Just a half hour of St Andrew’s organ before you go home: Bach and Pärt

‘Way to Go (Home)’
Fourth Wellington Organists’ Association twilight concert

Heather Easting and Danielle van der Zwaag on the gallery pipe organ

Bach: Concerto in A minor (BWV 593) and Das alte Jahr vergangen ist 
Arvo Pärt’s Trivium

St Andrews on the Terrace

Tuesday 4 August, 5:15 pm

Middle C is a little red-faced on account of neglecting this interesting and unusual series of organ recitals at St Andrew’s. Though we’ve had them listed from the start, our reviewers have failed to find their way to the church at this after-work time-slot.

The first thing to note is that St Andrew’s is one of Wellington’s many churches that has a good pipe organ which presumably gets a work-out on Sundays, but rests untended during the rest of the week. Occasionally, the Wednesday lunchtime concerts feature an organist at either the main organ or the baroque organ in the nave of the church. The decision early this year to offer recitals that are intended to capture workers on their way home is enterprising and the three recitals before this one have drawn small but not discouraging audiences; this time the audience was bigger (I do not suggest that my arrival doubled the audience size) and programmes ran out.

The St Andrew’s organ has had restoration work done in recent times, and it sounds impressive: clear, robust, colourful. The programme demonstrated two very contrasted aspects of its range: as an instrument managing baroque music well, with stops well-adapted to the slender and not too powerful capacity of the pre-Romantic organ; as well as the very singular compositional manner of Arvo Pärt.

The first Bach work, played by Heather Easting, was his Concerto in A minor, (BWV 593) a transcription of No 8 of Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico. Op 3, originally for two violins.  It makes a
splendid organ work, and must surely help overcome a lingering Vivaldi-snobbery, driven by the same snobbery that tends to diminish a lot of music that has good tunes and an emotional pull. This performance was more than adequate, first because it seemed to demonstrate the strengths of the instrument itself and second, without indulging in registrations that were too thick and undifferentiated.

A short piece by Bach followed, played by young organist Danielle van der Zwaag: Bach’s Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV 614, from the Orgelbuchlein (Little Organ Book). It has a somewhat meandering character which at first I mistook for a hesitancy in the playing, but its essential sophistication combined with unpretentiousness, as well as its thoughtful performance, made it a nice transition to the next, utterly different music.

Heather Easting returned then to play Pärt’s Trivium. The programme note explains: it means ‘where three roads meet’ (Latin); it has three voices: two manuals and pedals, the triad sonority, and a tripartite form. Some of the high reed sounds produced early on didn’t much appeal to me, and it seemed just a bit aimless, but all was explained with the fortissimo opening of the second part, which would have been meaningless without the earlier movement. But beyond that are considerations of Pärt’s spiritual intentions which the programme note discussed. The composer pitches two opposing voices: Part’s invention, tintinnabulation, and melody, suggesting the spiritual and the temporal; and I’m sure that the pursuit of the thoughts of musicologists on those matters would lead to a more enriching musical, if not metaphysical, experience.

At a first-hearing level, this was at once a careful and exuberant performance that may well be an excellent way to substitute the burdens of the working day with complexities of an altogether different sort.

The next ‘Way to go (Home)’ 5.15pm organ recital will not be till 6 October. A return visit is bound to be rewarding.