Review of recent Meetings

The President’s Dinner

There was a bubble of excitement at the bar of The Chaucer Hotel, Canterbury last September, with members returning from their holiday excursions. Some nearly forty members had gathered to welcome our new President, Andrew Cesana, and indeed our completely new “front bench” team with David Brock, Treasurer, and Rosemary Clemence, Secretary now affectionately dubbed, by Andrew, as “The Medway Mafia”.

The meal was excellent and comprised of smoked chicken & mango, slow cooked stuffed lamb, profiteroles and coffee. The food and wine had done its work and we were a receptive audience for our guest speaker, The Revd. Ian Forrester BA ARSCM, Chichester Diocesan Liturgy & Music Consultant and Priest-in-Charge of Boxgrove Priory. He spoke eloquently and amusingly on his church music experiences and praised the work of the “humble organist” — that was us — who provided that all so necessary musical illumination of the church’s liturgy. We were quite beguiled by his praise, so much so that in our soporific after dinner condition even confirmed “sixteen-sixty-two-ers” were strangely and unexpectedly warming to modern language liturgy as never before.

Andrew Cesana conducted the evening’s niceties with consummate ease and spoke enthusiastically and entertainingly outlining much of what was to come during our new season. The President’s Dinner has become a traditional and enjoyable cornerstone of our association’s programme and brings together association members and officers ready to embark on our new season with renewed esprit de corps

Ulcombe, East Sutton and Sutton Valence

With the temperature over 70 degrees, incredibly some 18 degrees above the seasonal norm for mid October, we left home to enjoy an afternoon in village churches to the South East of Maidstone. Our first destination was All Saints’ Ulcombe, a large church with a beautiful XIII Century Chancel, fragments of medieval wall paintings in the Nave and some medieval stained glass.

The Association had previously visited this church on Saturday 20th January1962 to hear the opening recital by Dr Sidney Campbell at the dedication of the newly installed Roger Yates organ. It must have been even more of a surprise to many of those listening then, than it was to us almost forty years later, to hear the full bodied sound of just three stops extended with bright upper work into two manual and pedal choruses, each chorus independent and up to mixture. This organ was very much a child of its time, and the Queen’s College and New College Oxford organs come to mind as contemporaries, along with Coventry Cathedral.

Dr. Michael Alexander treated us to an excellent demonstration of the instrument. His enthusiasm for the organ, and the skills of Roger Yates its builder, was evident in the varied programme of music he played for us. This included Tallis, Couperin, J. C. Bach, Clrambault, Haydn, Stanley, Gardner Read, Karg Elert and Hindemith. At the Image of a Saint by Karg Elert was included by Dr Alexander to show that the Gemshorn could be used to register works of the romantic period, although the instrument was clearly more at home with the classical and modern repertoire. This was an informative and thoroughly enjoyable demonstration, with the Couperin Chaconne, Clerambault First Suite and Hindemith Sonata No 1 as particular highlights. This latter piece had not impressed a previous vicar some 20 years ago, who switched off the blower whilst it was being played as a closing voluntary. Michael Alexander, the organist at the time, left!

St. Peter and St. Paul East Sutton, a lovely rural medieval church, contained a Casson Positive organ with just a single short compass manual and a handful of stops, nevertheless Mr Gover James gave us a most interesting demonstration of the quality of the pipework. He also handed us a paper entitled, somewhat intriguingly, “One of Life’s Little Mysteries solved”. This turned out to be the unexpected discovery that the keyboard could be physically slid sideways, providing instant transposition up or down a musical third. Mr James demonstrated this with the top ‘F’ in Onward Christian Soldiers becoming a much more manageable ‘D’, whilst playing the same notes as before! This is a clever piece of Victorian mechanical ingenuity, which the writer had not seen demonstrated before. As was pointed out by Mr. James, this little organ was a triumph in economy of design, and the same could also be said of the Roger Yates organ we had heard earlier at Ulcombe.

After two very enjoyable visits, we were ready for the lovely tea provided for us at St. Mary Sutton Valence. But we were in for yet another treat in the form of “A moreorless Kentish Evensong” sung by the augmented choir of St Mary’s, directed by Sue Wright, with Mr. James playing the organ. No transposing keyboard here!

On the reverse of the Order of Service, a great deal of trouble had been taken to write notes about the composers and writers of the chosen music, many having Kent connections. I had not heard the Canticles by J. Eric Hunt before. He had been organist of St George Bickley from 1927 to 1943, composing the setting in 1934 with a dedication to Harold Bennett, organist of Rochester Cathedral. Long standing members of the KCOA will remember Mr Bennett. Eric Hunt, unusually, ended his settings with the Gloria Amen sung by the gentlemen alone.

Organist of Leeds Parish Church was the nearest connection the writer of these notes could make to Kent when writing about S S Wesley, but of course it was the Yorkshire Leeds. It was good enough to justify the inclusion in the service of his lovely anthem Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace

To find a country parish church with a choir able to sing Choral Evensong is now sadly only too rare, so well done and thanks to the vicar of St Mary’s and the choir for the Service, and for giving up a Saturday afternoon. No doubt thanks also for the practise and hard work that will have gone on before.

In all, a thoroughly enjoyable meeting, and by the time we left Sutton Valence the evening was drawing in and the fleeting temperatures of high Summer had gone. Well it was October!

Our grateful thanks are due to Brian Moore for arranging and organising the afternoon, and to Sue Wright, Gover James and Michael Alexander for making our visits so worthwhile.

Bromley, Beckenham, and South and Upper Norwood

Saturday 24th November was a lovely autumn day, as twenty-nine members and friends set off from the usual pick up points at Charing and Wrotham for our visit to the Bromley area. The day was a reminder of two things — firstly the large number of new churches built by the Victorians to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding population in the suburbs, and secondly the amount of damage caused by enemy action in the Second World War.

Bromley Parish Church was completely destroyed by a direct hit, apart from the tower, and the foundation stone for a new church was laid by the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, on 13th October 1949. The organ installed at the time was replaced in 1991 by a new instrument built by J.W. Walker and Sons Ltd. It stands on a gallery on the south side of the chancel and has a magnificent case, although the choir case is rather obtrusive when viewed from certain angles.

Henry Fairs, the Director of Music, opened his beautifully played demonstration with three chorale preludes from Bach’s Orgelbüchlein  in dich hab’ich gehoffet, Herr Wen wir in höchsten Nöthen sein Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten in which we heard the choir nasard and the full pleno. The keen richly voiced strings were heard in Reger Benedictus with a smoothly handled climax. The final piece was Alain Postlude puor l'office de complines, demonstrating further individual colours and the French style reeds. This is a fine organ which sounds well in a not very helpful acoustic.

We then walked to the nearby Bromley United Reformed Church, to hear the new Wm Hill & Son and Norman & Beard organ. Again, the original church had been destroyed during the war, and the second church on the site has been replaced by a modern building as part of the development of a new shopping complex. Apparently, the developers had originally offered £15,000 for an electronic instrument, which the church elders would not accept, and eventually the new pipe organ was installed at a cost of £ 157,000 —surely something of a triumph!

The new church is shoebox in shape with a lofty pitched roof. The organ is placed in a chamber high up on the ‘East’ wall, with a handsome detached mobile console at floor level. Colin Jilks, who voiced the organ and now maintains it, spoke about the installation, and explained that it is an English style organ, without continental influences. It was demonstrated by the organist Michael Toplis, who played Buxtehude Prelude and Fugue in D major, Couperin - Dialogue sur la trompette au Grand Clavier et sur la montre,le bourdon et le nazard du positif, Couperin - Chromhorne sur la Taille, and ThalbenBall  Elegy. It has a very warm chorus and many pleasing individual stops. The impressive full organ was heard in the last piece Mendelssohn War march of the Priests using the playback facility —uncanny but clever!

After lunch, when some members took advantage of the coffee bar at the church, we went on by coach to Christ Church, Beckenham, for a demonstration of the organ by Christian Strover, who has been organist there since 1956, and is President of the Bromley and Croydon Organists’ Association. This Victorian church had been damaged by a flying bomb, but the organ was saved. When it was restored the height of the nave was increased by 4 feet, so it now has a splendid resonant acoustic. This was further improved when someone rolled up the carpet from the nave aisle, and stole it!

Mr. Strover explained that the organ was originally built in 1900 by Hunter, rebuilt by Spurden Rutt in 1928 , and again by Willis in 1950. In 1994 Martin Cross replaced the console, renewed the action and installed a solid state combination system. It is now a fine exciting and versatile instrument which was admirably demonstrated by the chosen pieces C S. Lang Tuba Tune, D’Aquin  Noel in G,Delibes, arr. Rawsthorne Pizzicato from Sylvia, and Parry - Prelude on the Old 104th, which showed how useful the pedal cornet is when a bold line is required.

Our fourth visit of the day was to the Church of the Holy Innocents, South Norwood, where we were welcomed by the Vicar, Father David Newman. The fine lofty church was built in 1895 to meet local needs, the architect being G.F.Bodley. The organ is an untouched Norman Bros. and Beard, dating from 1898. Pneumatic action might have been expected for an organ of this date, but in fact it is tracker. It was demonstrated by our President, Andrew Cesana, who played Bach – Heut’ triumphiret Gottes sohn (Orgelbüchlein), Rheinberger Adagio from Sonata No 2 and Jospeh Callaerts  Toccata op 29. These pieces were well chosen to show the unforced diapason tone, bright reeds and delightful softer voices. Sadly, there is no regular organist at the church, and the organ casework has never been completed, but it is certainly worthy of the BIOS Historic Organs Certificate awarded to it.

Our final visit of the day was to the magnificent Grade 1 Listed Gothic Revival Church of St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, where a lovely tea awaited us. Adrian Adams, who is the Organist and Director of Music, and Assistant Director of Music at Dulwich College, spoke about the history of the church and organ. The present building, one of J.L. Pearson’s finest, replaced a small mission church in order to serve a growing area, and the chancel was dedicated in 1882. The completed church was consecrated in 1887. The organ is considered to be one of the finest examples of those built by T.C. Lewis. Part was installed in 1882; the majority of the instrument was in place by the turn of the century, but it was not until 1927 that it was finally completed.

The church was damaged by a land mine in 1944, but the organ survived without too much damage. Henry Willis III suggested that he should provide a new organ, but fortunately Noël Mander was called in and recognized its importance. He put it in playing order for £1000, and so it continued to give service until 1995, when it was decided that a major restoration was necessary. This was carried out in 1999 by Harrison and Harrison, with the advice of Dr Harry Bramma and Dr William McVicker.

This magnificent instrument was demonstrated to the full by Mr Adams, who played J.S Bach Fugue on the Magnifcat, Boyce Voluntary in D, Rheinberger Cantilène from Sonata no 11 in D minor and Mendelssohn  Sonata in A major (the two movements played in reverse order). The new Lewis style pedal posaune on 3½ inches of wind gave a good account of itself in the Bach, we heard contrasting great and swell reeds in the Boyce, a beautiful untouched Lewis oboe in the Rheinberger and the full majesty of the organ in the Mendelssohn The superb restoration by Harrisonshas been marked by the recording made by David Briggs in the Priory series Great European Organs no.57.

After several members had played, Andrew Cesana brought the afternoon to a close with a fiery improvisation on Happy Birthday, in honour of Frank Want’s 70th birthday the previous day.

Our grateful thanks go to Andrew for arranging such a wonderful day so full of interest and contrast, and to Gary Tollerfield for his help in route planning.

Synoptic specifications:-

Bromley Parish Church
Great 16 8 8 4 4 2 IV V 16 8
(Mechanical action)
Swell 8 8 8 8 4 2 IV16 8 8
Choir 8 8 4 4 2 2/3 1 3/5 III 8 8
Pedal 16 16 10 2/3 8 8 4 IV 32 16

Bromley United Reformed Church
Great 8 8 8 4 4 2 2/3 2 III 8 8
Swell 8 8 8 8 4 4 2 III16 8 4 8
Pedal 16 16 8 84 4 16 16 8 4

Christ Church Beckenham
Great 16 8 8 8 4 4 2 2/3 2 III 8
Swell 8 8 8 8 4 4 III 8 8 16 8 4
Choir (enclosed) 8 8 4 2 II 8
Pedal 32 16 16 16 8 8 4 III 16 16

Church of the Holy Innocents
Great 8 8 8 4 4 2 8
(Mechanical action)
Swell 16 8 8 8 84 2 III 16 8 8 8
Choir 8 8 4 8
Pedal 16 16 8 16

St John the Evangelist
Great 16 8 8 8 4 4 2 2/3 2 IV 8
Swell 8 8 8 8 4 III 16 8 8 4
Choir 16 8 8 8 8 4 4 2 8 8 8
Pedal 32 16 16 8 16

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