Lunchtimes in Wellington churches

1 Organist David Trott for lunch at Old St Paul’s

A recital of popular classics on the organ

Tuesday 15 September

Lunchtime concerts at Old St Paul’s and St Andrew’s on The Terrace have taken on certain characteristics. While St Andrew’s has tended towards the more serious repertoire, catering for those whose interest in classical music is reasonably wide, Old St Paul’s seems to aim, at least some of the time, at the popular end of he spectrum.

David Trott’s organ recital was a good example of the latter. There was no printed programme and he introduced each piece in a friendly, casual tone, laced with anecdotes that sometimes had less to do with the music than with his own musical life.

If his selection was not entirely familiar, it offered no challenges. Generally they were well suited to the light, attractive registrations available on the church’s organ; such as the piece by 18th century organist and pedagogue Michel Corrette that employed a glockenspiel-like stop, and popular Bach pieces – Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring (‘Jesu bleibet meine Freude’) from Cantata 147 (Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben) and the Air from the Third Orchestral Suite (‘On the G String’). These suited the instrument and its player admirably; but less successful was his little arrangement of the main theme in the last movement of Saint-Saëns’s Third Symphony which demands far more dramatic weight that could be found here.

Trott played a distinctly odd-ball arrangement that combined elements of the Water Music and the Royal Fireworks music; his treatment of Pachelbel’s Canon went overboard with changes of registration in almost every bar: perhaps it was intended as a spoof.

Checking first that there were no priests present who might take offence, Trott played Mendelssohn’s splendid War March of the Priests from his incidental music to Racine’s Athalie. It used to make a regular appearance on programmes like Dinner Music at 6pm on the old YC network of my youth; its dramatic harmonies sound so good at the organ and though, again, a grander organ would have made it more exciting, it came off, nostalgia giving it an extra burst.

2. New Zealand School of Music voice students at St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 16 September

I missed the first four items in the St Andrew’s concert next day from the vocal students at the New Zealand School of Music: It meant that I didn’t hear either Laura Dawson and Sophie Kemp who did not sing again later. The rest exhibited admirable features.

Rachel Day has a voice that projects well, but her Richard Strauss song ‘Ich trage meine Minne’ needed greater refinement of tone and dynamic control, and those were the qualities that most of the singers still need to acquire.

She returned later to sing the Jewel Song from Faust, where she conveyed the giddy excitement, ‘hitting’ the notes but missing the interspersed lyrical touches.

Bridget Costello did well to sing the ‘Pie Jesu’ from Fauré’s Requiem, managing dynamic variety well though the piece demands more polished legato singing. She sang a song by John Ireland, Spring Song, with a more reined-in voice, some delicacy and carefully displayed emotion.

Bryony Williams tackled a long aria from The Creation: ‘On Mighty Pens’. It was a strong, convincing performance, showing her dramatic sense and a reasonably controlled top, but her voice wearied towards the end. She balanced that with the rather sentimental Elégie by Massenet (it’s from the incidental music, for cello and orchestra, to Leconte de Lisle’s play Les Erinnyes).

Bianca Andrew won marks for choosing an aria from Barber’s Vanessa (the opera that Kiri Te Kanawa made her mark in a few years ago) ‘Must Winter come so soon?’. She returned to sing the big coloratura aria ‘Non piu mesta’ from Rossini’s La Cenerentola, preceded by the recitative ‘Nacqui all’affano e al pianto’; she moved about sensibly, sang at a reasonable pace and so got all the notes; Emma Sayers’s lively pulse at the piano contributed delightfully.

Kieran Rayner sang three items, each with Emily Mair at the piano. First, Strauss’s ‘Ruhe meine Seele’, which impressed me, though I only caught the last of it; then Ashley Heenan’s arrangement of the sea shanty ‘Lowdown Lonesome Low’ (familiar to radio aficionados in Donald Munro’s performance). It’s a challenge to bring off such songs without embarrassing artifice and Rayner has the personality to do it convincingly, varying the tone and using dynamic variety with intelligence.

He was given the honour of bringing the little concert to an end with the aria he sang in the Wellington Aria contest in August, ‘O vin, dissipe la tristesse’ from Thomas’s Hamlet; not perhaps the therapy that a psychologist would recommend, but Rayner made an excellent case for it.

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