The new organ at St Helen's, Burton Joyce
18th March 2006
St Helen's Church in Burton Joyce is in many ways a typical small village church, with the exception of its brand new 18 stop pipe organ. The pipes are in a case in the West arch, and for John Keys' recital on the 18th of March the detached console was angled beneath the chancel arch, giving an intimate view into the performer's art.
St Helen's is an intimate venue, with the furthest listeners less than forty feet from the pipes, and no lofty height to improve the dry acoustics. Geoffrey Coffin has responded to this with an organ that has a variety of flue tone and only one reed stop, a Trumpet in the Swell which is extended to 16' on the pedal. My fears that this rank or its extension might prove too much for the room were not realised, although full organ could quickly become tiresome in the wrong hands.
The programme fitted together better on paper than on listening. Meyerbeer's Coronation March got things off to a rousing start, and then we heard both Lionel Rogg and JS Bach's Aus Tiefer Not. John Keys prefaced Rogg's work with an assurance that it was not wildly modern, but nor was it wildly exciting - perhaps more service prelude than recital fare. Mozart's Andante in F (K616) provided a light interlude before Mendelssohn's Sonata in A (from his Opus 65) concluded the first half. The first movement again referenced Aus Tiefer Not during its fugal section, but the second and final movement provided an unexpectedly subdued conclusion.
John Keys proved himself an able and adaptable organist, but I noticed a few slips that made me wonder if the unforgiving acoustic was affecting his concentration. The second half seemed more secure, even though it commenced with a Sortie: Lefébre-Wely's in B flat. Schumman's Four Sketches for pedal piano translate well to the organ, although John commented that James Williams, organist of St Helens and his page turner for the evening, thought his pace a little rapid. I tend to agree! After further varied music, John encored with Lefébre-Wely's more famous Sortie in E flat and gained suitably sustained applause. The programme may have lacked musical connectivity, and the acoustic demands a period of acclimatisation from the performer, but the vicar congregation of St Helen's are justly delighted with their new organ, and I encourage you to experience it for yourself in the forthcoming series of concerts.
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