Clare College goes Spanish

On a recent visit to Cambridge we had the pleasure of listening to a lunch time organ recital by Tim Harper, the Junior Organ Scholar at Clare College. The Music Society there had organised a week’s Hispanic Festival with Zarzuela songs, piano music by Granados and brass arrangements of Albeniz works. There was a concert devoted to de Falla’s Harpsichord Concerto. Trio Gitano – three guitarists originally meeting as students in Cambridge – also performed during the week. A concert I would dearly have liked to have heard was given by ‘Hispanica’, an ensemble of student jazz musicians playing music with a strong flamenco and jazz connection. We wished we had been around to hear more of this enterprising festival.

Tim Harper played some extremely energetic music on the bright sounding college organ. We enjoyed all of it but especially the Concerto 2 in A minor by the Catalan composer Antonio Soler. At the age of 23 he took Holy Orders (as did so many of the Spanish Renaissance composers, some of whom we have met), and for the next 31 years was a member of the monastic community at the Escorial.

His 20 hour days were filled with prayer, contemplation and farming – a simple and unadorned life, and yet he managed to produce more than 500 musical works in those austere surroundings. Amongst these were around 150 keyboard works. His “Six Concertos for Two Organs” are still very much in the repertoire apparently, and have often been recorded.

The last piece Tim Harper played was by the contemporary French composer, Guy Bovet and was based on a theme submitted – the programme note said – by the ‘caretakers’ of Salamanca Cathedral who claimed, that it was about a donkey. The Dean of another Cathedral insisted that it in fact it was about a lady of ill repute. Whatever the origin or inspiration, Bovet begins the piece quietly with the sound of a drum and a piccolo and moves slowly to a mounting crescendo, ending ‘on all the reeds, via a fugato and many nods to the intricacies of the Spanish scale’.

Indeed. It was a superb sound and performed with great panache.