Interesting organ recital ranging from 17th to mid-20th century from Paul Rosoman

St Andrew’s Lunchtime concert
Paul Rosoman (organ)
On the baroque organ and the main organ in the gallery
Music by Jacob Lustig, Johann Fischer, Franz Tunder, Jan Zwart, Flor Peeters, Johann Rinck

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 3 May, 12:15 pm

The chamber organ which is normally on the right of the sanctuary was moved to the centre for this recital, allowing the audience to be more involved in the performance. It struck me as an excellent idea, one that others could well emulate when it is to be played on its own.

It was a programme entirely given over to composers of Germany and the Low Countries. The baroque organ was used for the three composers of the 17th and 18th centuries. Jacob Lustig was born in Hamburg, about 20 years after Bach. Handel, Telemann, and worked for much of his life, from 1728, in Groningen in the Netherlands and died there. Rosoman played an unpretentious Fantasie in A minor, sounding rather spare on the baroque organ; I felt that this piece, modest as it was might have been better on the larger organ, more of the character, I imagine, of the instruments of the 18th century such as in St Michael’s church in Hamburg where his father played and he had his early experience.

The Fantasie danced to light, dotted, staccato rhythms, the textures were uncluttered, and certainly, at the baroque organ there was clarity and a good feeling of elementary improvisation, the essence of something called a ‘Fantasie’.

Then came Johann (Caspar Ferdinand) Fischer; New Grove dates his birth at ?1670, rather than Paul Rosoman’s 1756 which is evidently taken from Wikipedia. The earlier date may be the result of new research. Naturally, Wikipedia reads like a precis of the quite full account in Grove.

Fischer’s habitat was Baden, in south-west Germany, much exposed to French musical influence and Grove dwells on that to characterise his music. Rosoman told us that his Chaconne in F was from one of nine suites, Musicalischer Parnassus, dedicated to the Nine Muses; don’t know which. (Test of a good classicist: name the nine and their portfolios).

But in spite of French influence, the Chaconne seemed more serious in tone and more mainstream in a German style than I’d have expected. It grew steadily in muscle as Rosoman employed richer, more weighty registrations, though remaining fairly unambitious in terms of contrapuntal character. Its sudden, lovely calm ending might have been its high point.

Each of the first three composers took us a generation back through the Baroque. Franz Tunder, born 1614, was of the generation before Buxtehude who followed him as organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck where Tunder spent his life. His Praeludium in G minor was, unsurprisingly, not too remote from the sound of Buxtehude, who was celebrated last year at St Paul’s Cathedral in a multi-recital of all his organ pieces. It was an agreeable piece, inhabiting the lower registers for the most part which I felt the organ treated well. There was little of the more complex style that developed with Buxtehude and J S Bach, of course.

Rosoman then went upstairs to the main organ. Jan Zwart was a Dutch contemporary of composers like Ravel and Vaughan Williams, Reger and Rachmaninov. His music is regarded as French-influenced, and that was certainly the impression of his Three Dutch Folk Songs, entitled in Dutch, since you ask: Hymne: ‘Wilt heden nu treden voor God den Heere’; Bede (Prayer) (‘O Heer die daer des Hemels tente spreyt’); Aria: ‘Geluckig is het Land’.

I’m prejudiced in their favour as I love French music; they pleased me. I enjoyed the varied registrations that Rosoman used, exploring and highlighting their characteristics, somehow unifying the variety of related though different melodic ideas. The second piece consisted of a lively centre section framed by Adagio passages lower on the keyboards. The third had canon-like passages where Rosoman changed stops just enough to maintain interest.

Flor Peeters was born in Belgium in 1903, Making him of the era of – let’s say, Copland, Walton, Duruflé, Tippett, Gershwin, Rodrigo, Shostakovich, Poulenc, Khachaturian… , I noticed an interesting quote in an Internet file: that Peeters exemplified “the grandeur of modern organ music, [and] left a rich legacy of works whose spiritual depth and technical perfection continue to fascinate many listeners. Particularly captivating are his fluid, natural, finely wrought melodies.” I’ll borrow that, for my notes (that included Rosoman’s comments about the Aria’s origin in a sonata for trumpet and piano), remarked on about hints of a sort of neutral solemnity that could certainly have been nicely treated by a trumpet, but was given harmonic support to make it an idiomatic organ piece.

The last item was a set of variations, again by an unfamiliar composer, though one born the same year as Beethoven: Johann Rinck. Variations on a theme of Corelli. It was of the early 19th century, not especially memorable, but a very competent and traditional set of variations which Rosoman invested with considerable liveliness and variety.

Renowned Bach scholar and conductor Suzuki with fine baroque ensemble Juilliard415

Masaaki Suzuki & Juilliard415
(Chamber Music New Zealand)

J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suite no.1 in C
Concerto for 2 violins in D minor
Cantata BWV 82a, Ich habe genug
Orchestral Suite no.3 in D

Michael Fowler Centre

Tuesday, 30 May 2017, 7.30pm

It is wonderful for audiences in New Zealand to welcome back Masaaki Suzuki, this time with an ensemble of students from the famous Juilliard School based at the Lincoln Center in New York   The 18 instrumentalists came from 8 different countries.

Suzuki, as well as running his own choral and orchestral ensembles and teaching in Tokyo, teaches also at Juilliard.  He is a renowned Bach scholar and conductor, and Wellington audiences delighted in his performing with his musicians two Bach concerts in the 2014 Arts Festival.  His Bach Collegium Japan echoes Bach’s Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, for which some of these works were written.

The ensemble was led by Cynthia Roberts, a noted American baroque violinist.  She bowed, as did some of the other musicians, in baroque style, but I could not tell from where I was sitting if period-style string instruments were in use; the bows did not appear to be, and there was nothing in the extensive printed programme to inform the audience on these points, beyond reference to the historical performance program at Juilliard.

Perhaps this is an academic point; the playing under Suzuki’s hands was crisp, pointed and always strongly rhythmic, and undoubtedly historically informed.

The first orchestral suite was one I was not familiar with.  Its various movements, based on dances, numbered 11 (taking into account that there were two Gavottes, two Menuets, two Bourées and two Passepieds).  Bach added so much to these traditional forms; his musical invention made something new out of something old.  Their traditional metres and structures were preserved, making a work that provided great delight to the audience, and doubtless to the musicians also.

The concerto is a delightful three-movement work that provides plenty of challenges to the soloists, and much pleasure to the listeners.  The features of returning phrases (ritornelli) sections for the soloists and the intricate counterpoint made for a work of constant freshness and colour through the three movements: vivace, largo ma non tanto and allegro.  The conversations between the soloists were always full of interest, but I found their tonal qualities distinct from each other, with that of Karen Dekker, who played second violin, more pleasing than the thinner, at times even metallic, sound from Isabelle Seula Lee.  Nevertheless, their performance, and that of the ensemble, was always vigorous, with plenty of dynamic contrasts

The cantata was for me the highpoint of the concert.  It was first performed in Leipzig in 1727 and was written for a bass singer.  It is this version with which I am familiar, having a fine recording of the lovely aria ‘Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen’ with Rodney Macann singing.  Bach did later versions for soprano and alto and substituted the flute for the original oboe.  The soloist, Rebecca Farley, is a Juilliard graduate, and has a lovely and expressive voice.  I felt that some sections of the music were a little low for her, and there, the notes did not carry well through the auditorium.  There was a short section where the soloist got slightly out of time with the players, and needed Suzuki’s particularly close attention.  By and large however, it was a superb rendition, the words beautifully articulated, and the sentiments of the three arias and two recitatives communicated without seeming effort.  A short vocal encore was a reward for the audience’s enthusiasm for the performance.

It was good to have the lights left on in the Michael Fowler Centre so that the printed words, with translations could be read (it doesn’t always happen!).  Throughout, the ensemble’s playing was sympathetic and supportive, the flute (baroque flute) obbligato in this version for soprano being a characterful contribution, from Jonathan Slade.  The programme note stated that this version ‘…retains the unfathomable yet affirming qualities of the original.’

The last work, consisting of five movements (or 7 counting two Gavottes and two Bourées) was more familiar territory.  After the stately Ouverture, came the well-known Air (often mistakenly called ‘Air on the G String’).  It is deservedly popular, its calmly beautiful procession of notes is supremely serene and exudes quiet confidence.  I did miss the brass in the later movements – our ensemble consisted of strings and woodwind plus harpsichord.

The woodwind players at all times made a huge and delicious contribution to the works in which they played.  All the players made a big contribution to a concert of rich music that entranced the audience, but it is perhaps not unfair to credit particularly the guiding hand and ideas of their distinguished conductor.