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At St Mary’s, Karori: viola and organ music drawn from Bach, Elgar and an obscure York Minster organist

By , 22/09/2017

Karori Classics
Christiaan van der Zee (viola), Douglas Mews (organ)

Bach:   Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord in G major, BWV 1027
Tenor aria from Cantata no. 5: ‘Ergiesse dich reichlich’
Toccata and Fugue in D minor
Elgar:   Sospiri
Chanson de Matin
Matthew Camidge: Concerto in G minor for organ

St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Karori

Friday 22 September 2017, 7pm

A rather small audience enjoyed a ‘Bach sandwich’ as the artists described it.  The opening work, played by viola and organ immediately impressed with the euphonious tone of the viola, which one so seldom hears played solo, or with simply an accompaniment.  Flute tones from the organ were a sufficient contrast to allow the viola to really speak with its own voice.  It was described by the person introducing the concert as a ‘velvety’ sound.

The first movement of the sonata was played mainly in the lower register of the viola.  A faster second movement was followed by an andante third, with slow, lilting phrases on both instruments.  The final movement was an ornate allegro moderato featuring jaunty high flute pipes, the viola bolstering the melodies from below.

Some more Bach came in the shape of the transcription of a tenor aria from Cantata no.5 ‘Wo soll ich fliehen hin’ (Where shall I flee); making alternate settings of his music was something Bach did a great deal himself, including many arias arranged for organ.  The organ played the tenor part, while Chris van der Zee was the fountain – a word occurring in the aria.  He explained that the viola was tuned to a lower pitch than usual.

There were warm tones from both instruments.  The viola was played from in front of the pipes; the organ console was some distance away.  The piece was typical Bach, with lots of intricacies, depicting the water falling and splashing from the fountain.

Elgar was represented by two quite well-known pieces, the first arranged from an original for strings, harp and solo cello, and the second having various orchestral settings but often played on violin and piano.  I found they sounded a little strange on organ.  The viola tone was lovely and full, being played in a Romantic style for this music, quite different from that employed in the Bach.  I thought the Chanson de Matin did not work particularly well for this instrumental combination – but maybe I am just too accustomed to hearing it from a string orchestra.  There was an effective change of registration on the organ for the more agitated section, then it was back to quieter, more mellow pipes for the ending.

Chris van der Zee had to depart at this point to another function; Douglas Mews treated us to another English composer, with whom I was not familiar: Matthew Camidge (1764 – 1844).  He was an organist, and part of a family dynasty of church musicians at York Minster.  His Concerto for organ in G minor was one of six.  As Mews explained, he wrote in an older style, not exhibiting any influences of the nineteenth century.

The piece had a strong Introduction, then a quiet section.  Contrasting passages followed.  The organist made excellent use of the two manuals, with contrasting registrations.  This was lively music.

There was a quiet and slower movement, using flute stops.  I thought the music pleasant but not particularly inspired.  The final gavotte movement was jolly, and very fast, with almost humorous figures.

The final work was Bach’s popular Toccata and Fugue in D minor – except that, as Douglas Mews explained, there is doubt about its authorship.  He said that it is not very organistic, and perhaps was originally for violin – or viola?  Some scholars stoutly maintain that it is an early work by Johann Sebastian, while others think that one of his pupils wrote it.  The lack of a score in Bach’s hand is one of the problems.

Regardless, its rousing opening and strong themes are always stirring.  Bright registration and a fast tempo made this work speak its message very clearly, in a fine, detached style.  This was a very effective, brilliant and satisfying rendition.

 

 

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