Jane Parker-Smith in recital

Freemasons Hall, London WC2

Yesterday I went along to an early evening organ recital performed by Jane Parker-Smith on the recently restored and enlarged pipe organ in the Grand Temple of the Freemasons Hall in central London, UK.

It is some thirty or more years since I last heard Jane Parker-Smith perform – my fault and not hers – and I was looking forward to hearing and seeing again the showy technical brilliance and the vivacious stage presence that I remembered so clearly as her hallmark. To give you some idea think of a ‘Kate Bush’ of the organ world.

These days  Jane Parker-Smith presents a more strikingly sober figure than in her early career, and there is a less obvious desire to dazzle as was evident in her modest introductory speech and black concert attire; the programme notes went so far as to compare her with the famously serious pianist Martha Agerich.

Despite her demurely presented introductory speech Parker-Smith’s demanding programme was  brilliantly performed. Technical wizardry is still in evidence – as seen in close up via two large video screens relaying the console – but here now is also a considered interpretative authority.

Of all the organists I have heard so far in this short series of recitals – part of celebrations marking 300 years of the Grand Lodge of English freemasons – Jane Parker-Smith seemed to be the most at home with this instrument. The Grand Temple has a dry acoustic, designed for clarity of speech rather than the presentation of music; every note and the silences between notes are crystal clear. It is perhaps Jane Parker-Smith’s life lived more in the demanding acoustic of the international concert hall than the looser acoustics of the average church buidling that contributed to her entirely assured playing on this occasion.

The programme was largely of (to me) unfamiliar pieces of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In this regard I was particularly struck by the virtuosic concluding pages of Variations on ‘Adeste Fideles’ by Belgian-American organist/composer Gaston Marie Dethie (1875-1958).

An evening such as this would not be properly concluded without an encore, and Jane Parker-Smith gave us an arrangement of Flight of the Bumble Bee by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908), effortlessly and impishly thrown-off con brio as we could all see and hear, and it was rapturously received. Go Jane!

So maybe Jane Parker-Smith’s excuberant dazzle is not entirely a thing of the past?