CONCERT REVIEW: German tenor and organmeister make friends for life in Swineshead

PAVAROTTI TRIBUTE: German organist Claudia Hirschfeld and tenor Johannes Gross (right) at Swineshead Village Hall,  with Dutch keyboard player DirkJan Ranzijn (left) and Alan Pilgrim of Essex.
PAVAROTTI TRIBUTE: German organist Claudia Hirschfeld and tenor Johannes Gross (right) at Swineshead Village Hall, with Dutch keyboard player DirkJan Ranzijn (left) and Alan Pilgrim of Essex.
  • Claudia Hirschfeld (Organist) & Johannes Gross (Tenor) Luciano Pavarotti Tribute Concert for the SMA Trust Swineshead Village Hall

The memories of German organist Claudia Hirschfeld and tenor Johannes Gross will live on long after works by Verdi, Puccini and Shostakovich fade away.

Claudia, countrywoman of much-loved bandleader and composer James Last, brought her “virtual” Wersi Louvre organ to Swineshead Village Hall for an unforgettable demonstration of classical, orchestral and modern music in front of a near-full venue.

The concert on Sunday, meant as a tribute to Luciano Pavarotti ten years after his death, took a journey from The Triumphal March (Aida) and The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (Nabucco) to Eric Coates’ Dam Busters March and I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside.

In between her songs, Claudia charmed her audience with everything from her love of James Last who she called “my hero and my idol” to her love of the Austrian city of Vienna, her “City of Music and City of Love”.

Claudia said: “Since the age of four, I’ve grown up with James Last’s music and I call my organ ‘James Last for the poor’.

Other songs played by Claudia included Highland Cathedral, made famous by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Only Love (Nana Mouskouri), Franz Schubert’s Ava Maria and even You’ll Never Walk Alone (Gerry and the Pacemakers).

But the absolute revelation at this concert was provided by Johannes Gross who, along with Luis del Rio, make up the German Tenors.

From the moment he took to the stage to deliver Torna a Surriento, The Song of the Laughing Poliziotto and Caruso, a song dedicated to Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, you knew that something special was happening in Swineshead.

As Claudia said when introducing her German co-star: “One of the oldest, if not the oldest, musical instrument in the world is the human voice and Johannes has such a big, big voice.”

The concert itself, organised by Derrick Nundy in aid of the Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Trust, left this reviewer with the nagging question as to how to get so big an audience to the annual Windmill Studio Concert series that runseach year between September and April.

After the concert, Claudia said: “I always try to achieve having that feedback from the audience as it’s very, very important.

“I don’t have it every time but I loved it in Swineshead which I’ve been to before.

“It’s beautiful inside Swineshead Village Hall so I tried to touch people’s hearts with music, something I’ve been doing for 30 years.”

Claudia was born in north-western Germany, near the city of Dortmund, in 1968 and began playing music on what she called a “little children’s organ” at the age of seven.

“It was nothing serious but as no one in my family plays music, I was self-taught,” Claudia said.

“When I was 15, I decided that I wanted to play music as music and when I heard another German organ player, Klaus Wunderlich, I thought I’d like to do the same thing.”

In 1986, Claudia released her first album “Summerlove” and she has gone on to release another 20 since then, including “Glanzlichter” (Highlights) with German tenors Luis del Rio and Johannes Gross.

“People love music and, in my mind, there’s no cultural desert anywhere.

“But when I accompany an opera singer like Johannes Gross, it’s much more difficult for me.

“Even so, I hope that I can help to bring more acceptance to the organ because it had a big popularity 30 years ago.

“Most teenagers in Germany had an organ but it’s gone down in popularity now and people only think of either church or Hammond organs.

“They have no idea that you can foster an orchestra with it and having also played at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, the mecca of the organ world, I can say that the organ is a very innovative instrument.”

Finally, speaking about her faith, Claudia said: “Christianity is the main thing in my life and I thank my Creator every day for the talent I have to give back to the people.

“Playing the organ is the most wonderful profession in the world because I have the opportunity to meet the most beautiful people in the world.”

Review and interview by Winston Brown