A Musical Summer

by Audrey Attree

We have had a varied summer, beginning in May with a few days spent on St. Martin’s in the Isles of Scilly, one of our favourite places. The weather was superb and husband Colin and I thoroughly enjoyed walking, especially in the Abbey Gardens on Tresco, and island-hopping by boat. One night there was a concert on St. Mary’s given by students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but regrettably, we would have had to hire a launch to get there and back so, weakly, we stayed in our hotel and enjoyed our dinner.

However, our house in Cornwall has seen us from time to time and we used it as a base to get to two concerts in the St. Endellion Festival in North Cornwall, which was founded by Roger Gaunt in whose choir I used to sing when I was a student. The first concert was a late night one at which Mark Padmore, tenor, accompanied by Richard Hetherington, gave a most moving performance of Schubert’s Die schone Mullerin. The second was an excellent concert performance of Gluck’s Orfeo conducted by Richard Hickox. The church was absolutely packed for this and we were not sitting comfortably. A few seats are reserved but the majority are not. The answer is to arrive early, bag a seat by putting a cushion on it and then wander off to look at the art exhibition in the church hall before the concert begins.

This year St. Endellion church (loved by John Betjeman) has had a new organ built by Goetze and Gwynn. The whole instrument is based on 18th century English organs, especially those of Father Smith, but it does have a Swell organ and Pedals. It is a splendidlooking instrument but has only one pedal stop, the inevitable Bourdon 16ft. The reason for this, apparently, is lack of space. Everyone seems delighted with it and it was used in several concerts, including the SaintSaens’ Organ Symphony, but I do not envy the regular organist who has to accompany services and play voluntaries each week. It does seem sad that a more adequate Pedal Organ was not devised. Unfortunately, I have not yet heard the organ properly. At the end of August we went to the Friends of St. Endellion Festival Evensong but as the Swell was cyphering, only the quiet Great stops could be used.

In the past I have often played for the Sunday morning service in our local church but, now that they have an organist, we have been able to go on two occasions to the Sung Eucharist at Truro Cathedral. Both times the cathedral choir has been on holiday and the services were sung one Sunday by the choir of St. George’s, Beckenham and on the other by Holy Trinity, Stroud (Gloucestershire). A great opportunity here for anyone who would like to take their choir away. Marvellous Father Willis too.

At the end of July we spent a week in Vienna, where I was struck by the high regard in which organs and organ music are held. Nearly every church had a series of weekly recitals in which the organ featured prominently. On our first morning, as we walked into the centre of Vienna, we heard the sound of organ music coming from the Augustinerkirche (the scene of many Hapsburg marriages). We hurried inside to hear an Estonian organist practising on the magnificent Rieger organ in the West Gallery.

As we looked around we noticed another organ built in 1985 by the Dutch firm of Reil Brothers in the style of Silbermann and Trost and so especially suitable for Bach. At the Sunday morning Mass it was the Riegerthat was used. Twice a month the Mass is sung by the choir, accompanied by an orchestra, to settings by Haydn, Mozart or Schubert. The other two Sundays it is an Orgelmesse, and that is what we heard. Apart from the bells, there was silence until 11.00 a.m. when the organist began to play Mendelssohn’s Prelude in C minor and the various processions entered. When the voluntary was finished, the service began. There was no choir but the congregation were given service sheets with the treble line of the hymns and the Sanctus (interestingly, the Sanctus from Schubert’s German Mass) and the Agnus Dei. Colin and I sang in our best German, greatly helped by a Viennese lady behind us who was elegantly dressed in red with a significant hat. As a Gradual, the organist played Bach’s Wir glauben all (the double pedal version). The Offertoire in G by Dandrieu camenext. During the Communion we heard the Allegro cantabile from Widor’s Fifth Symphony and the concluding voluntary was Franck’s Finale in B flat. Nearly everyone stayed for this and clapped loudly at the end.

One evening, we went to a Mozart concert in the Konzerthaus at which all the performers were in period costume. This was one of a regular series of concerts of similar nature and was very impressive. At the end came a series of encores, finishing with the Strauss Radetsky March to which we all clapped.

Otherwise, we spent a day at Eisenstadt, visiting the Esterhazy Palace where Haydn worked, the house in which he lived and his mausoleum in the parish church. Another interesting visit was to Klosterneuberg with its magnificent monastery. Again, the church has two organs, one a particularly fine Baroque instrument whichBruckner enjoyed playing and which is now used solely for recitals. To my great disappointment, I was unable to buy a recording of it. Although there was a comprehensive shop, it contained no recordings of its own organ. Even a large music shop in Vienna had none. Can anyone help?

Finally, we spent a week in Gloucestershire on our friends’ farm— for the Three Choirs’ Festival — with the usual collection of sheep, goats, geese and cats, butthis time there were only two golden retrievers as, sadly, one of ours died last March. The Festival programme this year was devoted to English music. We heard Delius’ Mass of Lifeon the Sunday evening, conducted by Richard Hickox. The rather nebulous text is by Nietzsche but there were some exquisite moments in the music, especially in the orchestration. On the Monday we heard two of our favourite works, Vaughan Williams’Five Mystical Songs and Holst’s Hymn of Jesus, as well as Walton’s Viola concertoand an interesting work by David Briggs, the retiring Gloucester cathedral organist, called Creation Wednesday afternoon brought Denys Darlow, now eighty years old, and the London Handel Festival Orchestra who played a concerto for violin, two flutes and strings by Stephen Dodgson and the Vaughan Williams Violin Concerto in D minor

The second half of this concert brought welcome colour in a Handel Great Concertoand some Handel arias superbly sung by the soprano Rachel Nicholls. Our final concert on the Thursday evening was particularly exciting as we were almost sitting in the percussion department. The programme began with Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and we both heard details we had missed before. Raphael Wallfisch then played Finzi’s very attractive cello concerto and the concert ended with a thrilling performance of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. We had planned to hear Elgar’s The Apostles on the Friday evening but unfortunately had to cancel this so that we could attend a brother in law’s funeral in Dorset. Overall, I thought that the Festival programme needed more variety — most of the English music performed was of the 19th and 20th centuries — not quite the “cowparsley school”, but I longed for some Purcell or something with more bite; perhaps some music for brass?

As we were buying post cards one day, we came across one which had been sold for the Organ Restoration Appeal. At the top are photographs of the nave of the cathedral with the organ screen and some details of the Howells Memorial Window. Underneath is this prayer by Lynne Chitty.

A prayer to our Heavenly conductor.

When our lives are discordant
retune them
When they are downbeat
increase their tempo
When they are flat sharpen them
When they are crotchety
harmonise them
When they are too “fortissimo”
quieten them
When they are solos make them a symphony
And at all times accompany them
with the music and melody of your grace
and love our maestro and our God

Amen.

 

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