Celebrity organ (and viola) recital at St James, Lower Hutt

St. James’s Church and Wellington Organists Association

Celebrity Concert
Arvo Pärt: Fratres
C.P.E. Bach: Sonata in F for organ
J.S. Bach: Sonata in E for viola and basso continuo, BWV 1016
Dubois: Toccata in G for organ
Glazunov: Elegy for viola and organ, Op.44
Vierne: Scherzetto
Telemann: Concerto for viola and organ

Martin Börner (viola), Joachim Neugart (organ)

St. James’s Church, Lower Hutt

Saturday, 29 October 2016, 7.30pm

It was a pity that this recital was scheduled for the same night as a New Zealand Symphony Orchestra concert, which undoubtedly affected audience numbers. Nevertheless, a varied and interesting programme was enjoyed by those who attended.

Arvo Pärt’s Fratres is familiar in sundry instrumentations. Here was an unusual version, for viola and organ. It opened with the viola playing solo, high up towards the fingerboard. This was very effective. Then the organ joined in, with the upper (Swell) manual (of three), and the occasional single pedal note.

To my not inexperienced eye, the organist appeared to have a somewhat pianistic style of playing the manuals – but it did not seem to make any difference to the sound. The viola part in Fratres became increasingly technically demanding – and auditorally (if there is such as word) too. Despite a change of manuals, the organ part remained quiet. The piece ended effectively with repeats of the opening phrases.

The short C.P.E. Bach sonata was bright and breezy on the Great manual, with echoes on the Swell, followed by passages on the Choir manual. This was in disagreement with the programme note, which stated that the works were played by Princess Amalie of Prussia, on her two-manual organ. The piece demonstrated the excellent St. James organ to good effect.

The warm, rich tones of the viola contrasted with flutes on the organ in the opening of the J.S. Bach sonata. There was lovely sympathetic playing from the viola, contrasting with the more mechanical sound of the organ in the gorgeously lyrical adagio first movement. The second one (allegro) employed a much spikier registration and technique of playing. There was wonderful interweaving of the two instruments. The alternation of the manuals was most effective. The adagio third movement was quieter, with a fine flute stop in the bass. This movement particularly, is more familiar in its original setting for violin an d continuo (usually harpsichord); there are other arrangements too.

The deep tones of the viola were very satisfying. The smooth transitions and euphonious harmonies of a movement such as this are timeless soul-food. The final movement required fast finger-work from both musicians. Both instruments were in fine voice, but it is as pity that this church is not more resonant.

The toccata by Dubois had a loud and jolly opening., and a very grand slower section, then back to fast and jolly. This was interspersed with grave passages, which led to the showy, rapid figures that ended the piece.

The Glazunov work had a romantic opening, with sonorous tones on both instruments, in a dotted rhythm. The work included attractive melodies.

Louis Vierne’s organ piece featured much lively staccato playing, contrasted with a smooth, chordal section. These passages continued to interplay with each other.

Finally, we heard the Telemann work. The viola was played in true vibrato-less baroque style, while there was fine clarity in the solo line from the organ in the largo first movement. The second movement was very familiar – surely it was used in another of the composer’s works. The bass line was perhaps a little heavy alongside the light, running passages in the right hand. The third movement (andante) was mellow and soulful on the viola, with light staccato accompaniment on organ. There were plenty of technical demands on both players. The presto finale also sounded familiar, and was very similar to the second movement. There was fancy footwork here, but again I found the tone of the pedals rather heavy as accompaniment for the lighter registration of the manuals and the mellifluous viola.

This was an interesting programme, and it was good to have a second instrument involved, along with the organ. It was a most enjoyable recital by two accomplished musicians, ending on a bright, uplifting note.


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