Spring Recital
Sunday 29th September 2013

Mark Bensted (Organ)

On a truly glorious Spring afternoon we were privileged, again, to listen to a great organ recital. While Dr Beavis assured us that Mark Bensted is well known in the Southern Highlands I have to confess that this was the first time I have heard him play. And the better off I am for this opportunity. However I would feel better if I could find an apt figure of speech to bring together Mark Bensted’s vocation - flying Boeing nationally and internationally - with his avocation - clearly being steeped in deep knowledge of organ music with great accomplishment on the instrument.

This goes back a long way. Mr Bensted was a scholar at St Andrews Cathedral School, Sydney, where he was a chorister and learned to play the organ. Clearly very accomplished he was appointed at 18 as assistant organist at Sydney Town Hall as a result of his outstanding performance in an open competition. He went on to the University of Sydney and Bachelor of Music, with organ scholarships. And subsequently came the flying vocation.

We were privileged to hear the accomplished musician with both the introductions Mr Bensted gave to each composer and his playing.

Again the program combined composers who might be deemed well known and those not so well known. Thus we started with a Rondeau of Henry Purcell. This was followed by Six Variations on “My Young Life” by Jan Sweelinck, a Dutch composer (1562-1621) who was one of the early major keyboard composers including for the organ. There followed two pieces by Louis Vierne, a French composer and organist, at Notre Dame de Paris, who died in 1937 while preparing for the final piece in an organ recital in that wonderful cathedral. Thank goodness there was no repetition this afternoon for Mr Benstead finished the first half of his performance with three hymn preludes based on Welsh hymns composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams. There was a time when I was steeped in the hymns of Methodism, in early years in Western Australia, but sadly that background did not enable me to recognise the hymns so beautifully presented.

After a brief interval - enabling us to stretch our legs, as Mr Benstead said - we were treated to J S Bach, with the “Dorian” Toccata and Fugue. There followed Sicilienne by M Durufle, also a French organist and composer. Durufle was somewhat later than Vierne, dying in 1986 although he was at Vierne’s side when he, Vierne, died at the console of the Notre Dame de Paris organ. The final works, Five Short Pieces, were composed for the organ by English composer P Whitlock. Whitlock studied with R Vaughan Williams and as Mark Bensted told us, he was influenced by Elgar thus his music has a very English sound.

Thus Mark Bensted presented us with a program of interesting, lively music from a number of composers who clearly were linked quite strongly. Mark Bensted plays beautifully and gave us the full range of the wonderful sound of the St Jude’s organ. A truly inspiring recital. And to complete the afternoon there was available - and still available from the St Jude’s office - a CD of Mark playing fifteen works on the St Jude’s organ. At $15.00 this is a great buy - and the proceeds are being donated to the fund for further work on the organ. Well done!

Stanley Croker