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Organ Recital at Handel's “Other” Church

Handel Organ Concerto Op 4 No 2, Ombra mai fu
Mozart Fantasia K608
Schumann Fugue on B-A-C-H No 5
Works by Mendelssohn, Silas, Elgar, and Percy Fletcher

Jonathan Lilley (organ)
St Lawrence's, Little Stanmore
19 November, 2006

Mention Handel’s monuments, and you will think of his house in Central London, and his church at St George’s, Hanover Square. The interest of this recital for general readers will be the connection with Handel, the organ at Little Stanmore being the one on which he composed and performed the Chandos Anthems.

This venue is like a chocolate box in a brown paper wrapper – even down to its rectangular design! Outside, it is a plain 18th century church (the tower is original, Gothic). Inside are the chocolates, a rich, opulently decorated Continental Baroque interior with the work of eminent artists of the time.

If Canons Park, the mansion of the Duke of Chandos, still existed (it is now a mixture of playing fields, allotments and the North London Collegiate), this church would surely be a crowded stop on the North London tourist trail. Instead, it is unjustly neglected, although energetic efforts by the Friends' of St Lawrence hope to remedy this.

The Duke of Chandos, despite a fiscally responsible post as Paymaster to Marlborough's army (which allowed him, semi-officially, to make his fortune), managed to die in debt; his son was forced to sell off the mansion and have it demolished. But in Chandos' pomp, he attracted Handel as resident composer. And in the church, the organ that Handel played is still there and, thanks to a 1995 restoration, can be used for concerts.

Jonathan Lilley, one of the organists at Ely Cathedral, seemed to take the first few pieces (unfortunately, those were the Handels) to adjust to the smaller scale, the fast delay and the much less resonant acoustic at St Lawrence's. Likewise, much of the later programme, though it clearly pleased the large audience, and could be justified on the grounds that changes to the organ were made early in the 20th century, seemed simply anachronistic in the setting.

The chamber scale was very intolerant to fluffs and split notes, one could have looked for a more conscious attempt to sustain melodic line; in the middle of the programme, however, especially the Mozart and Schumann, Lilley coaxed sounds of a filigree delicacy out of the instrument.

This is an ideal venue for period music; some recordings on organ and by chamber groups have been made here, and it is to be hoped that the Friends' project to establish the church as a regular concert venue will flourish.

Ying Chang

See also BBCR3 Composer of the Week I think the Stanmore church is an amazing hidden gem. I hope that in 2009 there might be a Handel festival there. I appreciate it all hte more as what people associate with Handel is all in the city centre. so I also thought this might fit in with MP's dedication to promoting the 'less well-known.'
When I switched on the radio by chance I was delighted to hear where it was from; moreover I am struck all 4 other locations in the week ARE central London, so I felt vindicated to champion this place that isn't. Y.C.