Crisp sounds of the organ

If about 200 people turn up on a Monday at lunchtime to hear an organist, who is by no means a household name, play, there is clearly an appetite for solo organ recitals here. And that makes the Esplanade's decision to axe its Pedals And Pipes series a few years back all the more idiotic.

Thankfully, the Victoria Concert Hall has stepped in with occasional organ-themed concerts, few of which focus exclusively on the organ. So this recital by Dong-Ill Shin from South Korea was to be warmly welcomed.

In the audience was one small and immaculately behaved child. He (or she) was probably the only one present who had not heard both Bach's Toccata & Fugue In D Minor and Widor's Toccata before.

For everyone else, Shin was going over very familiar territory. But he did so with impressive precision, a brisk sense of purpose and a deliberate avoidance of empty display.

Accompanied by a pair of assistants pulling and pushing the organ stops, the music shone through with the kind of clarity which could make for uncomfortable listening, were it not for the fact that he had unearthed some of the more palatable sounds from an organ. His brief programme included a handful of trifles of uneven quality. The best of these were two well-known Bach transcriptions - Bach's own organ version of Wachet Auf and someone else's (the programme did not say whose) rather uninspiring arrangement of Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring. Shin played these crisply, if a little impersonally.

There was a moribund morsel taken from the music for a 1986 British movie The Mission, which seemed hardly worth the minimal effort it took to play.



    Dong-Ill Shin, organ

    Victoria Concert Hall/Monday

In the middle were two pieces by an American composer called Paul Manz, the second of which attempted to marry the hymn tune Cwm Rhondda to the Hallelujah Chorus. It was not a marriage made in heaven and was, fortunately, very short-lived.

Shin is a fine player with splendid technique and a good sense of an organ's character. Hopefully, we shall hear him again in Singapore, on which occasion it would be good were he to root out a programme which challenges both him and his audience a little more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'Crisp sounds of the organ'. Print Edition | Subscribe