Interestingly presented, varied programme of works on organ of St James Church

Douglas Mews (organ)
(St. James’s Church and Wellington Organists Association)
Advent Sunday Concert

Buxtehude: Praeludium in D minor, Bux WV 140
Passacaglia in D minor, Bux WV 161
J.S. Bach: Three settings of Advent Hymn ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’ (from the Eighteen Chorale Preludes), BWV 659-661
Prelude and Fugue in C, BWV 547
Grieg: Prayer and Temple Dance from Olav Trygvason (opera)
Jehan Alain: Choral Dorien
Franck: Chorale in E

St. James’s Church, Lower Hutt

Sunday, 27 November 2016, 3pm

A rather more healthily-sized audience greeted this recital compared with that for the previous recital in the series, which was held on a Saturday night.

Preliminary remarks from representatives of both St. James’s Church and the Wellington Organists Association mentioned that there had been some damage to the organ in the 7.8 earthquake two weeks ago, but the effect was not great.  Following this, Douglas Mews gave introductory remarks to the works about to be played; this he did before each group of items.  These were informative, insightful, clear and sometimes humorous.  The use of  microphone made every word audible.

The opening work by Dietrich Buxtehude was bright and fast, with the appropriate level of detachment between notes for this early baroque music.  Most of the piece was played on the Great manual, with some fancy pedal footwork in the final section.

The Passacaglia was quite a contrast, much of it being played using flute stops on the Choir manual.

It being the beginning of the season of Advent, we heard three settings by Bach of the Advent Hymn ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’ (Now comes the Saviour of the Gentiles).  The stately and calmly beautiful theme resounded through the three chorale preludes, despite their quite different settings.  Douglas Mews’s impeccable technique and interpretation gave maximum character to each one.

The first featured a steady rhythm known as a ‘walking bass’; much of the music was played on the Choir manual, with solo on the Great.  The second was unusual in having two bass parts, one for the left hand and the other for the pedals, thus, a trio.  There was a reed solo on the Swell manual, which created considerable contrast.  The combination made for interesting listening.

The third chorale prelude was fast and pungent, where the previous one was plangent.  The fugue section brought polyphony to the fore.

Still with Bach, we heard a Prelude and Fugue that Mews described as appropriate for Christmas (this being the last recital in the series for 2016), because of the bell-like theme to be heard in each part.  The fugue had the peal of bells in the pedals, twice as slowly as on its previous appearances.  The fugue was declamatory and confident; the whole work sounded rousing and celebratory.

Grieg’s two pieces from his never-completed opera have been arranged for various instruments, by both the composer and others.  Olav Trygvason was the Norwegian king who brought Christianity to his country.  The Prayer (to pagan gods) was brisk and, well, pagan, with a slower, more thoughtful middle section, while the dance was very spirited with a fiery ending.  Altogether, a very effective and colourful organ work.

Jehan Alain, the composer older brother of famed organist Marie-Claire Alain, had his life cut tragically short at the beginning of World War II (I was incensed some years ago when the great organist visited New Zealand, to read a programme biography describing her in terms of her brother!).  His vignette Choral Dorien was made up of repeated melody fragments.  It provided a pleasant meditative interlude between two more substantial works.

Franck’s Chorale in E was the first of the three Chorales that were his last compositions.  I have to admit to harbouring no great affection for this composer.  I have heard this piece many times, but still find it prosaic, bordering on dull and predictable, except for the middle section.  However, Douglas Mews’s registrations made it more appealing than usual.  It completed an excellent recital, admirably played and introduced.


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