A New (-ish) Organ for an Old Church

Last month I went to an organ and voice recital at St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford, on the Suffolk Coast. It was part of the 2022 Aldeburgh Festival and the recital was a sellout for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the youthful, passionate and exceedingly energetic organist, Anna Lapwood, was performing and, secondly, she was demonstrating her prodigious talent playing the Peter Collins organ newly installed in the church.

The Peter Collins Organ installed in 2019, in St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford, Suffolk.

Strictly speaking the organ is not a new organ, but new to this church. It was a gift from the University of Southampton. The organ was originally built in 1977 by Peter Collins for the Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton.

An organ such as this to be built from new for St Bartholomew’s would have cost £600,000. However, as a gift from the university together with some successful fundraising to acquire the £120,000 needed for the renovation and installation, St Bartholomew’s gained a magnificent instrument.

The organ lit by the late afternoon sun, 25th June, 2022.

Perhaps, you are wondering why a medieval church in a small, picturesque Suffolk village, essentially on the road to nowhere, at the edge of a county, on the North Sea coast, would warrant such a special organ. Well, the answer is Benjamin Britten. He lived for much of his life in Aldeburgh and Aldeburgh is only 11 miles along the Suffolk country lanes to Orford. Also, this Suffolk church has fine acoustics for recording and was chosen by Britten for the world premieres of his works the ‘Three Church Parables’ and ‘Noyes Fludde’.

‘Noah’, Liliane Yauner. 1997. Bronze. St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford.
Presented by The Britten-Pears Foundation to Orford Church where the Britten Church Operas were first performed to mark 50 years of the Aldeburgh Festival, June 1997.

It is a remarkable place for a concert or recital being both small enough for a sense of intimacy and yet large enough for the sound to fill the space in such a manner as to engulf the listener.

And, what of the recital? It was glorious. The programme devised by Anna Lapwood (by the way, the first woman in Oxford’s Magdalen College’s, 560-year history to be awarded an organ scholarship) was a series of plainchant pieces followed by an organ work inspired by or linked to the preceding chant.

The concert began with a beautiful solo voice (a Pembroke College, Cambridge, choir member) singing the plainchant ‘Magnificat Primi Toni’ followed by Bach’s ‘Fuga Sopra il Magnificat’ (BWV 733).

After the recital members of the audience chat to Anna Lapwood.

Of course, the programme wouldn’t have been complete without a piece or two by Britten. Anna Lapwood played Britten’s ‘Voluntary on Tallis’ Lamentation’ following the plainchant ‘Lamentation’ by Thomas Tallis. And, towards the end of the programme she played Britten’s ‘Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria’ following the singing of ‘Ecce Sacerdos Magnus’ by Vittoria.

Finally, and interestingly it turns out that Anna Lapwood has a personal connection through her father to both Benjamin Britten and St Bartholomew’s.

“As a child I spent many holidays walking through the wind and rain on Aldeburgh beach. My dad grew up in Suffolk and actually played the violin for Britten in Orford Parish Church as a child.”

Anna Lapwood

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

17 thoughts on “A New (-ish) Organ for an Old Church”

  1. I’m not a huge fan of organ music, but I would make an exception in this case. This sounds as if it’s a magnificent instrument which was placed in extremely talented hands when you heard it.

    1. Yes, the organ alone can be quite exhausting, but in this case it was balanced by the plainchants beautifully sung by the four fabulous singers. I’m not sure why I didn’t pick up a copy of the running order which I think had the singers included – rather remiss of me as I would have liked to have named them.

  2. Like Margaret, I’m not greatly into organ music, but this sounds to have been. a marvellous recital by a very talented organist on a very special machine! Fab

    1. Oh yes, the setting was the icing on the cake. The acoustics in cavernous, stone buildings make for a thrilling experience especially the lower octaves when played loudly.

      1. I’m enclosing a link to a famous organ near me that I have heard several times and have seen even more. It’s the Wanamaker organ and was put in this place when the whole building was the John Wanamaker department store. I remember it from those days – I bought a sewing machine here! and shopped for work clothes in Better Dresses! Two really nice Queen Anne style end tables that made my apartment classy and showed I was making my way in the world! Now it’s a store (different brand) but mostly it’s offices, but some traditions go on. They still give daily organ concerts. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanamaker_Organ

      2. Goodness those were the days when a department store could afford to enhance the shopping experience with a ‘live’ organ. How lovely that it’s still being used on a daily basis.

      3. When I came to Philadelphia 40+ years ago I had never seen a store like this one and I am glad it has survived, though through being sold several times and reduced in size, the main floors still give me the feeling I had of what a grand atmosphere in which to shop.

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