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