Dianne Halliday’s organ recital at Sacred Heart Cathedral

Wellington Organists’ Association  – National Organ Month

Simon Preston: Alleluyas
Arthur Wills: Lullaby for a Royal Prince
Flor Peeters: Aria
Jean Langlais: Organ Book
P.D.Q. Bach (alias Peter Schickele): Sonata da Circo S 3-ring (Circus Sonata)
Max Reger: Benedictus,
Healey Willan: Passacaglia and Fugue in E minor, no.2

Sacred Heart Cathedral

Tuesday, 7 September, 12.45pm

Another (poorly attended) recital in this series was quite a contrast to the previous one: this was entitled ‘Make a Joyful Noise’, and so it did on the whole, accompanied in the first half by the sounds of screams, shrieks and yells of the children from the adjacent Catholic primary school in the Cathedral’s forecourt.

It was surprising to have a programme entirely of twentieth (or nineteenth to twentieth) century composers; only one work, Reger’s, was written in the nineteenth century.   Appropriate too, since this week’s Composers of the Week, marking National Organ Week, are twentieth and twenty-first century composers for the organ.

The programme began with a work by noted organist Simon Preston.  This was perhaps the most exciting item in the whole programme.  It included intriguing harmonies and pentatonic melodies.  There was lovely use of quiet stops,  after a dramatic opening; there was a grand ending.

Arthur Wills, another British organist, wrote his piece to celebrate the birth of Prince William.  It was suitably soft, with a gentle rocking rhythm.  A very attractive piece, it reminded me of  the Adagio from Suite Modale by Flor Peeters, whose Aria followed – a slow, reflective piece, using a narrow range of notes.

The Langlais piece was improvisatory in style, and consisted of five movements: a Prelude that was very quiet and subtle, though with contrasting sections; Pastoral Song, to which the same description could be applied, then Chorale in E minor.  This featured large chords, but was still relatively soft and simple.  A reed stop was introduced, but the music remained slow – and not very interesting.  A pleasant movement for flutes followed, and then Pasticcio, which contributed more robust sound, through medieval-sounding pentatonic music with the trumpet stop.

The indefatigable P.D.Q. Bach (whose dates were given as 1907-1742?) made a welcome humorous intrusion into the programme.  Dianne Halliday reproduced Schickele’s 1995 ‘Performance Note’ and ‘Program Notes’ in the printed programme, from which we learned that the work was written for ‘your standard calliope’; I learn from my dictionary that calliope is a US term for a steam organ!    Among other amusing (dis)information in the notes was the following: “Circus Berserkus, though small, was widely traveled”.  This is marked by the fact that the titles of the movements are in four different languages.

‘Spiel Vorspiel’ was a jolly little fast waltz, employing amusing chords and intervals.  ‘Entrada Grande’ did sound rather like mechanical circus music, followed by a tedious scale passage – was this for the animals processing into the arena?  ‘Smokski the Russian Bear’ featured variations on Bach’s ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’ – not on the chorale melody, but on the accompaniment  (the only bit of JSB heard in two days’ organ recitals).  It ended with a bear-like cluster of sounds.  ‘Toccata Ecdysiastica’ used chirpy flute stops, notably a 2-foot – perhaps this was dizzy ecstasy?*  A well-known tune was the bass melody.   P.D.Q. Bach’s work was quite demanding technically – and harmonically!

Max Reger’s Benedictus opened very quietly, and employed much chromatic writing, typical of the late nineteenth century, under the influence of Wagner and others.   A louder second section was followed by reversion to the very quiet mood of the opening.

Healey Willan (1873-1968) was an Englishman who spent most of his life in Canada.  I found his Passacaglia more interesting and varied harmonically than the Reger work.  It also was quite chromatic, and at times rather portentous.  The fugue was strong with a very full ending, giving rein to an extensive registration.

It was pleasing to have such a varied programme, impeccably played.

*I find that ecdysis is a real word, meaning the periodic shedding of the cuticle or exoskeleton of certain insects, and reptiles.  So perhaps the chirping was that of insects and reptiles, enthusiastically shedding their outer layers?

Duo Tapas – exotic lunchtime fare at Old St.Paul’s

Duo Tapas

Rupa Maitra (violin) / Owen Moriarty (guitar)

de FALLA –  Cinco Canciones Populares Espanolas / IMAMOVIC – Sarajevo Nights : Jamilla’s Dance   PIAZZOLLA – Histoire du Tango / KROUSE- Da Chara

Old St.Paul’s Lunchtime Concert Series

Tuesday, 7th September, 2010

Something about the splendid ornateness of the interior of Old St.Paul’s Church, if not especially Moorish or Iberian, suited the exoticism of parts of the programme presented by violinist Rupa Maitra and guitarist Owen Moriarty on Tuesday at lunchtime, part of an excellent series of concerts organised for performance at the church. Ever approximate, I arrived late for the concert’s beginning, picking up what I thought was the third piece, Cancion, of the Cinco Canciones populares Espanolas by Falla, an entry-point which immersed me into a world of dark, sultry atmospheres and insinuations, a mournful melody expressed in lovely, earthy accents and tones . A central section took a more cheerful major-key aspect, the transition further demonstrating the rapport of interplay and balance between violinist and guitarist. Both played with a nice touch of “pesante” impulsiveness, textures and rhythms brought to life.

They then played what I figured was Asturiana, a slow, langurous violin melody, soaring over an octave ostinato for guitar, beautifully sustained by both musicians. Finally came Polo, the violin giving voice to passionate declamations over driving guitar rhythms, quintessentially Spanish, and realised with lots of life and colour.

Owen Moriarty inroduced the next item, two pieces by the Los Angeles-based composer Almer Imamovic which, if not exactly Spanish, had an exoticism of their own. Originally written for flute and guitar, their character was appropriately realised by the violin’s range of colour and timbre – the first, Sarajevo Nights, danced a sinuous, melancholy melody with asymmetrical rhythms, both instruments creating tensions with tremolando passages, and the guitarist augmenting the music’s trajectories by knocking his instrument’s body with his hand. The second piece, Jamilla’s Dance, began with cimbalon-like tones from the guitarist and pesante-like slides and colours from the violin, all extremely evocative and colourful. Beginning like the traditional Jewish hora, the dance slowly and suggestively stepped out, increased gradually in vigour and excitement, but suddenly releasing surges of energy, rather like a Hungarian czardas. The musicians recreated the piece’s pent-up excitement with verve and enjoyment.

Famed South American composer Astor Piazzolla was next, with his suite of pieces Histoire du Tango. Listed as a four-movement work, I could discern only three sections, though maybe Rupa Maitra did allude to this in her soft-spoken introduction to the performance, the words of which I had trouble catching. The first section, entitled Bordel – 1900, is a kind of picture of Buenos Aires at the turn of the century, a work expressing the composer’s playful, more sunnily-disposed side, indulging himself occasionally with a sultry swerve into a different episode, but generally keeping things light and evenly-poised, the violin catching the piece’s light and shade, and the guitarist keeping the rhythms going using both strings and percussion effects. The second piece, Cafe – 1930 gave us the true tango, Piazzolla-style, darker and more pensive, a guitar solo filled with dreamy melancholy, and the violin really digging into a melody laden with feeling, the tone tight and focused, carrying as much weight as it needs and no more. A major-key episode lightened both colour and rhythm, before the music again gathered and wrapped all around in more sultry atmospheres. The third piece, Nightclub – 1960, was mentioned, but not listed as played – instead we seemed to get Concert d’aujourd’hui (Contemporary concert), a piece featuring off-beat harmonies and angular melodies of the garrulous and gossipy type, a kind of “up-dating” by the composer regarding his more developed style of writing, and that of the tango itself, influenced greatly by jazz. A fascinating work, skilfully presented.

Finishing the programme with a piece by American composer Ian Krouse, Owen Moriarty assured us that this was one of the easier Krouse pieces to play – its title Da Chara, is Gaelic for “Two Friends”, and was, like the pieces by Almer Imamovic, written originally for flute and guitar. Its ostensible “Gaelic” character could be discerned in the free and airy opening melodic phrasings from the violin, with their occasional rhythmic snap, the guitar taking over with a solo, then joined by the violin to repeat the opening melody – very attractive ‘filmic” kind of music and skilfully realised. The guitar began a march-rhythm, joined by the violin, the players further energising the music with a wild, reel-like dance, the players letting their hair down in great style, Rupa Maitra catching the folk-fiddle aspect of the music nicely, and Owen Moriarty generating surges of energy from his instrument.