Donald Nicolson at the Maxwell Fernie organ

Winter Recital Series on the Maxwell Fernie Organ


Recital on a Plainsong Theme: ‘Ave Maris Stella’ (i.e. works based on this plainsong)


Marchand: Grand Dialogue

Anon: Ave Maris Stella – Plainchant on haute contre; Recit. de Nazard ou de Pierce; Tierce en Taille; Fugues sur Ave Maris Stella

Frescobaldi: Mass for Organ from Fiori Musicali – Toccata; Kyrie La missa della Madonna (‘Cum Jubilo’); Canzon doppo L’Epsitola; Recercar dopo Il Credo; Toccata Avanti Il Ricercar; Recercar

Anon: Ave Maris StellaPlein Jeu; Petite Fugue sur la Cromorne; Trio

Dandrieu: Offertoire pour le Jour de Pâques

(Spelling inconsistencies are on the original Frescobaldi manuscript, a photocopy of which Nicolson was using.)


Donald Nicolson


St Mary of the Angels


Saturday 18 September


A small audience heard a fine recital on this splendid pipe organ.  Unfortunately the printed programme, which did not bear the date, had some of the items in the wrong order, and movements did not all appear printed.   The corrected version appears above.


In the past week alone, Donald Nicolson has appeared in concerts playing the piano, the harpsichord and now the organ.  His versatility and musicality are, sadly, to be lost to New Zealand as he travels to greater opportunities in Australia.  He has been playing the organ at St Mary of the Angels since the beginning of 2008 and has, I am sure, been a great asset here, as he has elsewhere in Wellington’s lively musical scene.


His group ‘Latitude 37’, in which the other two instrumentalists are Australian, played for the Wellington Chamber Music Society’s Sunday afternoon series in May last year.


The first work in this recital was grand in several senses: in design, in registration and in execution, although I thought the pedal rather too loud for the manuals in the opening passages.  The work revealed some out-of-tune reeds on the organ, which recurred in later parts of the programme – probably due to the amount of wet weather recently.  It’s amazing how this slight tuning aberration can make a fine organ like this one sound like a fair organ!


Members of the choir of St Mary of the Angels sang the Ave Maris Stella plainsong on which the movements were based, in the two anonymous works: before the several movements and at the end, and also between the sections of the Kyrie in the Frescobaldi work.  This was, in the main, very effective, though the male voices were not so pleasing as were the females’.   Each organ movement then began with the plainchant.


The first anonymous Ave Maris Stella featured a quite lovely third movement: Tierce en Taille, and a bold set of fugues to finish.


The Frescobaldi certainly demonstrated the versatility of Maxwell Fernie’s organ, but was much weightier, louder and more varied in registration than the composer himself would have had at his disposal.


After the opening Toccata and Kyrie came a Canzon with beautiful registrations.  The variations in this movement were very appealing.  


The second Ave Maris Stella setting was characterised by a delightful interplay of parts in the Fugue, utilising gedackts; the Trio used contrasting registration.


Dandrieu’s attractive Offertoire was for the greater part jolly in mood, appropriately for Easter.  It was preceded by a plainchant from the choir on the word ‘Alleluia’.  A charming work, it was made up of interesting variations.  They alternated in the main between loud and soft registrations.  I counted 26 renditions of the plainsong in its various guises, with registrations of reeds, full organ, flutes, diapasons, gedackt, a low reed, chimney flute, high flutes.  There were numerous uses of full organ, or near-full organ to make the louder contrast between softer sections.


This work made an enjoyable ending to a satisfying recital.   Nicolson’s playing could hardly be faulted; just an occasional rushing of the short notes was all that caught my ear in a first-class technique.


Further recitals in the series are by Michael Stewart on 3 October, and Thomas Gaynor on 7 November, both at 2.30pm.  The plainsong theme for the former is Veni Creator Spiritus.


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