Review: Organ recital in memory of Jim Fitzpatrick 'a story, a conversation, a delight'

Ahead of the organ recital at St Peter's Cathedral, Belfast last Saturday are director of music James McConnell, pictured left, and former director of music Raymond Lennon. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Anne Hailes

LAST Saturday afternoon two young men raised the roof of St Peter's Cathedral in Belfast. I felt the pews tremble as chords from the mighty organ thundered down from the loft.

This was a recital In memory of the late Jim Fitzpatrick, owner and chairman of The Irish News. It was planned in 2018 but Covid intervened and when the producer Raymond Lennon, Down and Connor director of sacred music from 1995 to 2000, welcomed us to the cathedral, he talked of Mr Fitzpatrick's love of music and generosity when it came to supporting young musicians - the man who sponsored the recital and paid for 21-year-old Francesco Botti, studying in Verona, and Ondrej Smolik from the Czech Republic to travel to Belfast.

When giving the background to the afternoon's event and introducing the soloists, Raymond told the audience how his friend Jim had passed away earlier this year but was surely with us in spirit.

The setting was magnificent, the acoustics second to none and the organ below the west window was powerful, an extraordinary instrument of such intricacy with a language all of its own.

When I listen I hear colours that delight, sometimes frighten. Pictures also come to mind.

Ondrej opened with Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565, perhaps Johann Sebastian Bach's best known work. As it unfolded, in my mind's eye I was watching an 18th century family at teatime; the booming authoritative voice of the father giving instructions, the mother's lighter tone, and at times the children giggling with excitement. A story, a conversation, a delight.

In contrast Léon Boëllmann's Suite Gothique was a walk in a Parisian park; elegant gentlemen, ladies with parasols, children with balloons on sticks and a platoon of young army officers riding in formation.

There followed a kaleidoscope of colour as the programme unfolded. You can rely on the organ never to run out of breath, to hold the notes perfectly. Ancient or modern, it will impress as long as the organist can cope with this complex piece of machinery and it was certainly in sympathy with the two musicians mastering the keyboard and the pedals.

Botti played the final powerful piece Präludium und Fuge über den Namen by Franz Liszt.

Again I was transported, this time to Ukraine. I could hear the tanks roar through Kyiv and it was fearful. Then a rush of snow followed by a glimpse of blue sky, people coming onto the streets in hope but all hope fades as they see the devastation. Then the tanks advance again. It became so real that at the final thunderous chord which resonated for a long time, I was crying.

The power of music, the swell of the organ, the skill of two young men and the generosity of Jim Fitzpatrick made it an afternoon to remember.