Dianne Halliday at Cambridge Terrace Congregational Church organ

‘Manual Labour’ – pieces without pedals by Sweelinck, Frescobaldi, Eberlin, C P E Bach and John Stanley

Dianne Halliday – organ

Congregational Church, Cambridge Terrace, Wellingtom

Thursday 16 September , 12 45pm

Though I have lived almost all my life in Wellington, I confess that I confirm a comment made at this recital, that this organ is Wellington’s best kept musical secret. I only discovered it at lunchtime recitals three or four years ago. In fact, Michael Fulcher, who came to listen, said it was one of his favourite Wellington instruments.

It was Dianne Halliday who prompted work on the Cambridge Terrace organ and its regular Thursday lunchtime recitals; she is also director of music at St Peter’s Willis Street and has been leading the work of restoring its organ (both are by English builder William Hill) after the 2008 fire.

It is indeed a lovely instrument, three manuals and pedal board, happily placed at the east end of the church, in what would be the chancel of an Anglican or Catholic church. Its size and voicing seems a perfect match with the size and shape of the church; the only disadvantage is traffic noise which indeed made its point.

The decision to play pieces that did not use pedals was in part driven by practical considerations, but it leaves most pre-19th century music available. In any case there was plenty of rich bass sound in the swell division.

Dianne Halliday’s second recital during National Organ Month included music from an entirely different era from that in her earlier recital at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, reviewed by my colleague Rosemary Collier. This time, it was music from between early 17th and late 18th centuries.

The main characteristic of the recital was the organist’s colourful use of contrasting registrations. The two pieces by Sweelinck – Fantasia in the Manner of an Echo and the Variations on ‘Unter der Linde grüne’ were charming pieces, the latter particularly playful in the sharp contrasts between successive variations; the flute stops against the sturdy diapason ones.

Frescobaldi’s Toccata a l’elevazione, one from his ‘Secondo libro di toccate’ of 1627 that consisted of toccatas, ricercars, canzonas; ‘elevazione’ presumably refers to the fact that they are for manuals, and not pedals. It proved light in spirit but not trivial and Halliday realized it in a lively and unpretentious manner.

An unknown composer followed: Johann Ernst Eberlin who lived more than a century after Sweelinck and Frescobaldi. He worked as court organist to the Archbishop of Salzburg, was a friend of Leopold Mozart, and Wolfgang is likely to have heard his music there. He died when Mozart was 6. Dianne Halliday played his Suite on the Fifth Tone consisting of a Praeludium and six short variations (variants might be a better word), including pairs in which the tune was inverted. They were hardly weighty works, but enchanting, and especially rewarding on this organ, in this bright space (the church has no stained glass). A Finale summed it up, with references to the preceding pieces.

C P E Bach’s Sonata in A minor (perhaps H 85 – Wq 70:4), displayed the typical fingerprints of J S Bach’s second son – elaborate rhythmic figures, tuneful though not of the rich and memorable kind; it was probably Halliday’s keen stylistic sensibility that lent it colour. For me, the middle movement, Adagio, was very much the chief pleasure; not complex in a contrapuntal sense, but in its pure lines that were evidence of a considerable musical talent.

Finally, the only English piece in the programme, a Voluntary by John Stanley, which consisted of a series of short, varied sections from a prelude – whose full, rich palette was striking proof that pedals are hardly necessary, to a spirited dance, a meditation and a brisk courrante-style episode: a quite admirable piece that showed how English composers in the late 18th century were hardly inferior, once J S Bach was dead, to their Continental contemporaries at the organ. Perhaps, like several French composers of the past century, it helped that he was blind.


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