Douglas Mews organ recital before a Bach Cantata at Lutheran vespers

Organ recital of pieces by Bach, Pachelbel, CPE Bach and Byrd and Bach Cantata BWV 161, ‘Komm du süsse Todesstunde’


Douglas Mews (organ) and Musica Lyrica – baroque voices and instruments  


St Paul’s Lutheran Church, King Street, Mount Cook, Wellington 


Sunday 12 September, 4pm


We are in the middle of National Organ Month. There have been a number of very fine recitals on many of the more important organs in the city, but one has been conspicuously silent.

The Wellington Town Hall organ.


It’s specially surprising when a CD of Douglas Mews, City Organist, playing that great organ has just been released by a British recording company, part of a series devoted to the great organs of Australasia.


So where has City Organist Douglas Mews been?

On Sunday he played the (rather fine) organ of the little Lutheran Church of St Paul in Mount Cook, off Adelaide Road. Not where you might expect to find the City Organist during the main organ festival of the year. But what do you do if they take away the key to your instrument?


I am told the reason is that the Wellington City Council had declined to support the event, and that furthermore, the council had postponed all routine maintenance on the organ this year. We haven’t spoken to Douglas Mews on the subject, but wonder whether his honorarium has likewise been suspended….


What’s the Council doing????

Might be worth asking Mayor Prendergast for her comment at an appropriate electoral meeting.

Wellington – Cultural Capital? Yeah, Right!


As well as his role as City Organist, Douglas Mews is keyboard specialist (particularly harpsichord, fortepiano and organ) at the New Zealand School of Music. He played an hour-long recital on the St Paul’s two-manual Dutch organ, before the church’s Vespers service; a service which customarily includes a performance of a Bach cantata within the liturgy. The organ recital consisted almost entirely of German music of around the Bach era.  


It began with one of Bach’s arrangements of other composers’ concertos – there are a lot, numbered from BWV 972 to 987. This one was from an oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello, BWV 974 (there’s possibly another one, BWV 977, by Alessandro’s brother, the better known Benedetto). Its lack of any specially memorable tunes explains its neglect, but it offered an excellent vehicle for Mews’s decorative facility, his taste and his flair for investing this lovely little instrument, ideally suited to the size of the church, with tonal variety and musical humanity.


A piece by Pachelbel followed – an Aria Sebaldina from a collection called Hexachordum Apollinis, six arias published in 1699. According to Wikipedia it ‘is generally regarded as one of the pinnacles of Pachelbel’s oeuvre’. Not a complex contrapuntal piece, rather a set of colourful, mainly transparent variations that exercised the organ’s flute stops attractively.


The odd-piece-out was a Sonata by C P E Bach, conspicuously of a later era, filled with his irregular phrases, seeming pointedly to avoid the composing styles of his predecessors, chiefly of his father; rather intriguing.


An exhibition of the organ’s excellent flute and piccolo stops came with Byrd’s account of the medieval song, Carmen’s Whistle; before a return to Bach proper – the Fugue in G minor, BWV 578, known as the ‘Little Fugue’ – ‘Little’ to distinguish it from the ‘Great Fantasia and Fugue in G minor’, BWV 542, which is longer. Leopold Stokowski arranged BWV 578 for orchestra and it’s recently been recorded by the Bournmouth Symphony Orchestra. It gave us the chance to hear more of the reed stops of the organ. 


During the Vespers service which followed Mews’s recital, there is always the singular spectacle of the pastor, Mark Whitfield, who moves between priestly activities, vocal offerings as cantor, and occasionally organist.


The principal music attraction however, was Bach’s Cantata BWV 161, performed with the baroque ensemble Musica Lyrica and four voices – Rowena Simpson, Katherine Hodge, John Beaglehole and David Morriss.


The ensemble was the same as had played a fortnight earlier and reviewed on this website – 29 August. Plus Cellist Emma Goodbehere who, it will be recalled, had departed on that occasion after a minor accident with her cello, now returned with her cello repaired to provide a most welcome string texture to the bass lines.


Not a well-known cantata, the performance was charming, with fine solos from soprano Rowena Simpson, alto Katherine Hodge and tenor John Beaglehole. The voices together with recorders and baroque violins, viola and cello turned a morbid text – ‘Komm du süsse Todesstunde’ – into a good time, which was the way the church, naturally, would have it.


In all, an excellent place to bear in mind for an empty end of a Sunday afternoon.


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