A Midday Education in the Organ, at St.Andrew’s-on-the-Terrace

Organ Recital at St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace
Organist – Paul Rosoman

Review by Maya Field

J.S. Bach – Alla Breve in D Major, BWV589
Bjarne Sløgedal – Variations on a Norwegian Folk Tune
Heinrich Scheidemann – Alleluja Laudem dicite Deo Nostro
J.S. Bach – Two Choral Preludes: Cantata BWV22, Cantata BWV75
Marcel Dupre – Lamento
Dieterich Buxtehude – Praeludium in G Minor, BuxWV150

Lunchtime at St Andrew’s on the Terrace, Wellington
Wednesday, 15th May,

Nothing can prepare for how the organ sounds in person. No matter how many times you watch Phantom of the Opera, or listen to Bach, you don’t realise how much the organ surrounds you in sound until you’re sitting in a room with one. At least, this was the case for me. To me, the organ means the masked Phantom and loud, heavy chords that ring through churches. This was partly true, as it was at St Andrews on the Terrace, but I didn’t realise the full range of the organ until Paul Rosoman opened with Bach’s Alla Breve (D Major).

The audience was seated below Rosoman, with his back turned to us. This is quite unique from other recitals, as you can’t look to the musician’s face for clues of enjoyment or feeling. Instead, it’s all in the body language of the shoulder and the back of his head. I probably should’ve realised this before the concert, but I didn’t quite put two and two together until he sat with his back turned to us.

For an organ recital, Bach is a fantastic way to open the programme. The organ underpinned much of Bach’s career, and he was primarily considered an organist in the 18th century. While he composed brilliant works for a variety of instruments, including other keyboard instruments, the organ is Bach’s home instrument. At least, that’s the way his pieces feel. The Alla Breve introduced us to the programme very nicely, as it showcased the weight and beauty of the organ. Rosoman had a perfect balance of all parts, which is crucial for the classic Bach counterpoint.

Bjarne Sløgedal is a more obscure composer. Norwegian, lived from 1927-2014, an organist and composer, studied at Julliard, was an organist in Kristiansand Cathedral for 45 years. That’s the summary of his Wikipedia page, which I had to google translate from Norwegian to English, so hopefully I didn’t get incorrect facts from a poor translation.

This was when I realised how little I knew about the organ. It’s absolutely beautiful. I didn’t realise that the organ could take on such a soft, almost wind-like quality. Sløgedal’s Variations on a Norwegian Folk Tune felt like a walk through a forest. There were slight pauses in between sections, as (I’m assuming) stops were changed, or pages were turned. It started with a soft gasp, then a full gust. An airy breeze filtered in, then wind began to build to a gorgeous and rich howl.

The programme went onto Heinrich Scheidemann, one of the important predecessors to organists like Bach and Buxtehude (who will be played later on in the programme). The Alleluja Laudem was originally played on an organ twice the size of the organ in St Andrew’s. Rosoman explained how he had to alter and adjust different stops to achieve the same effects as Scheidemann’s organ. I admit, I had to look up what stops were after the concert: they’re the knobs on the organ that alter the sound quality of the organ. Rosoman’s alterations were very good, and the piece felt very balanced, with no overpowering or underwhelming parts of the piece.

We then returned to Bach, with two Choral Preludes. The first was “Ertot uns dutch dein Gute” (Mortify us by Thy goodness, Cantata BWV 22), which Bach auditioned (successfully) with for the role of Cantor in Leipzig. This cantata felt like a soft walk to a countryside chapel. Quite an idealised image from me, I know, but I can’t help it. As an organ-layman, I have to resort to some nice language and images to make up for my lacking knowledge.

The second was “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” (Whate’er my God ordains is right, Cantata BWV 75), another important piece in Bach history, as this was the cantata he presented for his first service In Liepzig. I particularly enjoyed the gorgeous counterpoint near the end, classic Bach.

Dupre’s Lamento was my favourite. I listened to it on repeat immediately, and have added it to my playlist of favourite classical pieces. The piece was dedicated to friends of Dupre, whose son had died at three years old. There were two themes of the piece: a quiet theme, and a childish theme, both of which had the deep anguish of the parent’s grief. The quiet theme was melancholic and beautiful. The childish theme was haunting. It was grief itself, and Rosoman understood this. There was a cacophony of ripping-heart-out-anguish in loud sequences, followed by a final counterpoint of both themes. I remember thinking that I could’ve cried. Rosoman did a beautiful job at such a devastating piece.

We finished with Buxtehude’s Praeludium (G Minor), the piece that Bach famously walked 280 miles to hear. I understand why he would’ve walked so far, but perhaps because I was so moved by Dupre, I don’t know if I would’ve done the same as Bach. The piece had three fugues which grew in animation as they went on. The first was mild, then it grew more animated, then the third grew to a “wildly extravagant” finish (Rosoman’s words). It was a great way to finish the programme, and a fantastic performance from Rosoman.

As a performer, Rosoman is wonderful. He’s an expert at the organ, and takes time between pieces to explain important parts of the pieces and the instrument. He’s affable and a great showman. Even though I couldn’t see his face while he played, you felt that he was feeling the same emotion as you while he played.

The lunchtime concerts at St Andrews are a great way to share classical music to the public. The concerts are free, take an hour, and showcase a great range of music and instruments. This organ recital, for me, is a great example of how important these lunchtime concerts are. I went into St Andrews only knowing the organ in terms of Phantom of the Opera, but I left absolutely enamoured with Lamento and a new appreciation for the instrument. If you can spare the hour between 12 and 1pm on a Wednesday, I strongly urge you to spend it at St Andrews on the Terrace.

Worlds of difference and sympathy – rapturous Beethoven and Saint-Saens from the Wellington City Orchestra

Wellington City Orchestra presents

BEETHOVEN – Violin Concerto in D Op.61
SAINT-SAENS – Symphony No. 3 in C Minor “Organ” Op.78

Helene Pohl (violin)
Max Toth (organ)
Wellington City Orchestra
Rachel Hyde (conductor)

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace Church, Wellington

Saturday 24th June, 2023

Small wonder that this concert drew what seemed like a full house to St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace Church in Wellington on Saturday afternoon. – not only were the two featured works on the programme sure-fire drawcards, but each presentation had the kind of “ädded value” that made their pairing difficult to resist.

The lately-renamed Wellington City Orchestra’s second 2023 outing was this time with the much-respected Rachel Hyde taking her turn on the podium. First up was Beethoven’s adorable Violin Concerto, with great interest centred around the soloist, none other than Helene Pohl, the leader of the internationally renowned New Zealand String Quartet. Having heard Pohl lead her ensemble with enormous distinction through complete cycles of the composer’s string quartets I was naturally intrigued to hear how she would tackle the very different role of a concerto soloist, albeit in the same composer’s music .

What first grabbed my attention.however, was the sharply-defined focus of the orchestra’s introduction to the work, once the slight uncertaincy of the timpanist’s opening strokes had passed – Rachel Hyde secured finely-wrought dynamic contrasts between tutti and chamber-like passages with solo wind lines imparting great character. It was playing that created great expectancy regarding Pohl’s first, ascending-octaved entry, her tones beautifully “growing” out of the orchestral ambiences that had preceded the solo violin’s arrival.

I loved the “elfin” quality of Pohl’s tone throughout, with its shades of expression whose every utterance seemed to simultaneously evolve from whatever she had previously played and respond to whatever solo or ensembled phrases accompanied hers. Her instrument’s voice had a silvery quality which took on a more burnished- golden aspect in places where Beethoven’s thoughts were at his most profound, then returning to a diaphanous quality when, in places, dancing with similarly delicate orchestral solos. For their part, Hyde and her players both supported the soloist and took the lead when necessary, splendidly initiating and controlling the tensions leading up to the tutti outbursts leading to the movement’s solo cadenza.

Pohl’s sounding of this was like a prayer, chordal-like ascendings, followed by playful duettings of themes, and heroic passages in thirds, before her summonsing of the orchestra once more, true greatness in her playing of the melody’s valediction, and of the single note which sang out so purely at the top of the phrase’s final contouring – exquisite!

Hyde got her string players to sound the slow movement’s first trance-like phrases with wonderful “innigkeit”, horns, and then clarinets confidently taking over from the strings and preparing the way for the soloist’s birdsong-like rhapsodisings. Even more rapt was the movement’s central section, Pohl’s playing resembling a kind of hymn to existence, even more so when orchestral pizzicati provided an enchanting backdrop for the solo violin’s spell-weavings.

An orchestral call to arms, and a short, cadenza-like flourish from the soloist brought in the work’s finale, the orchestra taking a while to settle into the soloist’s rhythm, possibly the result of the players having, like the rest of us, “blissed out” during the heavenly Larghetto! Pohl took it all in her stride, alternating a characterfully rustic treatment of the main theme with more quixotic-like poise when repeating the same an octave higher. Then, in the more pensive minor-key second subject, the line was delivered with great emotion, ably supported by the bassoon – and, when the opening returned Hyde seemed to have reawakened her players so that they were with their soloist all the way, building those horn and wind fanfares into a mighty cadenza-welcoming shout! This was one to which Pohl responded with a cadenza I wasn’t as familiar with as I could have been, but which, using material from the finale itself, built quickly and spectacularly to the point where the orchestral cellos and basses were INVITED to make a “what do we think?” comment on the proceedings! – duly satisfied, soloist and orchestra here exchanged, syncopated, inverted and brought things to a by-then ecstatic close!

During the interval that followed, I gleaned. from all sides of where I was sitting. that things had been extremely pleasing thus far, the performance having created a suitable buzz in the minds of my neighbours, young and old. It seemed to augur well for what was to follow next, the orchestra having meanwhile “growed” some extra personnel for the second-half performance of Camille Saint-Saens’s well-known “Organ” Symphony, an undertaking obviously sparked by the not-too-distant (April 2021) refurbishment of the St.Andrew’s church organ.

I was a bit surprised that the organist for this occasion, Max Toth, was not given a special mention in the printed programme – though to be fair Saint-Saens’ work is not a “concerto” with a star soloist, but a “symphony”, and with works described as such individual instrumentalists’ names are normally mentioned only in orchestral listings of players. And the organist’s name was certainly there, even if the noise he conjured up from his splendid instrument was out of all proportion to his modest rank-and-file listing – a minor matter, and certainly in the light of the “special ovation” he was accorded at the piece’s end, at the prompting of Rachel Hyde herself…

As to the piece we were about to hear, Saint-Saens once remarked of himself that, as a composer he produced music as an apple tree produced apples, though he obviously meant he had great facility, and not that he considered his work facile and repetitive. The “Organ” Symphony was something of a biological “sport” for its time – the only reference I have found to a previous use of the organ in an orchestral symphony (1877) is by the nearly-forgotten Austrian composer Johann Ritter von Herbeck (1831-1877), though the fame of Saint-Saens’1886 work spawned a number of imitators, most of them French!

Right at the beginning, Hyde and her players opened up the work’s spaces, the strings’ first floating chords answered first by the oboe and then the flutes, their upward phrases drifting into what seemed like a void, but sparking a response from pizzicato strings and winds which suddenly and excitedly awoke the rest of the strings whose tumbling, chattering phrases spread through the textures galvanising the entire orchestra.

Hyde’s direction imparted just enough urgent impetus for the movement to maintain its course and for the players to keep the syncopated rhythms together, which they did most impressively throughout. And I enjoyed the occasional bedecking of the textures with detailed impulse, such as the tuba making its presence “tell” for a moment of glory, along with the brass and timpani, in underlining the importance to the work of the composer’s use of the “Dies Irae” variant by capping the climax of the excitement with great elan.

The slow movement was beautifully “prepared” for by pizzicato strings and brass, the organ establishing the requisite mood for the strings to fill the spaces with gorgeous tones, then allowing the wind and brass the chance to sing the same melody, the organ judiciously providing the transitions between the different orchestral forces’ sequences. Apart from some slight imprecision between the string “voices” in the duet-like-like sequences, the players delighted us with the beauty and focus of their playing of the movement’s gorgeous outpourings. At first I thought the organ pedal during the lyrical theme’s last great reprise not robust enough, but its deliciously tummy-wobbling aspect began to tell as the music soared to its conclusion – moments of glorious, ultra-Romanticism, capped off by the authentic-sounding reediness of the organ’s registrations at the end.

In terms of commitment from the players and cool-headed control from the conductor, the symphony’s Scherzo was for me a highlight of the performance (also bringing back vivid memories of my days as a percussionist, and our orchestra in Palmerston North tackling this work!). Strong, vibrant attack at the opening was capped off by on-the-spot timpani, and vibrant playing from the winds – Hyde kept the tempo steady, allowing her players room to shape and “point” the rhythms. As for the Trio, it was very properly a riot of impulse every which way, with the piano’s tumbling figurations adding to the excitement. The players did so well with these vertiginous rhythms and syncopations – while not every detail was perfect, the few spills simply added to the excitement and dare-devilry of the whole.

Both the Scherzo and the opening of the Trio were repeated, the latter dominated by the brass, with the winds capering all about underneath, and the strings steadying the euphoria with some meltingly beautiful playing, joined by the winds and brass, with the “Dies Irae” ominously sounded by the basses below – after all of this one could easily forgive the not-quite-together wind chord which prefaced the finale!

The voices awaiting within those organ pipes to sound their utmost simply burst forth magnificently as organist Max Toth activated the instrument! How emotional it all seemed, with the C major melody (the much-lauded “Babe” tune as garnered for use in the eponymous movie!) firstly stealing in via the strings and piano duettists underpinned by the deep organ pedal notes, then allowed its full magnificence with organ and orchestra each given its head, cymbal crashes, bass drum thwacks, brasses and all replying to the organ’s splendour! The strings made a sterling job of their fugal passage which followed, taken up vociferously by the brasses and then quelled by the lines being allowed to soar and “float” by the strings and winds, as a respite from the energies and excitements already unleashed and still to come. Enough to say that the performance of the rest fully expressed the “cri de coeur” of the composer: – “I gave everything to it I was able to give! – what I have here accomplished I will never achieve again….”

It seemed fitting that, right at the end Rachel Hyde gave the last voice to the organ, allowing the instrument to hold the final chord for a few moments after the orchestra had ceased playing (a gesture I’d not previously heard made in this work, but which certainly had its effect – not unlike the organ chord which continues sounding at the end of the opening (!) of Richard Strauss’s tone-poem “Also Sprach Zarathustra”). But the glory was as much the Wellington City Orchestra players’ and conductor’s as the organ’s, and of course the music’s. Both composers and their respective works were on this occasion certainly done proud.

Yuka and Kemp – a concert of popular violin music

Wellington Chamber Music Society presents:

Yuka and Kemp – violin and piano

Elgar – Salut- d’Amour
Beethoven – Sonata in F Major, Op. 24 (Spring)
Maria Theresia von Paradis – Sicilienne
Anthony Ritchie – Song for Minstrel, Op. 120
Massenet – “Méditation” from Thaïs
William Kroll – Banjo and Fiddle
Handel – Sonata in D Major HWV371
Paganini (arr. R. Schumann) – Caprice No. 24 in A minor
Kreisler – Recitativo and Scherzo – Caprice for solo violin Op. 6
–   Liebesleid  / La Gitana
John Williams Theme from Schindler’s List
Monti – Csárdás

Yuka Eguchi (violin) and Kemp English (piano/organ)

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington

Sunday, 10th July 2022

Yuka Eguchi is the Assistant Concert Master of the NZSO; Kemp English is a solo organist, a specialist in playing the fortepiano, and a collaborative pianist. The two put together a programme of violin music that most people know from such collections as the ‘best loved violin pieces’, but which are seldom featured in concert programmes. They are light, and lack substance that form the backbone of serious classical recitals, but  they are all immediately appealing.

Edward Elgar Salut d’Amour
The first item in the concert was Elgar’s Salut d’Amour, a popular salon piece that was Elgar’s engagement present to his future wife. It is lovely, personal, and melodious. The performance was not only notable for Yuka’s impeccable violin playing, but also for Kemp’s sensitive piano accompaniment.

Ludwig van Beethoven Sonata in F Major, Op. 24 (Spring)
Yuka and Kemp gave this much – loved Beethoven Sonata a straight forward reading. There is much to this piece, questions and answers, humour, and whimsy. The lyrical, gentle, extended song like slow movement, which is the heart of the work, is followed by a limping cheeky third movement. The final movement sums up the whole Sonata; this is what life is all about. Because the playing was so clear, there were details which came through which might have been glossed over in a less precise reading.

Maria Theresia von Paradis Sicilienne
Paradis was a pianist, blind, with a prodigious memory that she needed with no eyesight. She was a contemporary of Mozart whose concertos she played. She was a prolific composer and a teacher, but Sicilienne  that she is best remembered for was, not, in fact written by her. It is a musical hoax, composed by Samuel Dushkin,  –  a Polish American violinist, who worked with Stravinsky and William Schumann on their violin concertos. He also composed pieces under the names of largely forgotten composers such as Paradis and Benda. His Sicilienne is a charming, sentimental piece harking back to another era.

Anthony Ritchie Song for Minstrel, Op. 120
Anthony Ritchie, a contemporary New Zealand composer and, Professor of Music at Otago University, is  best known for his symphonic works. Song for Minstrel, however, is a short work for violin. It starts with a violin solo of sheer beauty, followed by a jazzy development. Minstrel was a dog, not a person: the dog of the poet, Sam Hunt.

Jules Massenet Méditation from “Thaïs”
This popular work is the embodiment of a sentimental romantic age. Suspense awaits each note.

William Kroll Banjo and Fiddle
William Kroll was the leader of the Kroll Quartet, one of the great American string quartets of the 1950s and 1960s. He was an eminent teacher and chamber music player, but is perhaps best known for this short popular fiddle piece, capturing an American folksy idiom with something of a gypsy feel. It has a touch of Hollywood sentimentality. It is both showy and technically difficult.

George Frederick Handel Sonata in D Major HWV371
This sonata is Handel’s last piece of chamber music. It is rich music, evoking Handel’s operatic music, elegant, gallant. Kemp English sat down at the organ instead of the piano and played the keyboard part on the organ, which added a special effect to the piece. The organ made it sound grander, and the violin part more operatic. Like everything in this concert, it was different and illuminating.

Niccolò Paganini (arr. Robert Schumann) Caprice No. 24 in A minor
Paganini’s 24 Caprices for the violin are landmarks in the violin literature, and No. 24 is the best known of them all. It is such a compelling piece that Brahms, Rachmaninov, Boris Blacher, Chopin, Liszt, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Witold Lutoslawski, Karol Szymanowski, Eugéne Ysaÿe, Benny Goodman and many other composers have incorporated it in their work. Robert Schumann decided that a piano accompaniment would enhance the work – who are we, mortals in a later age, to argue with him? Yuka’s was certainly a virtuoso dazzling performance with Kemp quietly in the background on the piano.

Fritz Kreisler Recitativo and Scherzo – Caprice for solo violin Op. 6
Liebesleid / La Gitana
Fritz Kreisler was among the foremost violinists of his time, a generation before Jascha Heifetz. Heifetz rewrote people’s expectations of a violin virtuoso. After Heifetz Kreisler might have been considered old school. Much of his music is charming and gemütlich  evoking old-time Vienna as  in Liebesleid and La Gitana, (The Gypsy). The latter is full of exotic colours and flamenco-type rhythms. Both pieces are from a collection Kreisler published under the title of ‘Classical Manuscripts’. Some  pieces were attributed to Baroque composers, though all were his own compositions. Recitativo and Scherzo – Caprice is something else, a truly challenging virtuoso piece in the tradition of Paganini, or for that matter, Ysaÿe, to whom the piece was dedicated. Yuka was undaunted by these challenges. Jaw-dropping stuff!

John Williams Theme from Schindler’s List
Schindler’s List is a sorrowful Holocaust film and the music captures its deep unrequited sadness with its beautiful haunting melody.

Before she played the piece, Yuka said, that she dedicated it to Peter Barber, long time, colourful and much-loved member of the NZSO who passed away recently, and to Shinzo Abe, former Japanese Prime Minister, who was assassinated the day before this concert.

She also talked about her violin, made by Carlo Ferdinando Landolfi in 1766. one of the great luthiers of the golden age of violin making. It is truly a beautiful instrument with a wonderful tone. It was appropriate for Yuka to acknowledge her instrument in this violin recital for violinists.

Vittorio Monti Csárdás
With the final item in the concert we are back in the jubilant mood of the earlier part of the programme. Vittorio Monti was a Neapolitan composer. This is by far his best known work. It is a rhapsodical concert piece, written in 1904, and is based on the Csárdás, a Hungarian folk dance. It is invigorating music, a showpiece for violinists.

The artists received a standing ovation, quite unusual for the sedate, elderly audience of Sunday afternoon concerts. The audience was rewarded with an encore of another lovable Fritz Kreisler piece, Rondino on a theme by Beethoven – and we all left happier for this afternoon of enchanting solo violin music music. Yuka and Kemp are wonderfully accomplished musicians. One wonders why we haven’t heard them before in Wellington.


Splendiferous sounds captured on CD from Christchurch Town Hall’s rejuvenated Rieger organ courtesy of Martin Setchell


Martin Setchell at the Rieger Organ of Christchurch Town Hall

Mons Leidvin Takle – Celebration
JS Bach – Prelude in G Major BWV 541
Alexander Guilmant – Grand Choeur in D (alla Handel)
Reynaldo Hahn “A Chloris” (arr. Setchell)
Noël Goemanne – El dia de Fiesta
Enrico Bossi – Scherzo in G Minor Op. 49 No. 2
Bonaventura Somma – Toccata in A
Louis Vierne – Romance from Symphony IV
Reger – Variations and Fugue on “God Save the Queen”
Denis Bédard – Cats at Play
Marcel LAnquetuit – Toccata in D
Madeleine Dring – Caribbean Dance (arr. Setchell)
Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély – Andante in F
*Charles-Marie Widor – Toccata in F

Pipeline Press PP2

*Original Recording from Ode Manu 1539, Sept.1997

This recording, “Resounding Aftershocks”  broke an eight-year silence for the Christchurch Town Hall Rieger organ which followed the catastrophic 2011 earthquakes, and, as befitted the occasion, celebrated the instrument’s return to full prowess in heady fashion! Organist Martin Setchell’s long-established brilliance and elan as a performer is here demonstrated to the utmost thanks to the skills and expertise of the disc’s sound engineer Mike Clayton, capturing the occasion most resplendently. Purely as a sound-spectacle it’s a thrilling experience; and the mix of well-known (Widor’s ubiquitous “Toccata”), sure-fire crowd-pleasers (Guilmant’s Handelian “Grand Choeur”), ear-tickling discoveries and gentler/more humourful moments (Reynaldo Hahn’s “A Chloris” and Denis Bédard’s “Cats at Play”) and out-and-out celebratory free-for-alls (Mons Leidvin Takle’s “Celebration” – a riot of sounds, suitably “cheesy” in places and all the more enjoyable and festive for that), suggests a time for uninhibited listening-pleasure in a variety of shapes and forms, if ever there was one!

Continuing the “resounding” ambiences are JS Bach’s Prelude In G Major BBWV 541 closely followed by the Guilmant “Grand Choeur in D”, suitably subtitled “a la Handel”! Contrasts come with Setchell’s arrangement of Reyaldo Hahn’s son “A Chloris”, before we are thrown back into sterner stuff with Noël Goermanne’s energetic, if somewhat dour, “El Dia de Fiesta” (impressive in its own way, but I think I would have rather been somewhere with a bit more cheerful an aspect!)

Thank goodness for Enrico Bossi’s mischievous Scherzo in G minor immediately afterwards, with its charming antiphonal-like echo effects, and piquant mood-changes wrought by some gorgeously-varied registrations. Bonaventura Somma’s ebullient Toccata in A undoubtedly echoes the sound-world of THE more famous Widor, but fascinates as an engaging variant, all the same, as does Marcel Languetuit’s Toccata in D Major, the textures also remarkably similar to Widor’s, even if the trajectories are differently calibrated! Incidentally, I’m sure the dedicatee to this piece, Albert Dupré, was actually the father of organist MARCEL Dupré, and not “Maurice”, as commented on in the booklet notes!

Louis Vierne’s Romance from his Fourth Organ Symphony straightaway haunted the ear like no other track heard thus far, with an excerpt that seemed to capture the essence of the instrument’s soul more deeply and ambiently than anything else on the CD – a deep well of feeling in the midst of so many sparkling, sunlit fountains and cascading waterfalls. Vierne wrote the work in 1914, in the shadow cast by the oncoming European hostilities, the piece’s darker, more agitated middle section reflecting these tensions and uncertainties in contrast to the serenities of the outer sequences of the music.

Max Reger’s “Variations and Fugue on God Save the Queen” (somewhat oddly written after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901) was included by Setchell to pay due respect to Christchurch’sEnglish heritage, and to honour Queen Elizabeth II, now the British throne’s longest serving monarch. However ill-timed one might think the piece’s original provenance, there’s no doubt it all makes a rather gorgeous and resplendent noise, especially as the music works up to an undeniably sonorous climax! I had never heard of English composer Madeleine Dring, but her “Caribbean Dance” from 1959, as arranged by Setchell, has a lazily attractive rhythm, crunching some unexpectedly bluesy-plus harmonies at one point, before leading  to a suitably insouciant conclusion.

I loved the tremulous Voix humaine’s other-worldly sound in Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély’s Andante in F, a demonstration, incidentally, of one of two new stops “gained” by the refurbished instrument, the other being the Clarinette sound in the transcription of the Hahn song. The piece’s spacious serenity provides the utmost contrast to the opening tones of the long-awaited, tried-and-true favourite, Charles-Marie Widor’s arresting Toccata, from the Fifth of the composer’s organ symphonies, Setchell’s recording , here “lifted” without any signs of wear-and-tear from the organist’s 1997 MANU recording “Let the Pealing Organ Blow” as an appropriate “link” with the instrument’s history, one underlining the “return to life” of one of Christchurch’s most important cultural assets, and further reinforcing the inestimable qualitative value to the city of one of its most illustrious performers.

Michael Stewart at TGIF, Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, celebrates Tournemire’s L’Orgue mystique

Charles Tournemire’s L’Orgue mystique

The tenth recital
Le cycle après Pentecôte II: Suites XXXVII, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XL, (37, 38, 39, 40). The 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Michael Stewart, on the electronic organ

Wellington Cathedral of St Paul

Friday 25 September, 12:45 pm

Charles Tournemire is probably one of the less familiar organ composers and performers in France. Though he certainly rates, in terms of his fame as both composer and performer, with some of them: Franck, Guilmant, Saint-Saëns, Widor, Gabriel Pierné, Vierne, Dupré… But bearing composition in mind, Tournemire must be regarded as more interesting and significant than half of those.

There is a singular divergence between this group of French organists, organ and choral composers, and the more famous and well-known composers of opera, chamber and orchestral music and songs. Saint-Saëns is about the only composer who straddled both spheres; César Franck did to a certain extent.

The well-known composers of opera, orchestral, keyboard and chamber music, and songs were almost all uninterested in the organ: Auber, Hérold, Berlioz, Adam, Thomas, Gounod, Offenbach, Franck, Lalo, Bizet, Delibes, Chabrier, Fauré, Massenet, D’Indy, Chausson, Debussy, Dukas, Roussel, Ravel…

Tournemire’s compositional career 
This recital was the tenth in the series that Michael Stewart is playing at St Paul’s Cathedral. Tournemire was born in Bordeaux in 1870 and studied at the Paris Conservatoire, becoming one of Franck’s youngest and most gifted students. In 1898 he succeeded Pierné who had succeeded César Frank as organist at St Clotilde basilica in 1890.

Michael Stewart’s notes on the music were very interesting, rather more that I find about Tournemire on the Internet. More useful is the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. It records that he studied first in Bordeaux and at age 11 became organist at the church of St Pierre and later at St Seurin in Bordeaux. Then he went to the Paris Conservatoire where, in 1891 he won the premier prix for organ in the class of Widor, whose teaching, along with Franck’s, had a lasting effect on him. And he became organist at St Clotilde in 1898, as mentioned above; and he was appointed professor at the Conservatoire in 1919.

Grove continued: “Tournemire was a mystic, horrified at the materialism of his time and proclaiming his faith through his works, of which the greatest is L’orgue mystique. Its duration equals that of the entire organ music of Bach, and in this cycle it was Tournemire’s aim to accomplish for the Catholic liturgy what Bach had achieved for the Lutheran church. L’orgue mystique consists of 51 Offices, each making use of the plainsong melodies appropriate to a particular Sunday…. His organ style left its mark on a generation of composers.”

He died in Arcachon, in the Department of Gironde on the Bay of Biscay in 1939.

Grove lists a large number of compositions in most forms: four operas, eight orchestral symphonies, several choral works and solo vocal works (mostly unpublished), many solo piano pieces, and other chamber pieces for between two and six instruments. And 22 opus numbers for organ. The total opus numbers amount to 76.

The organs of Paris 
I’ve caught organ performances over many years in various Paris churches. For example Gaston Litaize at St François-Xavier, on the organ restored by Cavaillé-Coll, not far from Les Invalides, (because I had an LP of him playing the organ part of Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony, on the organ of his Paris church, along with Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra).

Then there was St Eustache, a huge church close to the Forum des Halles; where I heard part of an organ concert by Jean Guillon: Variations on several carols by Daquin; a set of pieces by Marcel Dupré; and then an Introit by perhaps (?) Messiaen. On another occasion at St Eustache, Francesco Filidei played Widor’s Second Organ Symphony. Another time there I heard Liszt’s half-hour long Fantasy & Fugue on the chorale ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’, a pretty spectacular affair.

A couple of times at Franck’s and Tournemire’s Basilica of St Clotilde (don’t remember the organist), and at Widor’s St Sulpice with Daniel Roth.  Both great Cavaillé-Coll instruments.

And of course Notre Dame in a typically dark Winter evening recital by Olivier Latry. And more recently a recital by Philippe Lefebvre: Franck’s Three Chorales, Duruflé’s Prélude, adagio et chorale varié sur le Veni Creator, Op 4 and an Improvisation by Lefebvre.

L’Orgue mystique: the 51 ‘offices’ of the Mass 
However, to return to Friday’s music at the cathedral… Tournemire wrote 51 organ ‘offices’, each one devoted to parts of the Mass where organ music is required, apart from Holy Saturday. It took him five years.

Each of the suites, and there were four, in this recital, has five sections. They are named: Prélude à l’introït, Offertoire, Élévation, Communion, Choral. The first four movements are soft and short while the last is lengthier and employs much more of the organ’s resources.

Unfortunately, I was not familiar with this music and soon lost track of the succession of the movements. However, even though the music was unfamiliar, the variety of moods and emotional, as well as religious significance, held the attention and I found myself absorbed. Some were short and fairly plain; there were endless changes of manual and registrations, meanderings and pensive episodes; loud, dense passages and strings of high notes, flutes, and passages that were limited to particular manuals, with or without pedals. I soon realised how sorry I was not to have got to more of the Friday Tournemire recitals this year.

I soon understood that Stewart’s remark that he had been a life-long devotee of Tournemire, was totally credible. Clearly, the only aspect that one might have been disappointed to miss was to have been moved by its performance on the cathedral’s pipe organ itself. One hopes that it will soon be possible to restore so that the opulence of pipe organ sound can return to the cathedral. Furthermore, it’s just as well that Wellington has more or less ceased its puerile claim to be the ‘cultural capital’, especially with a non-existing Central Library and Town Hall, and non-existing organs in both the Town Hall and the Anglican Cathedral.

P.S. After filing the review in which I suggested that there was little about Tournemire on the Internet, I have come across a website that writes quite extensively about L’orgue mystique. In a periodical, Vox Humana, an article by Douglas O’Neill entitled ‘Charles Tournemire’s L’orgue mystique and the Ordinary Form Mass’. 

The website address is http://www.voxhumanajournal.com/oneill2018.html


The third in the ten-part series of Widor’s organ symphonies from Stewart and Apperley at St Paul’s Cathedral

The Widor Project
Organ Symphony No 3, Op 13, No 3

Richard Apperley at the digital organ

Wellington Cathedral of Saint Paul

Friday 26 April, 12:45 pm

This performance, by Richard Apperley, of Widor’s third organ symphony confirmed me as an organ devotee, a condition facilitated by my being free from the (usually ill-founded) reservations that many classical music lovers cherish concerning French music.

This was one of Widor’s first four ‘symphonies’, Op 13, published in 1872, shortly after his appointment to the prestigious position of organist at the church of Saint-Sulpice in the 6th arrondissement (Paris, Left Bank). It is the second largest church in Paris, after Notre Dame, and the organ is the largest of the many built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll through the mid 19th century, in churches all over France and elsewhere. The one in Saint-Sulpice is his master-piece. (The biggest organ in France is in Saint-Eustache and is not by Cavaillé-Coll).

After hearing the second organ symphony a month ago, I felt as if I was meeting an old friend with this one. The complex of rich sounds that Widor prescribes from the organ’s huge range was wonderfully captured by Apperley on the digital organ which the Cathedral has bought awaiting the restoration of the earthquake-damaged pipe organ. As with the previous performance from Michael Stewart, the placing of the console at floor level in front of the choir allowed us to admire the spectacle of the organist at close quarters: the ranging of hands across all four manuals and the feet dancing on the pedals. It’s an experience that in some ways beats a pianist’s virtuosic activities at the single keyboard.

It struck me that the constantly changing registrations at all five keyboards, prescribed in detail in Widor’s score, was a good deal more varied than in most organ performances. Though one doesn’t usually get such a close-up view of the performer’s activities.

Cavaillé-Colle plus Widor produces the organ symphony
The reason that Widor described the work as a symphony is the revelatory experience of the remarkable range of sounds that Cavaillé-Colle’s versatile and spectacular instruments had made available: a lot more symphonic than was possible on earlier organs. Though it’s pointed out that the early symphonies don’t conform to the normal specifications of a symphony (but Berlioz had broken that tradition forty years before), since then it has been the length, complexity, intellectual quality and aesthetic sophistication of later 19th century works that tended to distinguish the orchestral symphony from, say, a suite. Likewise, for an organ symphony.

I had no difficulty in hearing the first movement, Prélude, as introducing a work of symphonic scale, with its chromatic and harmonic qualities, its symphonically evolving thematic material and the thrilling range of near-orchestral sounds. The Minuette, second movement, had a charming pastoral spirit, easily associated with the ‘minuet’ of the classical symphony, with a contrasting middle section that becomes airy and insubstantial, with its modified rhythms though still in triple time. The Marcia, third movement, is the most striking, with a great deal delivered on the powerful ‘Great’ manual, switching suddenly to quieter, more muffled stops on the Solo (or was the top manual the ‘Swell’?). It was interesting to be able to see these transitions, not merely to guess which manual the player was using. The Marcia climaxed in a real militaristic, victorious fff (really? two years after French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war?).

The slow movement was the fourth, Adagio; played with a variety of subtle stops, creating a beautiful rhapsodic quality. I couldn’t help feeling that it was the sort of movement that RNZ Concert, with its obsession with playing isolated movements ripped from the body in which they had been conceived, could make use of. It might even be justified if it were to introduce people to a neglected corner of classical music.

And the last movement, though not labelled ‘Toccata’, has recognisable characteristics of the 5th symphony; marked Allegro molto. Thematically more varied than the famous one, and almost as arresting, it was also a spectacle for the ‘happy few’ in the audience. Apperley’s hands raced vertically as well as horizontally across the four manuals and the 60 odd keys on each, plus agile feet on pedals. But I was left with far more than the excitement of a half hour of organ virtuosity; I’m looking forward to booking part of Friday lunchtimes to hear all the rest, and even exploring the possibility of finding recordings to buy. Joseph Nolan is the one, by the look of it.

Widor’s innovation has had a significant impact on organ music. Wikipedia lists 29 composers who have written organ symphonies, only one of whom predates Widor by a couple of years.

So this is probably an organ exploration with a certain claim to international significance. The musical gifts and the interpretive insights of the two organists involved certainly justify such a claim.

Cathedral organ in major series of important French works: Widor’s second organ symphony

The Widor Project at Saint Paul’s Cathedral  

Michael Stewart – organ

Charles-Marie Widor: Symphony No 2, Op 13 no 2

Wellington Cathedral of Saint Paul

Friday 29 March, 12:45 pm

I missed the first, on 1 March, of this year-long series of recitals by the two organists at the Cathedral of Saint Paul.  These ‘symphonies’ are not well known in New Zealand, and perhaps in most Anglophone countries, apart from the last movement, Toccata, of the fifth symphony. But according to the authoritative Wikipedia the organ symphonies are among his better known works.

They represent Widor’s early style.

Widor’s first four symphonies, all published under one opus number – 13, are regarded as suites rather than symphonies, the prescription for which remained fairly strictly defined in spite of Berlioz’s revolt in 1830 with the Symphonie fantastique. Widor himself called them ‘collections’.

The second organ symphony has six movements; they were not given dance names as were suites in the early 18th century. Nevertheless, the second symphony, with its prevailing rhapsodic feeling, hardly seems, at first hearing, to conform to the shape of a symphony, each movement of which usually has a very distinct character and always feels a part of a whole, rather than a stand-alone piece (clearly RNZ Concert sees it differently with their timid programming almost all day, of single movements, for fear of scaring philistine listeners).

The name Praeludium circulare, of the first movement, certainly confirmed the impression of a rhapsodic piece whose musical ideas kept returning, with changing keys, fluid and rather beautiful. The following movements generally refrained from imposing much vivid melody on the listener, and words like wispy, insubstantial, ethereal came to mind and certainly seemed to support the name Pastorale: moderato of the second movement. And its prevailing character was reflected in the use of flute and similar registrations, on the upper manuals (the new digital organ has four manuals).

The third movement, Andante, with more use of diapason stops, and more distinct rhythms, with hands moving constantly between manuals seemed more elaborately structured. But it still bore little relationship with a symphony in the German mould. The fourth movement, entitled Salve Regina: Allegro, used a hymn-like tune, perhaps the original Gregorian chant setting of Salve Regina, perhaps a later setting by Palestrina or Lassus –I don’t know. But as it advanced the music became more dense and emphatic, ending with a prolonged chord.

The fifth movement offer a test discriminating between Adagio and Andante; the shift was fairly subtle, though I imagine that familiarity makes the shift sound dramatic. In a blind-fold test, the Finale would not have been hard to identify, with rhythms that got refined and emboldened over the years to evolve into the Toccata of the fifth symphony: this Finale was busy and boisterous.

This recital was advertised as the first major recital series for the new ‘Viscount Regent Classic digital organ which, though sounding every inch a real pipe organ, thrilling to the unruly acoustic of the Cathedral, will not cause the church to question the need to spend money on repairing and restoring the fine old hybrid pipe organ that can sound just a bit more thrilling and authentic (though don’t make me take a blind-fold test).

However, this celebration of Widor is very much worth the journey: the kind of organ music that is more related to the French music of the period (1870s onward), than to the organ music (or any music) of other countries at the time.

The next recital will be Friday 5 April when Richard Apperley will play the third symphony. And see Middle C’s Coming Events for the remaining seven performances, ending in November.

Choral concert to celebrate new digital organ at Cathedral of Saint Paul

Organ Festival: Choral anthems 

Choirs and Choristers of Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul, Choir of the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart (Directors Michael Stewart and Michael Fletcher, organists Richard Apperley and Michael Stewart)

Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul

Saturday, 13 August 2018, 7 pm

With the organ moved to the side, the rather small audience had full view of the choirs in their red cassocks.  In his introduction, Michael Stewart referred to ‘choral blockbusters’; we had a few of them!  First was Handel’s famous coronation anthem ‘Zadok the Priest’.  It was sung with the usual robust cheerfulness, as was the next anthem, Parry’s ‘I was glad’.  Richard Apperley accompanied this in fine style, giving a ringing fanfare at the beginning.  The effect when the choir came in was thrilling.

Again (cf Friday night’s organ recital) I did not hear the clarity from this digital organ that would have been present in the pipe organ that was damaged in the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake.  In the quiet parts, Apperley used the Choir manual, and throughout both choir and organ had a commendable range of dynamics.  The choir moved to several different positions for the different items; throughout, the singing was good.  The sound from the two choirs was unified in singing this music, which is tricky in places.  It is one of Parry’s most effective compositions, and not as bombastic as some of his utterances; rather it has a positive mood.

Before his solo item, Michael Stewart remarked that the organ was very comfortable to play.  He played ‘Fête’ by Jean Langlais (French composer for the organ again), an appropriate choice for initiating a new organ.  In festive style, we were caught up in a whirligig of excitement.  Especially in the slower sections, both Solo (right hand) and Choir (left hand) organs were used.  The final passages were jubilant, with plenty of foot-work.

Now it was the turn of the children who make up the Cathedral Choristers.  First, they sang a piece by Sir John (alias Johnny) Dankworth: ‘Light of the World”.  This was beautifully sung.  Next was ‘Look at the world’, words and music both, by the prolific British choral composer John Rutter.  This was a more difficult sing, but well performed.  Both items were sung in unison, accompanied by Richard Apperley.   The choristers were joined by the Cathedral choir to perform Jonatham Dove’s ‘Gloria’ from his Missa Brevis.  This British composer’s bright and jazzy piece incorporated a rapid organ accompaniment and a grand ending.

Gerald Finzi, another Brit. despite his surname, wrote charming, lyrical music. The combined three choirs sang his anthem ‘Lo, the full, final sacrifice’, with words by the mystical poet Richard Crashaw, who flourished in the early seventeenth century.  The performance was notable for the very fine men’s voices.  Not to demean the women, who sang extremely well, but it is often the men who are the weaker parts of a choir.

It was good to have the words printed in the programme, because it was not always easy to pick them up in this resonant building.  The music was very varied; some pensive, some jubilant.  Likewise the organ accompaniment – very dramatic.  The piece ended in a calm, peaceful ‘Amen’.

After the interval came an organ solo from Richard Apperley.  In his introductory remarks, the organist said that his improvisation upon this piece was the final music at the last service in the Cathedral before the earthquake – therefore the very last on the pipe organ.  He explained that the music built to cataclysmic effects, not inappropriately.  It was not clear if today’s performance included improvisation.

The piece was ‘Evocation II’ by Thierry Escaich, another French organist and composer, this time, contemporary. A repeated pedal note and staccato chords above gave a sense of foreboding as did the alternation between manuals, and gradual build-up of volume.  It ended in a ‘Wow!’ moment.

Michael Fletcher from Sacred Heart Cathedral now conducted the two adult choirs in Edward Bairstow’s ‘Blessed city, heavenly Salem’, with Michael Stewart at the organ.  The composer’s dates (1874-1946) put him between Parry and Rutter.  A lyrical  piece, it was in a style distinct from both his predecessor and his successor.  The music changed moods to suit the words.  The choirs not only sang accurately, they exhibited a splendid soaring tone.  The organ also went from ff to ppp.  A soprano solo in the last verse, with sotto voce accompaniment from choir and organ, was most effective; the anthem had a beautiful, subtle ending.

Zoltán Kodály was the only non-English composer represented.  His quite substantial choral and organ work, ‘Laudes Organi’ simply means ‘In praise of organs’.  It was based on a medieval text, and was written in 1966, a year before the composer died.  The organ as an instrument goes back to much more ancient times than the medieval; the Romans had small organs.

The Latin text was translated in the programme.  The second verse consists of instruction to the musician who will play the instrument.  The organist is instructed not to stand on the bellows, but to practice hard.  The choirs were preceded by a long, varied organ introduction.

The choral music not only featured very effective part-writing, it was illustrative of the words, notably at the beginning of the second verse: ‘Musician! Be a soldier; train yourself…’  Before the last verse (of four) there was a gorgeous organ interlude.  A jubilant organ postlude followed by a lovely polyphonic ‘Amen’, and final grand organ chords ended the work.  This was very fine singing and organ-playing indeed.

Like much of the composer’s music, the tonalities ran through a bunch of keys, or rather, made use of Hungarian modes, not exclusively those used in northern and western European music.  This made the music striking, significant, even magical in places; an admirable composition.

The last item of the evening was Vaughan Williams’s setting of the canticle ‘Let all the world in every corner sing’, words by the great metaphysical poet and cleric George Herbert.  After a great build-up from the organ, the choirs came in, in full voice for this well-known and dramatic setting.  Gymnastics were required from the organist, especially on the pedals.  Like the previous item, it was directed by Michael Stewart, with Richard Apperley at the organ.  Great refinement was evident in the quiet passages, before the piece’s upbeat ending.

Thus ended a memorable concert, aptly celebrating the new organ.

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Rosemary <rogcoll@paradise.net.nz> The Tudor Consort, conducted by Peter Walls Heinrich Schütz: Musikalische Exequien (Funeral Music), SWV 279-281 Matthäus-Passion (St. Matthew Passion), SWV 479 Soloists: John Beaglehole (tenor), Sim


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Heroic welcome for the new digital organ in St Paul’s Cathedral

Cathedral Festival for the digital organ

Joseph Nolan, organ

Bach,: Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582
Franck: Prelude, Fugue and Variation
Marcel Dupré: Variations sur un Noël
Widor: Symphonie V in F minor, Op.42 no.1

Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul

Friday, 12 August 2018, 7:30 pm

To celebrate the inauguration of its new Viscount Regent Classic digital organ, the Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul has put on an Organ Festival.  The guest organist, Dr Joseph Nolan, is a British organist, formerly organist at the Chapels Royal in London (involving numbers of different organs, including one at Buckingham Palace), but since 2008, Organist and Master of Music at St. George’s Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia.

Probably due to a competing concert and to what was the coldest evening in Wellington all year, the audience was rather smaller than one would have expected.  A beautifully produced programme booklet was provided, for this recital and the next evening’s choral concert.  Magnificent photos of the organ console were on front and back of the booklet.  Inside, all information and full texts and translations for the choral items were given, in an easily-read typeface (as always when Michael Stewart has a hand in things).

The organ’s specifications and other details were printed in the programme.  There are 38 speaker cabinets, mainly housed (in rather ugly fashion) in the former main pipe chamber above the chancel, opposite the position of the late lamented pipe organ’s console.  A small number of speakers are in two other locations to the right and left, facing into the church.   The console has four manuals: Great, Swell, Choir and Solo, plus Pedal.  The organ was built by the Viscount company in England, with a custom-built console made by a Devon company.  The keys are wooden, so do not look white like the keyboards we are accustomed to.  All details were devised by Michael Stewart and Richard Apperley, Organist and Director of Music, and Assistant Director of Music respectively, at the Cathedral.

With twenty speaking stops for the pedals and only a small number fewer for each of the manuals, this is a large organ.  Swell, Choir and Solo are all shown as being ‘enclosed’.  On a pipe organ this would mean the relevant manuals’ pipes are enclosed in boxes, which can be opened or closed by the use of special foot pedals, to achieve softer or louder sounds. Of course, there are no pipes and no boxes with this organ, but the same effects can be achieved.  Pistons (which bring out various pre-set combinations of stops, when pressed) number over thirty thumb pistons, and over twenty toe pistons, which were of a different design from usual, the rubber (or similar) flat tops making it less likely that a foot would slip off them.

The organ resonated well in the building, though not having the same sort of resonance as a pipe organ.  I found the clarity somewhat less compared with the old  instrument, and the distinctive sounds of, for example, flute, oboe or diapason stops less, well, distinctive.

For this recital, the organ console was moved to a position below the chancel, but at the centre, so that the audience could readily see Dr Nolan in action.  For the choral concert on Saturday it was moved to its usual position, to the right.

Bach’s towering Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor was written while he was still quite a young man, when there were few demands for him to write a constant flow of church music, compared with the situation during his later years in Leipzig.

The Passacaglia consists of twenty variations on a theme, which is initially stated solely on pedals, the variations being sustained throughout by a repetition of the pedal part (or ostinato), which then becomes the main theme of the double fugue that follows.

When the manuals entered, the registration was not so hefty as to blot out the strong pedals.  The melody eventually moved from pedals to the Great manual, later to the Choir, each move bringing forth a different array of sounds.  Some may say that was not an ‘authentic’ performance, but it did demonstrate the organ’s capabilities.  The ending was fast, fantastic, and loud!

Not to mention the capabilities of Dr Nolan, whose facility at romping around the manuals and the pedal board was nothing short of astonishing.  There were lovely ripples from the Choir organ, returns to stentorian pedals, more stops added – but the result was never too thick. The elaborate, lengthy work was thrillingly executed by Dr Nolan, displaying not only his great ability but also the scope, resonance and fine quality of the organ.

Such is the veneration of Bach, Telemann, Buxtehude and others of the North German school, and the recordings we hear of English organs, many music-lovers may not realise the sheer plethora of cathedrals, and thus cathedral organs, in France.  A tour two years ago took me to some of these in southern France.  So it is not surprising that there are  many works written by French composers for the instrument.  Saint-Saëns and Poulenc are two eminent composers; each has written a major symphonic work for orchestra and organ, which are probably the only ones performed regularly by a standard symphony orchestra, with soloist.  Thus the remainder of the programme consisted of three works by French composers – as indeed was the encore..

Despite Franck not being one of my favourite composers, I find his Prelude, Fugue and Variation delightful, especially the simple but beautiful opening of the Prelude. Mellow tones on the Swell underpinned the melody, the latter played on the Choir organ.  Nolan employed less rubato than one often hears in performances of this work  The fugue utilised a bigger and heavier sound palette on the Great.  It was amusing to see the organist conducting himself with one hand while playing the Variation with the other.  Here again, nimble foot-work was remarkable.

A variety of attractive registrations were utilised on Swell and Great; the variations on the charming melody were enhanced by judicious stop choices.

I thought some of Nolan’s hand movements while playing were somewhat pianistic but that did not seem to affect the result .  Maybe he caught them from one of his teachers: New Zealand-born Gillian Weir, who has the same tendency.  His other principal teacher was the eminent Frenchwoman, Marie-Claire Alain.

The next work was by Marcel Dupré; his Variations are enchanting, based on a traditional French carol.  The melody was illuminated all over the organ. with delightful accompaniments.    Nolan exhibited amazing finger-work on the Great, especially in one very excitable variation.  This illustrated how responsive the keyboards are on this instrument.

The melody changed key, thus retaining the piece’s interest.  Dupré obviously had a great musical imagination; some of the variations were very quirky.  I was aware of distribution of sounds around the building; a fast, loud variation was definitely emanating from further to my left than others.  This was a brilliant, virtuoso performance.

Widor’s Toccata, the final movement of the symphony played as the last item on the programme, has had almost pop status for many years.  Written in 1870, the Symphonie is a massive work in more ways than one.  It has five movements, varying from the allegro vivace first movement to an adagio fourth movement, followed by the Toccata, which returns the work to a fast tempo.

The first movement was quite restrained and matter-of-fact, contrasting sounds from the Great and the Swell.  Some wonderful effects were achieved, especially on the Choir and Swell manuals, as the movement progressed – at speed!  The ending was quite rambunctious.  The second movement, allegro cantabile, produced an attractive singing melody from the Swell organ,  with an accompaniment below on the Great.  Another section consisted of an accompanied flute melody.  Nolan was again a magician on both manuals and pedals.

The andantino third movement began with pedals only.  The music moved to the Solo manual and then came a hymn-like pronouncement on the Great.  The pedal work involved using two feet on the go at once, an octave apart.  Full Great organ ensued.  Sometimes the sound was a bit muddy, such as you would not get from a pipe organ.  However, it has to be said that most of the time one was not aware that it was a digital organ.  The quiet ending of this movement led to the quiet adagio fourth movement’s chorale-like opening, with the ‘box closed’.  The dynamics went down to a triple piano softness.  I found the switch from ‘closed’ to ‘open’ a little too obvious.

Then the famous Toccata, with all its fire and sparkle, switching between manuals.  It made a very effective finale.  When the principal melody was being played on the pedals, it required toes and heels of both feet.  The last phrase was fortississimo!

The encore, quite lengthy, was the Finale of a Louis Vierne organ symphony, which showed off a lot of the organ’s range of sounds.  Some of the playing, here and elsewhere  was, I felt, too fast; the audience could not always appreciate all the subtlety and sounds of the fast figures in the music.

Nevertheless, this was a superb and dramatic recital, played with bravura and virtuosity.  It did the new instrument proud.


A revelatory Bach X 2 lunch recital on piano and organ by Jonathan Berkahn

Jonathan Berkahn (piano and organ)

JS Bach: Fantasia in C minor, BWV 906
Lute suite in C minor, BWV 997: Sarabande and Gigue
CPE Bach: Sonata for Organ in D, Wq. 70/5
JS Bach: Toccata and Fugue in F, BWV 540

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 20 June, 12:15 pm

Jonathan Berkahn is a versatile musician, happy to play any keyboard instrument, including the piano accordion. In this recital he played three J S Bach pieces on the Steinway, then moved to the pipe organ in the gallery to play an organ sonata by CPE Bach and a final Toccata and Fugue by Bach père.

The Fantasia in C minor is a splendid piece which sounds as bold and inspiring on the harpsichord as on the piano; Berkahn’s playing had all the fluency and energy one could look for. His playing doesn’t prioritise subtlety or finesse; yet his playing was accurate with no more than insignificant smudges, but more importantly for me, it conveyed a sense that the pianist admired it greatly and was able to give it a performance that communicated that belief to his listeners.

That was followed by two pieces from a lute suite in C minor that seems to be more played these days as a guitar piece than on lute or keyboard. The entire suite comprises Prélude, Fugue, Sarabande, Gigue et Double, and he played just the Sarabande and Gigue (without the ‘Double’). The first had an unpretentious dignity that began with a certain ambiguity, a study in slow-moving semi-quavers that rather evaded a conventional melody. Berkahn took the Gigue only a little faster, hardly allowing it to inspire anything other than fairly sedate dancing. And though I suspect these pieces are not felt to have quite the weight of the suites for keyboard, for solo cello and other solo instruments or ensembles, they can be invested with much more weight and gravitas simply by the way they are played – the persuasivenss of the player. That’s what Berkahn achieves for me.

C P E Bach 
Berkahn explained that Bach’s eldest son didn’t follow in his father’s organ footsteps, and that he left very few organ pieces. At the church’s main organ he used registrations on separate keyboards that struck me as somewhat too distinct, which created the impression that the bolder, diapason sound came from somewhere out in the middle of the nave. His playing was staccato in character, and hinted at playfulness and even if it didn’t convey evidence of a gifted organ composer, once one had retuned one’s hearing to 50 years later, to the ‘galante’ musical environment of the court of his monarch Frederick the Great, Emanuel Bach finds a respectable place. The middle movement, Adagio e mesto, did offer hints as to Emanuel’s musical inheritance; yet Berkahn’s playing, thoughtful and careful as it was, showed well enough how his father’s genius could never be recaptured, in a different environment, just half a century later.

The very different character of the later 18th century – the ‘rococo’ or ‘galante’ style even more marked – was audible in the final Allegro. I felt that the boisterous triplet quavers in 4/4 time seemed to call for rather more flamboyant registrations and brilliant playing than might have been possible on the St Andrew’s organ .

Toccata and Fugue BWV 540 
Berkahn remained at the gallery organ to play J S Bachs Toccata and Fugue in F, which I found I hardly knew. The toccata is a startling piece, a sort of perpetuum mobile with endless semiquavers on the manual over prolonged pedal points, which became a virtuoso semi-quaver exhibition on the pedals. It must have been an impressive exhibition for those who’d responded to Berkahn’s suggestion to go upstairs to watch.

It certainly sounded splendid from the ground, and I found that I’d scribbled remarks like ‘impressive pedal work’ ‘it seems to lose a bit of what one thinks of as Bach the church organist’; ‘the 21st century organist takes charge’.  (They don’t all survive as considered views). What a contrast then, as the slow, meditative Fugue began, using more sober registrations for an ordinary fugal subject as it began; but one nevertheless sensed the potential for a build up to a level of excitement that might match the toccata; and indeed it did. The fugal figures moved between manuals and pedals with increasing complexity, calmly gaining in fugal elaboration but in unvarying tempo.

The piece was a bit of an eye-opener for me, and I rather look forward to hearing it on a really big organ: how about hurrying up the Town Hall rebuild! In the meantime, this was a rather splendid recital that offered some fresh insights, both into C P E and into a J S Bach work whose unfamiliarity (to me) was a matter of considerable surprise. It was a very rewarding lunch break.