Friends of Forgue! (Even people in Aberdeenshire don’t know where that is!)

There’s a tiny village in deepest, darkest Aberdeenshire (for certain, on a rainy November night!) that hosts a hidden gem of a church: Forgue Kirk, whose current building dates back to 1819. This 200th anniversary was commemorated this year, in a six-movement cantata newly commissioned to Old Testament texts by composer Robert Milne. Together with pianist Jeremy Coleman (on the church’s antique Bechstein upright), I gave the première performance on 2 November, as part of Sound Festival. Two beautiful songs by Roger B. Williams rounded out the second half of the programme.

The church has an especially interesting organ: built in 1872, it remains in its original state (see the beautifully-painted facade pipes on “Places of Worship in Scotland”), other than a shift of position to the side, and even retains its mechanical bellows (although it also has electrical blowers now, as the going rate for people to operate them has gone through the roof in the intervening century and a half). We featured this rare instrument in the first half of the concert, with four “Ein feste Burg” settings played by organist Jane Leatherbarrow, and five rarely-performed sacred songs by turn-of-the century chromatic contrapuntist, Max Reger. Those things are lush. It’s like Wagner ate a fugue for breakfast!

Here’s the third movement of Robert Milne’s cantata, recorded live on your common or garden-variety Zoom recorder, which was placed so inconspicuously that the gentlemen sitting practically on top of it took until near the end of the programme to comment (very audibly), “Oh! Is that a microphone?” I particularly like the dramatic sound painting of the tumbling walls and the cut-down sycamores!