Royal School Of Church Music. Wesley Uniting Church, Kent Town. 8 Jan 2017
Malcolm Archer is an important figure in the world of cathedral music (organ and choir), and his credentials are second to none. He has composed for HM Queen Elizabeth II and has been Director of Music in no less that St Paul’s Cathedral in London. He has performed across the globe and is a recorded artist.
Promoted by the Royal School of Church Music, it would have been reasonable to assume that this particular concert would be ‘churchy’, but it was anything but. Yes, it did feature some of the music of the greats from the classical and romantic eras, but it also included works from modern-day composers (including Archer himself) and gave the large audience a fabulous survey of organ music in all its majesty.
Beginning with Mendelssohn’s Sonata No.3 in A and following on with Bach’s very impressive Three Chorale Preludes from Orgelbüchlein, the programme then sprinted to more contemporary compositions. Without daring to ‘bag’ Bach and Mendelssohn, it wasn’t until Cesar Franck’s Chorale No.3 in A minor that the concert really ‘took off’.
Franck’s Chorale No.3 is a stunning example of the shifting of the epicentre of organ music from Germany to France, and what an earth moving experience it is! The Chorale amply demonstrates the sheer majesty, power, complexity and capability of the pipe organ. Curiously the Chorale almost anticipates the blues music of the late 19th century from the deep south of the USA! Archer’s extraordinary technical skills and expert registration of the organ allowed the individual voices to shine through clearly. No mean feat.
As Archer quipped, how on earth does one follow Franck’s Chorale in a recital? You can’t better it so, do something totally and weirdly different, and he did. Trotter’s humorous arrangement of Leroy Anderson’s much loved Sleigh Ride was just the ticket, and Archer’s two helpers – one on rhythm sticks and the other on sleigh bells – got the very large audience into a toe tapping mood. Archer’s mischievous ‘neigh’ at the end drew much applause and laughter (although he was likely out of key!)
Archer’s performance of Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster was superlative. It’s a relatively simple composition and hardly virtuose, but in the hands of someone less skilled and musically aware than Archer, it has the potential to stall in the blocks. Not so with this performance, which was beautifully understated with precisely executed syncopated rhythms and rolling broken chords in which every note could be clearly heard.
The final piece was an impromptu improvisation (!) of Christmas carols that the audience nominated there and then. Archer has no time to plan how he would bring together famous tunes like Joy to the World, White Christmas, Jingle Bells and Mary’s Boy Child to name a few. The result was mesmerising and it almost sounded like a composition of original themes.
This is the first concert I have attended in the Wesley Uniting Church, and the Dodd pipe organ is a spectacular focal point. So much the better to hear it in the hands of someone of Malcolm Archer’s musical stature. He is a true master.
When: 8 Jan
Where: Wesley Uniting Church