We launched the 2019 Festival at lunctime on Friday in fine style with a fusion of organ and cello music by Jonathan Kingston at the Willis console and James Jarvis playing his Rex England cello, which was made in Stony Stratford in 1988 and is now maturing with a wonderful warm, rich tone which blended beautifully with the Willis pipe organ in this concert.
We counted 114 people in the audience, who were able to see James playing his cello in the gallery beside the console because we had set up the big screen hanging from the gallery with a video camera filming James and Jonathan. We arranged blackout curtains on two of the south windows to take the worst of the glare from the glorious sunshine pouring into the church, so the image on the screen could be seen.
James introduced his cello and explained that the back is only one piece of wood. The organ was newly tuned earlier in the week by Harrison & Harrison and sounded wonderful.
The two musicians began the concert with the Four Seasons (Autumn Nocturne, Winter Lament, Spring Serenade and Last Song of Summer) by Peter Mathews (a 20th century American composer).
Autumn Nocturne provided a deep, sonorous start to the festival. Winter Lament was lighter yet with a serious undertone. Spring Serenade started quietly in the Choir organ, then the Great organ in a gradual crescendo with a soaring tune on the cello which had a far eastern flavour to the melody. The Last Song of Summer started on Pedal Organ with a deep melody on the cello then overlaid with Corno di Bassetto counter melody in the choir, followed by the Great and Swell organ building the sound.
This wonderful piece was followed by the Vivaldi, the 6th of his six Cello sonatas which as James explained were written for playing in more intimate settings than a large church (usually for a private house). There were four movements in the sonata with alternating tempi: slow, fast, slow, fast. It was quite a contrast to the Mathews piece, with the organ sounding like a chamber organ because of the stops Jonathan selected.
The final piece of the concert was as James explained, written in a hurry and premiered on the day it was written when a live concert Paul Hindemith was meant to be playing for BBC radio was cancelled because of the death of King George V.
The music Hindemith had composed for the original concert wasn't suitable in light of the King's death).
Trauermusik was dedicated to the late King, with Hindemith playing the viola part (it was written from viola and string orchestra) for its premiere which was broadcast live that evening. It was four short linked movements, atonal in places (James said those notes are meant to be there!) with a chorale on the organ similar to 'The Old Hundredth' in the last of the 4 movements. As James explained, this piece gave Jonathan a chance to ‘let rip’ on the organ a bit more! It was a brooding, mournful piece and sounded beautiful on the cello and pipe organ.
Thank you Jonathan and James - it was a superb start to the festival.
Additional photos can be found in the Willis Pipe Organ Festival 2019 album.
Words and photos by Anna Page