In Memoriam: organ restorers remembered at St Peter’s

Organ recital to remember three members of the South Island Organ Company killed in Christchurch on 22 February.

Paul Rosoman, Dianne Halliday, Richard Apperley, Michael Fulcher

St Peter’s Church, Willis Street

Friday 4 March 5.30pm

Only two weeks after the inaugural concert for the restored organ at St Peter’s three of those who had worked on the project were killed on their next assignment, the organ in the Durham Street Methodist Church in Christchurch; this extremely beautiful church built in 1864, called the “Mother Church of Methodism” in the South Island, was totally destroyed.

One has to hope that the focus of the city’s recovery will quickly start to dwell on the vital importance of rebuilding the city’s most important and beautiful buildings. If Dresden and Warsaw and many other war-wrecked cities of Europe could take their time to restore the physical element of their spirit, calmly and determinedly, so can Christchurch.

Four Wellington organists took part; a fifth, Douglas Mews, was unable to participate as he was overseas. Paul Rosoman opened the programme with Bach’s Partita on ‘O Gott, du frommer Gott’, BWV 767, unfamiliar to me. It was one of Bach’s earliest organ works, a set of variations rather than what we now understand as a partita. Its solemn opening of the Lutheran hymn on the pedals made an imposing statement, though it is alleviated by more lively, and light-spirited sections as it progresses.

Dianne Halliday followed with Lilburn’s Prelude and Fugue in G minor, subtitled ‘Antipodes’ of 1944 sounded uncharacteristic of Lilburn. In fact, being unable to see the organists who slipped unobtrusively from a door beside the console, I wondered for a while whether I was listening to the Herbert Howells piece that Richard Apperley was scheduled to play. None of the familiar Lilburn melodic and rhythmic ticks were there, and it seemed as if the composer, dealing with an instrument that till then had no significant body of New Zealand music, placed himself almost entirely in the hands of English organists of the first part of the 20th century. Nevertheless, its weight and its evident accomplishment made it a particularly valuable contribution to the concert.

Her second piece was Bach’s ‘Schmücke, dich o liebe Seele’, BWV654.

Richard Applerley played Howells’s Master Tallis’s Testament, beginning in a state of calm but slowly creating a remarkable and portentous essay during which the sun suddenly broke through the clouds and the west-facing stained glass, after which the sound subsided. For me it was a moving discovery.

And he followed it with Théodore Dubois’s ‘In paradisum’ a spirited, somewhat insubstantial (in the best sense) and glittering piece.

Michael Fulcher concluded the concert with Franck’s Third Chorale, all three from his last year, 1890. My pleasure in Franck may be driven by an all-embracing franc(k)ophilia which withstands the deprecations of unLisztian and unFranckian friends. I greatly enjoyed Fulcher’ rendering, with its shimmering opening, its impressive contrapuntal progress and its final triumphant ending.

I had missed the inauguration of the restored instrument and relished this chance to hear it put through its paces in a good variety of music. It sounds admirably in tune with the church’s acoustic and in both its loudest and quietest moods produces sounds that are beautifully right. The reed stops caught my ear for their unusual, slightly nasal character, but they seemed in perfect accord with the charmingly decorated pipes and the meticulously restored wooden case.

All donations were sent through the Red Cross to help with their work in Christchurch


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