Supported by generous help from the Turnovsky Endowment Trust

Organ Megalomania: Christopher Hainsworth courtesy Maxwell Fernie

By , 17/02/2013

Maxwell Fernie Trust

Chris Hainsworth, organ

Alex Lithgow (1870-1907): Invercargill March
The Four Seasons: Grieg: Spring; Cedric Hargraves (1921-2010): Summer Idyll; Joseph Kosma (1905-1969): Autumn Leaves; Antoine Vivaldy [sic]: Winter
Bach: Sinfonia; Chorale Prelude; ‘Jig’ Fugue BWV 577
Handel: ‘Jug’ Concerto in Bfl., Op.4 no.2 (2 movements: Grand Overture & Allegro)
Lefébure-Wély: Spring, Andante
John Wells: Kokako Fanfare and March
[Hainsworth]: Fantasia Super Quindecim
Théodore Salomé: Prélude-Cantilène
Édouard Batiste: Postlude and a bottomless epilogue
Grand Megalomaniacal Improvisation

St. Mary of the Angels Church

Sunday, 17 February 2013, 7.30pm

Chris Hainsworth believes that organ recitals should not be solemn, passive affairs. Wisecracks and commentary from the organ loft (not all of which could be heard toward the front of the church) and jocular groupings of pieces in the printed programme (e.g. The Four Seasons – NOT by Vivaldi; Strictly for the Birds and Grand Megalomaniacal Improvisation) gave the flavour. However, the layout on the printed page was not helpful in some cases in identifying what pieces went with which group titles and which composers.

As a former pupil of Maxwell Fernie (as I am), Hainsworth was, through this recital, supporting the Maxwell Fernie Trust, that assists young organists. A welcome innovation, only previously seen by me in the Wellington Town Hall, was to have a screen at the front of the church showing the image of Hainsworth playing the organ. The side-on view showed both feet and hands well. I’m told the camera operator was Maxwell Fernie’s son.

Hainsworth’s sense of humour was immediately apparent when his ‘pipe-opener’, the well-known brass band piece by Lithgow (internationally well-known, according to Chris Hainsworth), was introduced by the opening of Strauss’s familiar Also Sprach Zarathustra (known to many as the theme music for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey). This rousing start continued straight on to the March; some might say ‘from the sublime to the cor blimey’, but the March is certainly a grand piece of band music.

The Four Seasons was an innovative and rich mixture of pieces, from Grieg’s well-known piano solo, in which the rhythm of the quavers was frequently uneven, to variations on the popular and attractive Autumn Leaves by Joseph Kosma. In between was a contemporary piece by Cedric Hargraves, and the quartet ended with one movement of Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ concerto.

Composer Nicolas Chédeville (1705–1782) arranged some of Vivaldi’s works and mixed them with pieces of his own; he spelt the Italian’s name in Frenchified fashion, as above. (Wikipedia, compared with Chris Hainsworth, makes his sin not plagiarism but arrangement of the older composer’s music, and ingratiating some of his own work into it.)

Bach’s ‘Jig Fugue’ is a lively and technically demanding piece. It came after a Sinfonia from Cantata no. 29 (arranged for organ by a Frenchman) and a chorale prelude. The Sinfonia was taken at a brisk pace, with even separation of notes; a crisp 2-foot stop added brilliance to the sound. The chorale prelude was ‘Liebster Jesu, wie sind hier’ (BWV 731), a most lovely one, and the first Bach taught to me by Maxwell Fernie – and one I always enjoy playing. Here again, the quavers were not always even when they should have been – not that I’m in favour of strict renditions any more than Maxwell Fernie was. Rubato, yes; slight accelerando, yes; but phrases of quavers should be even in rhythm. However, the splendid organ was shown off well, and changes of registration in the fugue were most effective; the playing was always lively. What a heritage Maxwell Fernie gave us in the interpretation of Bach’s organ music!

The ‘Jig’ of Bach was followed by the ‘Jug’ of Handel. His concerto is apparently nicknamed the ‘Jug’, although I could not find any reference to this on my recording, in Grove or Wikipedia. However, Chris Hainsworth justified this name by telling the audience that the composer relished the good life, and perhaps after a concert enjoyed a drink of Handel’s lager. Hainsworth played the sprightly, tuneful two movements, full of appealing melodies and rhythms, with contrasting registrations and elegant baroque style and flair.

The avians flew in (no pun intended) in both exotic and native dress. The Spring and Andante of Lefébure-Wély featured haunting flute stops (just a few pipes were not speaking properly) and were followed by John Wells’s Kokako Fanfare and March (do kokako march?). I found the registration of the fanfare a little strident for the clear-toned kokako – but perhaps it was honouring the bird rather than imitating it. Plangent flute sounds towards the end of the piece were more kokako-like.

Fantasia Super Quindecim was obviously an ingenious construction of Chris Hainsworth’s own; a ‘hommage’ to New Zealand rugby (the title denoting five Super Rugby teams of fifteen players each – thanks to a friend for pointing that out). We had ‘Highland Cathedral’, ‘March of the Crusaders’, The Birth of the Blues’ ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Mooloo’ movements.

The provincial appellations are eminently obvious, and some of the music was too: the bagpipes of the first movement sounded thoroughly authentic in tone and manner; the imposing, British imperial style of the march was magnificent, sweeping all before it. The Aucklanders – sorry, Blues – had a bassoon sound intoning the tunes (or was it the blues?), followed by much swinging in and out of the swell pedal (very obvious on-screen) to typify the capital. Perhaps I was not listening closely enough to hear any bovine sounds for Hainsworth’s former home territory. There succeeded intimations of Widor, the New Zealand National Anthem, and Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ to bring battle to a conclusion.

Throughout the recital, Chris Hainsworth revealed a splendid technique with plenty of detachment of notes, but always with musical integrity and in keeping with the style of the composers. That the performer is a thoroughly knowledgeable musician was always apparent.

Pieces by two minor French composers came next. That by Salomé was very attractive, featuring delightful registrations, principally reeds and flutes; a mainly quiet, contemplative piece. In contrast, the Batiste was bombastic and rousing, letting the organ have its head. (Richard Strauss would have been amused at the juxtaposition of these two composers’ names!)

As a finale, there was the improvisation. As a piece of theatre, the ploy of Hainsworth fishing up a sealed envelope containing the theme upon which to improvise with a line from the organ loft down to the theme’s deviser, Douglas Mews, was fun. Hainsworth played the theme, then immediately rendered it in modal fashion. That was followed by a birdsong version with chordal accompaniment.

More variations followed, working up to something reminiscent of Widor, and a return to modal tonality. A fanfare sounded an introduction to a section with thundering pedals, fading somewhat into a bouncy rhythm with much harmonic modulation and use of all three manuals for different effects; in fact, playing in a bunch of keys.

A brassy episode appeared, with the theme played on the pedals – this ended with another echo of Widor, and more unexpected modulation. The ending was rather too drawn out for my liking, but the whole was a considerable tour de force, to end a memorable recital.

 

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