Anniversaries the pretext for chamber organ recital for Organists’ Congress

Wellington Organists’ Association – New Zealand Association of Organists’ Congress
Sweelinck to Stanley

Sweelinck: Ballo del granduce; ‘Flow my tears;’  Onder een linde groen;  Fantasia Chromatica;
Charles Stanley: Voluntary IX in G major Op.VII;  Three Songs from ‘The Muse’s Delight’; Solo III for flute and basso continuo, Op.1;  Voluntary VIII in D minor Op. V;  Song: The Blind Boy
Handel: ‘Sweet Bird’ (from L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato)

Douglas Mews (organ, harpsichord, virginal), Rowena Simpson (soprano), Penelope Evison (baroque flute)

Adam Concert Room, Victoria University of Wellington

Saturday, 2 June, 7.30pm

As part of ‘Wellington 2012’, the Organists’ Congress, this concert was offered to participants and the public as something involving the organ, but more intimate than the Friday Symphony Orchestra concert with the Poulenc Organ Concerto, and the recital at Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul the following day, both featuring eminent French organist Olivier Latry.  The composers were chosen because of their anniversaries this year: 450 years since the birth of Sweelinck, and 300 years since the birth of Stanley.

Clarity of instruments and voice was the hallmark in the relatively small, but acoustically alive Adam Concert Room.  The two-manual and pedal Reil Dutch organ is set in the room, not in a special organ chamber.  To my mind, some of the ranks are harsh and even abrasive in this acoustic.  However, the flute stops employed in some of the Sweelinck (1562-16211) variations on an Italian dance tune that Douglas Mews, Artist-in-Residence for the Congress, played first, gave a mellow and liquid sound that was most attractive.

Next, the versatile Mews played virginal for Rowena Simpson’s first song, ‘Flow my teares’ by John Dowland, following which we heard Sweelinck’s keyboard variation  upon the melody, ‘Pavana Lachrymae’.  The dark, sad mood of both was eminently well conveyed.

A song in Sweelinck’s native language, Dutch, was sung by Simpson, before the four variations were played, this time on the organ.  With study in The Hague behind her, Simpson sang the words fluently and clearly – as indeed she did in all her items.

‘Fantasia Chromatica’ on the organ displayed the skill of the composer in intertwining melodies along with a chromatic theme.  It was an interesting example of music of the period conveying changes of mood, as well as demonstrating Douglas Mews’s great skill in playing organ music of this period.

Charles John Stanley (1712-1786) was a prolific English composer for the organ.  The first items, the three songs, were interspersed between movements of the flute piece (really a sonata).  Here, Douglas Mews accompanied on the harpsichord.  Penelope Evison’s expertise on the transverse flute (wooden, of course) was a delight to hear, while the songs, with their commentary on men, maids, and the pros and cons of the two getting together, were interpreted with flair by Rowena Simpson.

The second voluntary was quite a vehement piece compared with the earlier one, and more demanding on the skill of the performer – a demand that was fully met.

Stanley had very restricted vision for most of his life, so the song of the blind boy was quite poignant, though the poem (by Colley Cibber) ends on a more positive note, explaining that the boy can ‘bear a loss I ne’er can know.  Then let not what I cannot have my cheer of mind destroy: Whilst thus I sing I am a king, although a poor blind boy.’  Accompanied on the virginal, the song was sung in an appropriately touching manner.

The recital ended with soprano, flute and organ performing Handel’s ‘Sweet Bird’, to introduce the association between Handel and Stanley, the latter having conducted Handel’s operas and oratorios.  This song from Il Penseroso (words by John Milton) represented sadness, enlivened by the flute imitating the nightingale.

Thus ended an evening’s pleasant entertainment, demonstrating the musical arts of two periods in which the organ was eminent.




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