The lion never got out of its cage: a music review by Fraser Beath McEwing

March 25, 2018 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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The Sydney Opera House organ recital is something like an annual pilgrimage for me.

Fraser Beath McEwing

Often held early in the year, and during a morning when there is unlikely to be power outages, the Opera House throws the switch to fire up the world’s biggest mechanical pipe organ, built into its southern wall. It brings to life a magnificent instrument – usually in the hands (and feet) of a master player, this year celebrated Australian organist, David Drury.

It was not obvious how many Sydney music lovers share my enthusiasm for a stirring organ recital until I found that there were enough to almost fill the Opera House at 11:00am last Friday. Having said that, because this mostly-seniors audience is unlikely to comprise many organ music devotees, programs that work best are made up of shorter pieces that collectively exploit the capabilities of the instrument.

David Drury divided the hour into eight works, beautifully played, I should add, but the lion never got out of its cage. While there were a few moments of soaring abandon, most of the music was ordered and contemplative – in contrast to last year when Liszt and Widor hurled us around in gorgeous storms.

David Drury

The concert opened with three pieces by J. S. Bach, Sinfonia from Cantata No 29 and two organ chorales. Although pleasing on the Opera House organ, these would have been equally so on the local church wheezer.

Twentieth century French composers accounted for the rest of the program. Alexandre Guilmant contributed Marche Regilieuse from Handel’s Messiah, which arrived in satisfying but regimented cubes of sound.

Maurice Durufle’s Scherzo Op.2 gave us four minutes of fiddle-faddle in the upper register and, to me, was inconsequential. So too was Louis Vierne’s Berceuse Op.31, No.19. This, being a lullaby, the lion went back to sleep. But it stirred for the final Vierne: Carillion de Westminster, from Suite N.3 for organ Op.54. It took the Westminster Abbey chime (reproduced on everybody’s grandparents’ lounge room, curved, wooden-case clock) and gave it a good working over with plenty of heel and toe. I guess it was a good send-off piece, but the audience hadn’t been overwhelmed by the concert, evidenced by Drury being given only one curtain call before they thought more about the financially wounding car park and a cuppa.


Sydney Opera House organ concert 23 March 2018

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