Private Edward Douglas Wheildon is the latest of the 221 soldiers from the First World…
Nicholas Singer’s beautiful new memorial compositions for the organ at St Mellitus are now available for everyone to listen to free on SoundCloud. As we approach Remembrance Sunday, you can listen here to Our Time Lost and All Losses Restored, performed by James Orford.
The pieces were commissioned for our Hunter organ, installed in 1920 as a memorial to 221 men associated with what was then New Court Congregational Church, who had served in the First World War. They were recently premiered in a recital by Marion Bettsworth at the Stroud Green Festival.
Nicholas says of his music: “The restoration of St Mellitus’ First World War memorial organ was somewhat overshadowed by the devastation wreaked by coronavirus in 2020. These short pieces are an attempt to link the theme of loss associated with the pandemic in parallel to the effect of the First World War on the local community, alongside the spirit of rebuilding and restoration that followed both tragedies.”
For the recordings we welcomed back James Orford, until recently Organist in Residence at Westminster Cathedral. James played the organ in our live-streamed Centenary concert in December 2020 and describes the restored instrument as “very special”.
“The firm of A Hunter was one of the UK’s finest organ builders,” he says. “But so many of the surviving organs have undergone rebuilds, enlargements and changes of all sorts, leaving relatively few Hunter organs in nearly original condition. This makes the organ at St Mellitus very special indeed. It’s not a huge organ, but the wealth of colour is quite extraordinary. It has the ability to be powerful and majestic, ethereal and atmospheric, or sparkly and effervescent.’
Recording Nick’s compositions presented him with contrasting but enjoyable challenges. ‘The first piece we did was energetic, fun, and made use of some minimalistic techniques,’ he says. ‘There were some rhythmic challenges to overcome, not just in their complexity, but also the fact that there is a bit of a delay between pressing a note down and then hearing it. Once I was in the groove and got used to the delay, it was great fun to play. The build-up was extremely exciting and the end was exhilarating.
‘The second piece was a complete contrast. It was atmospheric, languid, and smouldering. Nicholas was far too modest about this piece but it was absolutely stunning. There were very few dynamic or registration markings on the score, which meant that I was able to interpret the piece at the same time as exploring its suitability to the organ simultaneously. We settled on the idea of a rainbow arc – a build-up from almost nothing to full organ in the middle, then a gradual diminuendo towards the end. This piece demonstrates the organ’s enormous dynamic range, and the profundity and depth of the quieter sonorities.
‘What a treat to be able to record two such contrasting pieces that are so suited to the organ at St Mellitus and allow it to speak with so much character. Whilst the music is new, there is every chance that these were the sounds which captivated people’s ears 100 years ago when the organ was brand new!’
Listen to James’ recordings here.