Symphony Hall *****

Though Thomas Trotter still has four years to ago before he catches up with James Stimpson’s amazingly long tenure as Birmingham City Organist, the celebration of his own forty years in the post was a joyous occasion indeed.

Assisted by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Colin Maitlis, B:music’s latest Organ Scholar, Trotter shared with us an enthralling exploration of the capabilities of Symphony Hall’s Klais organ he has nurtured since its installation over twenty years ago, playing at the front of the stage on the portable console (how on earth does it communicate with all those mighty pipes looming down from aloft?).

Bach’s G minor Fantasia and Fugue, well-coloured, began with an appropriately improvisatory feel, moving into a fugue characterised by Trotter’s neat gift for rhythmic clarity (and has anyone ever pointed out how much a submotif in the Fugue influences the scherzo of Mendelssohn’s Octet?).

After a warm-toned Schumann Study in A-flat we heard the premiere of the B:music commission Celebration Fantasia: Rhapsody on the name of Thomas Trotter by Cheryl Frances-Hoad. How she gets such a striking motto out of such unpromising letters defeats me, but it formed the basis for a strikingly resourceful, vividly imagined survey of Birmingham developments during Trotter’s forty-year tenure.

One of Trotter’s party-pieces, Lemare’s transcription of the Overture to Wagner’s marathon opera Rienzi, began persuasively, moving eventually into a rollicking peroration, but doesn’t the ear tire of the conclusion’s barnstorming!

Finally came Liszt’s massive, imposing Fantasia and Fugue on ‘Ad nos’, a huge, potentially sprawling structure which under Trotter’s grip emerged all of a piece, with plenty of drama along the way. He drew arresting registrations from the organ (the first time he has put it through this monolith of the repertoire), creating an atmospheric transition into the Fugue, and incidentally revealing how much stamina he possesses as he unleashed the triumph of the pedals.

Two encores followed, a soothing Schumann Traumerei, and then a riproaring Widor Toccata.

Thomas Trotter has a responsibility borne by none of his predecessors as City Organist: he has to curate two wonderful organs, not only that at Symphony Hall but also the instrument whose installation Mendelssohn supervised at Birmingham Town Hall. It is that instrument which is the vehicle for a recent CD released on the Regent label of a range of Trotter’s favourite pieces in a variety of styles, and which is much recommended.

Christopher Morley

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