Ron Newton plays for St James 2017 Sunday Organ Series

St. James’s Church and Wellington Organists Association

Ron Newton (organ)

John Baptiste Calkin: Festal March in C
Mendelssohn: Sonata no. 2
Edvard Grieg: Holberg Suite – Sarabande, Air and Gavotte
J.S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue in F minor, BWV 534
Vaughan Williams: Rhosymedre
Eugène Gigout: Toccata in B minor

St. James Church, Lower Hutt

Sunday 25 June 2017, 3pm

Dr Ron Newton, as well as being an organist, is an organ builder and travels throughout the country working on organs

English composer John Baptiste Calkin (1827 – 1905) is not often heard of these days.  He wrote a lot of church and organ music.  I found his march rather undistinguished, though obviously written for a time when organ music was often symphonic in nature (and often being transcriptions of symphonic works), the prevalence of symphony orchestras being much smaller than it is now in England.

Mendelssohn published his organ sonatas in 1845.  He was 36 years old, and reputed to be a fine organist.  However, while a great admirer of his music in general, I have never warmed to his organ sonatas; I find them the least good of his great output.  They are not in standard sonata form, the harmonies seem conventional, and the works lack the spark of humour or lightness to be found in many of his compositions.

Indeed, on the way home from the recital, my car radio played his wonderfully melodic, uplifting and exciting Octet, written when he was only 16.  Maybe the age at which he wrote the sonatas is the difference – though he could not know that he had only a couple more years of life after the sonatas were published.

Ron Newton employed some excellent registrations, especially in the slow third movement.  In the last movement there was some extremely fancy foot work, and much changing of stops (or tabs in the case of this organ) towards the end.

The printed programme did not give composers’ dates, and suffered from a number of inaccuracies.  The next composer performed was not Edward Greig; the spellings are as above.  The name of the arranger of the Holberg Suite, originally written for string orchestra, was not given; I find from Google that there have been several who have arranged it for organ.  The same comment as given above for the reasons for arrangements of orchestral works for organ does probably not apply here; the  arrangements I found on Google were recent ones.  The subtlety and mellowness of the original strings did not come through on this organ.

However, much technical expertise was required in executing the pieces, swapping from one manual to another for different sound effects.  The pedal stops chosen seemed too woolly in their effect compared with the sounds from the manuals.  The clarity of the upper parts in the Air was spoilt by the muddy bass.  The Gavotte was taken rather faster than in the string orchestra originals that I have heard, both live and in recordings.  It is a dance – the dancers would have had to move astonishingly fast to dance at this pace.

The  Bach Prelude was, again, a little fast compared with recordings I have of the work.  I suspect that this could be due to the quick touch of the keys on St. James’s modern organ.  The registrations were splendid, as was the pace of the Fugue.

Vaughan Williams wrote his study on the Welsh hymn tune ‘Rhosymedre’ in 1911.  Newton’s performance brought out the hymn tune well – sometimes to the detriment of the lovely accompanying parts.

The final piece was a short Toccata by Eugène Gigout (not Edouard as in the printed programme).  He lived from 1844 to 1925.  Like Grieg’s work this was written in an earlier style.  It had a lot going on, and was both dramatic and showy – hardly like the eighteenth century style Gigout purported to be writing in.  It ended a concert of variety, that showed off both organ and organist, to a sizeable audience.


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