The annual Composite Recital took place on Saturday 24th February at Penge Congregational Church. The event was well attended by both members of the Society and of Penge Congregational Church, and a full and varied programme was presented by the 13 performers. The Society wishes to express its thanks to the Deacons of Penge Congregational Church for allowing us to present the organ recital.


John Webber

John became a church organist at fifteen – at St Swithun’s Church in Hither Green.  He has held similar positions elsewhere over the years, mainly in South London.  At one point John was Director of Music at St George’s, Beckenham (where his former student, Charlie Warren, now runs the show!). John is nowadays based at St John’s, East Dulwich. He also directs Beckenham Junior Choir and Beckenham Youth Voices, which cover the school years, as well as an adult group, the Elm Singers. He teaches piano and organ. On a day off, he is a London bus enthusiast.

Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707): Preludium and Fugue in F, BuxWV 144

I hugely benefited at St Olave’s Grammar School (then in Bermondsey, not Orpington) for hearing lots of organ repertoire played at the end of twice-daily school assemblies by our much loved music teacher Desmond Swinburn. (He was also organist of Dorking Parish Church.) Having become an organist myself in Hither Green at the age of fifteen, I had to put my sight reading skills to good use and I learnt a lot of pieces which Des let me borrow for the weekend, such as Maurice Greene voluntaries and items by Frank Bridge, Stanford and Mendelssohn.  Buxtehude I discovered later, and I was fascinated to see how different the Preludes and Fugues were when compared to Bach (which I had heard frequently).  Buxtehude’s themes are less developed and the movements shorter; this doesn’t mean it is inferior at all, but comes from a different generation – and things changed afterwards.

Susan Heath-Downey

Susan studied at the Royal Academy of Music many years ago, and continued with David Sanger and Nicholas Danby. Musical jobs included Assistant Producer, Argo Records/Decca Records; Musical Director, London Organ Day, for 18 years, where I met so many interesting musicians; Organist for 10 years at the Deutsche Evangelische Christuskirche, Knightsbridge (organ: 2-manual Bruhns,1980). I played many recitals in the UK and abroad, including Germany, France, Italy, and Australia.  I was Director of Music of St Magnus the Martyr, by London Bridge, for 10 years (organ: Abraham Jordan 1712, swell box, 3-manual Spurden & Rutt). I suffered Leukaemia for 3 years, miraculously followed by 10 years as Director of Music at St Paul’s, Deptford (organ: 3-manual William Drake). I now enjoy helping out for churches in and around London.

J S Bach (1685-1750): Pastorella, from BWV 590
Brian Solomons (b.1948): Aria
César Franck (1822-90): Sortie

J S Bach’s Pastorella is the first movement from a group of 4 pieces, maybe composed a few years before going to Leipzig, in 1720.  A pastorale is generally in a gentle compound time and, as here, with a drone bass – played on the pedals.

Brian Solomons is a London-based musician, and I wonder what may have inspired this Aria? – a beautiful, short, soulful piece, with some lovely harmonies.

Franck’s Sortie is a fun piece from his collection of 59 pieces, ‘L’Organiste’, composed in 1890. Originally for harmonium, it is the last of 7 pieces in F major/minor.

Nehara Fernando       

Nehara is fifteen years old and enjoys discovering music from different eras and styles. She is working towards grade 8 piano and expanding her organ repertoire.

Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707): Fugue in C major, BuxWV 174

Buxtehude was an important composer in the 17th century and had a great influence on the next generation of composers – J S Bach walked around 400 kilometres to hear his music! This piece is in the style of a gigue with a 12/8 time signature. Nehara particularly likes how Buxtehude uses dissonance without losing the light, cheerful atmosphere the piece creates. She found it easy to miss out a note or two when the piece became busy, but once she overcame this, she got to enjoy the interesting harmonies Buxtehude creates.

Dennis Baugh

I started playing the organ when I was 18 in 1966 and had organ lessons from the same teacher who first taught me piano. Keith Burrows set up an organ class through Chiswick Polytechnic in the 1960s. It was reputed to be the first organ class of its kind run by a college at a Methodist church in Chiswick. Several years later I became assistant organist at St Nicholas Church Chiswick and also played at St Mary’s Convent/St Joseph’s Hospital situated near St Nicholas. Since then I have been organist at St James’ West Hampstead, St John’s Kensal Green and St Michael’s Ladbroke Grove and currently Music Director and Organist at St Bartholomew’s Sydenham. I did a BA (Hons) music degree in Colchester in the 1980s during which time I took Grade 8 organ. I then did a PGCE course and taught music in schools. My organ tutors have included Anne Marsden Thomas, Rosemary Field and Philip Scriven.

J S Bach (1685-1750): Chorale Prelude ‘Wir glauben all an einen Gott’, BWV 681

I first learnt J S Bach’s Chorale Prelude ‘Wir glauben all an einen Gott’ with Rosemary Field 20 years ago, and after abandoning the piece for many years, revived playing it under Philip Scriven 6 months ago. I find it satisfying to play and particularly enjoy playing the ostinato on a reed pedal stop.

‘Wir glauben all an einen Gott’ is a fugue in the Dorian mode of D. The subject is based on the first line of Luther’s hymn. The music is triumphal and full of joy.

Irene Wolstenholme

Irene started to learn the organ at school and over the years has had a number of teachers, most notably Daniel Moult and Margaret Phillips. She helps Marilyn at Christ’s Chapel in Dulwich and also plays the piano at St Peter’s Battersea.  She is an accountant and tax adviser working at a bank near Charing Cross, and is also chair of the SSLSO committee.

Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924):
‘On a Theme of Orlando Gibbons’ (Song 34), Op.105 No.1 – from Six Short Preludes and Postludes

Stanford’s second set of six short preludes and postludes for organ, Op.105, were written in February 1908. The first is ‘On a theme of Orlando Gibbons (Song 34)’ – also known as ‘The Angels’ Song’. It is a short reflective piece on the hymn tune we usually sing to ‘Forth in thy name O Lord I go’. The tune is in the pedal – though the first line has fewer repeated notes than we are used to, which makes it harder to relate to the tune we know.

Norman Harper

Norman Harper was born in south Essex and was organ scholar at Gonville and Caius College Cambridge, studying organ with Peter le Huray and Gillian Weir, and composition with Peter Tranchell. Following a career as teacher, choral director, recitalist, examiner and accompanist, Norman was appointed to the music staff of St George’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Southwark, where he served as organist and director of music. In 2022 he was given the honorary award of ARSCM for services to church music.

Norman has played recitals at Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, St John’s and King’s College Cambridge, and many other major venues in the UK, as well as America, Europe and Australia. He has broadcast solo organ recitals on BBC Radio 3, and directed or accompanied numerous broadcast services on BBC radio and television. He has made several solo and choral CDs, and published compositions for organ and choir.

Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924):
Sonata No.2 in G minor, ‘Eroica’, Op.151 – 1st movement: Rheims Allegro moderato

Stanford’s Sonata No.2 in G minor, Op.151, subtitled ‘Eroica’, was dedicated “To Monsieur Charles Marie Widor and the Great Country to which he belongs”. Completed in August 1917, it also paid homage to the titanic struggle the French army had experienced in 1916 at the Battle of Verdun and the destruction of the medieval cathedral at Rheims. The first movement bears the title ‘Rheims’ and makes extensive use of the Easter hymn melody ‘O filii et filiæ’, attributed to Jean Tisserand, a medieval Franciscan friar. The 2nd and 3rd movements both feature quotations of the Marseillaise. If you would like to hear these movements, Norman is playing the whole Sonata at St Michael’s Church, Cornhill on Monday 4th March at 1pm.

Marilyn Harper

Growing up with the sounds of the Home Service, and Rodgers and Hammerstein amongst others, Marilyn encountered the organ through the sound of the untouched, sparkling Hill organ in Westhoughton Parish Church. Lessons with William Morgan at Bolton Parish Church and membership of his choir led to full time music education in Manchester, Liverpool and Cambridge. Marilyn’s teachers included Eric Chadwick, Noel Rawsthorne, John Rutter and Gillian Weir. An FRCO prizewinner, Marilyn married Norman in 1979, teaching and raising the family. She now concentrates on organ teaching on behalf of the Royal College of Organists and at James Allen’s Girls’ School. She has accompanied choirs at home, on cathedral visits, in secular concerts, and around Europe with choral societies and chamber choirs. Marilyn has given recitals in cathedrals in Birmingham, Ripon, London and Sydney, in a number of London churches in the City and suburbs and most recently in Fairfield Halls Croydon and in Reading Town Hall. Organist at Christ’s Chapel, Dulwich, and at St Augustine’s, Honor Oak Park, Marilyn’s hobbies include yoga thrice weekly and watching four grandchildren grow up fast. Her next appearance will be on London Bridge Station on 8th March at 7.00am and 9.30am, with over twenty members of the Society of Women Organists celebrating International Women Day.

Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986):
Prélude sur l’Introit de l’Épiphanie, Op.13

Immersed in Catholic liturgy for a lifetime, developing a uniquely subtle way of harmonising Gregorian plainsong, Maurice Duruflé is sometimes referred to as ‘one of the last Impressionists’. Concerned with exquisite sounds and gently dissonant harmonies, a feeling left in listeners is one of awe soaring upwards like gentle musical incense. Duruflé did not care much for contemporary styles, preferring to write his own music, taking time to perfect every detail. Compositions are few, the most famous perhaps being his Requiem Op.9, the Suite Op.5 and the Quatre Motets sur les thèmes Grégoriens Op.10. He was supported by his organist wife, Marie-Madeleine Chevalier. She was his perfect collaborator, a partnership of two equals. Prélude sur l’Introit de L’Épiphanie Op.13, the chant heard as a left hand solo, was a contribution to a larger collection of organ music based on plainsong in which each participating composer offered one piece. One wishes that Duruflé had composed them all.

Nicky Jones

Nicky was a psychologist in the NHS until retirement in 2012. Currently his main passions are organ playing and regular performances in amateur ballet productions. Nicky started playing the organ when at school after hearing a thrilling performance of J S Bach’s great Toccata in F on the old Tonbridge School organ. Over 7 years ago he began serious study for a period of several years with Marilyn Harper, RCO Academy teacher. Nicky currently deputises on a regular basis at St John’s, East Dulwich and at St Augustine’s, Honor Oak Park.

He has also had the exciting opportunity to share playing at Derby Cathedral on several occasions when the choir of St John’s has visited the city as part of Derby Cathedral’s visiting choirs programme. He is incredibly grateful for the unfailing help and advice so generously and regularly given by Marilyn Harper and John Webber. 

Florence Price (1887-1953): Adoration

Florence Price was an American classical composer, pianist, organist and music teacher born in Arkansas. I decided to learn this piece in December of last year after I felt moved by the composition’s beautiful melody and attractive harmonisations.

Sarah Best

Sarah is a freelance organist from north London and a long-standing member of the Society.  She took up the organ about 25 years ago as you can’t go on being a ballet dancer forever!  She is also an accompanist for the London’s Transport Choir.

John Rutter (b.1945): Festal Bells

I came across this piece while flicking through music in Schotts recently, and thought it was worth a try. John Rutter was born in London in 1945, and is mainly known for his choral works. ‘Festal Bells’ is a light-hearted piece – I hope I can make these bells sound joyful!

Andrew Chadney        

Andrew is organist of St Stephen’s, Norbury and Thornton Heath and is one of several members who have benefited from lessons with Marilyn Harper.

Mary Beth Bennett: Prelude on ‘Deo Gracias’

Dr Bennett is a multi-award winning composer, performer and choral director who has held positions in Washington and is presently on the music faculty of the University of Virginia.

I bought the Epiphany volume of the Oxford Hymn prelude series at the SSLSO repertoire afternoon in November 2023 at the home of Nicky Jones. Just after Christmas I opened the book and started to work my way through it. This piece takes the form of a plein jeu with the melody played with the pedal reeds at 8’ and 4′ pitch. The piece just grabbed me and I played it several more times. (It probably helps that the tune is also a favourite of mine).

Malcolm Aldridge

Malcolm is now approaching his 70th birthday but remarkably this is his first public appearance as a concert organist.  He began playing whilst still at school, half a century ago, but after taking a degree in musicology he then spent his entire working life in university administration, latterly as Financial Controller of Imperial College.  On his retirement he took up organ playing again and now holds the post of organist at St Andrew’s Leytonstone.

George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987): Elegy

The Elegy began life as an improvisation. Besides being music director of the Temple Church, Thalben-Ball was also the BBC’s chief staff organist. In this capacity he must have played for scores (perhaps even hundreds) of live broadcasts of ‘The Daily Service’ which have been a feature of the Home Service (now Radio 4) for at least 80 years. One such service, during World War 2, ran a few minutes short and the producer asked Thalben-Ball if he could possibly improvise for a few minutes to fill in some time. Whereupon so many listeners phoned the BBC switchboard to enquire about the piece they had just heard that Thalben-Ball thought he’d better write it down to the best of his recollection. This was the result.

Niall Baxter                   

Niall is Head of Music at Woodmansterne School, Streatham, and one of the organists at St John’s, East Dulwich.

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992):
‘Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père’ (‘The Majesty of Christ Demanding His Glory of the Father’) – from ‘L’Ascension’ (1933-34)

Originally written for orchestra, this solemn opening chorale has a slow, sustained tempo with quasi-hypnotic rhythms based on plainchant. The chromatic harmonies resolve into a climactic E major chord which, owing to his synaesthesia, Messiaen perceived as a deep red colour.

Peter Smith

Peter is organist at Christ Church, Clapham, conductor of Wimbledon Chamber Society and Vice Chair of SSLSO.

Peter Smith: Partita on ‘O Worship the King’ (2003)

I wrote this piece for the Patronal Festival at my church (the feast of Christ the King). After a re-harmonised statement of the tune, there are nine variations.