Fine recital by Douglas Mews on St Andrew’s chamber organ

Bach: Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 870, Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 871, from The Well-Tempered Clavier
Matthew Camidge (1764-1844): Concerto no.2 in G minor
Handel: Suite no.3 in D minor, HWV 28

Douglas Mews, chamber organ

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 27 March 2013, 12.15pm

I was asked by the young man to whom I gave a ride into town on Wednesday, when I told him I was going to an organ recital: “Why do skeletons not play music in church?” Answer:  “Because they have no organs.”  But St. Andrew’s on The Terrace has two, and it was refreshing to hear the chamber organ this time.

What was even more refreshing was to see it pulled to the centre of the platform, where it looked resplendent, and sounded much more direct and sonorous.  It was a little ironic that, playing in a position such that the audience could see Douglas Mews’s feet on the pedals, which is not the case usually at organ recitals, he chose music which incorporated very little in the way of pedal parts, as his spoken introductions informed us in advance.

Mews’s playing brought out all the character and melodic interest of the Bach pieces much more readily than is the case in their more frequently- heard piano renditions.  As my mother says on the old private recording I have of her playing the second of these preludes “The piano does not bring out the notes of the tune as does the organ or the clavichord”.  (Please excuse her grammar!)

For the second prelude, Mews chose a delightfully “chuffy” flute registration, followed by a brighter registration for the fugue.  All was well articulated, but the notes were not made staccato; thus the themes were not broken up.  Throughout, the performer’s technique and rhythm were impeccable, barring a very few wrong notes.

Matthew Camidge was new to me; as Douglas Mews said, his music looked back to the eighteenth century and the style of Handel rather than being typical of the new century, and being English, made little use of the pedals even though they had been integral to German organ music for well over 100 years.

The first movement, adagio, incorporated a number of changes of registration to include reed pipes (for which Mews had an assistant to perform some of the manipulation of stops), which added interest.  This was followed by an athletic allegro, that incorporated a few pedal notes.  The third movement, adagio, went back to flutes.  This movement employed more chromaticism than occurred in Handel’s music.  The jolly opening theme of the final gavotte reminded me of one of Bach’s organ works to which some wit applied the words (in honour of a nineteenth century editor of Bach’s music): “O Ebenezer Prout, you are a funny man”; it was a sprightly dance.

Handel, though a noted organist, wrote nothing for the instrument except for the concertos, which is a pity.  However, this harpsichord suite sounded splendid on the organ, and the link is that the last movement of this suite is also the final movement of his Op.7 no.4 organ concerto.  Despite it being written for harpsichord, Douglas Mews was able to find moments to employ the pedals to good effect in the opening Prelude.  Certainly there is a greater variety of timbres and tones on even a small organ than could be obtained from the harpsichord.

The Allegro movement was played without pedals; there were lots of notes, and the whole was in a dotted rhythm.  The third movement, Allemande, was quite lovely with a flute registration, and to my mind calm and beautiful compared to what its sound would be on the harpsichord.  Of course a rather different technique is required to play the suite on the organ instead of on the harpsichord.

The Courante certainly ran, in bright tones.  Decorated notes were played with exemplary clarity and the pedals were put to use again, both near the end here, and in the next movement, Air and Variations, an extended movement that showed great invention on the part of Handel.  Adding a 2-foot stop gave a tinkling bell-like sound that was most appealing (no pun intended).

The Presto finale I certainly recognised from the organ concerto – though here it was faster than on my recording of the latter – prestidigitation indeed.

We were privileged to hear an expert playing this fine music.


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