatic ending brought two words into my mind: élan and joie.
It was indeed a joy to hear so great an artist on the Mander organ and to think that his time at Cranleigh was a stepping stone to so distinguished an international performing and recording career. The large number of organ buffs who travelled many miles to hear this recital were testimony to Jeremy’s reputation and they would, I am sure, wish me to thank not only Jeremy Filsell himself, but also our own Philip Scriven for inviting him back across the Atlantic. I cannot resist adding, especially for any OC readers who were coached at cricket by JDF, that he is still playing the game, for the team of the New Zealand Embassy in Washington! Given his love for the game and his versatility as organist, pianist, conductor, transcriber and composer, I dub Jeremy the Gary Sobers of the music world and there may be few in the world who, like your reviewer, has seen Sobers bat and heard Filsell play.