Music treasure in Christ Church

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Alongside the road named Seaside, not far from Eastbourne’s town centre, is Christ Church. Externally it is a rather good example of Victorian church-building. Inside it really impresses, with its sense of space and light. And as one enters, ones eyes are drawn to the dazzling pipes of its ‘Father Willis’ organ.

Henry Willis was, in the 19th century, widely regarded as the king of organ-builders. As his sons continued his tradition, he became known as ‘Father.’ Organists will travel miles to play a genuine Willis instrument, and Eastbourne is fortunate to have one. What is more, Eastbourne’s has not been “messed about with.” Although it is revered, and kept sparkling in its corner, it is to all intents and purposes precisely the same as it was when it was installed around 1880.

So it was with some excitement that I went to Christ Church at midday on Wednesday February 17 to hear Robert Munns give the first of a series of Lenten recitals. Recitals in churches usually mean hard pews, but handsome upholstered chairs are what one finds in this gem of a building. Robert is himself one of the town’s musical treasures. He has played at Prom concerts at the Albert Hall, at Westminster Abbey and at St Paul’s. Abroad he has played in Washington Cathedral and St Peter’s in Geneva.

Within three-quarters of an hour he gave us excerpts from two Masses by Couperin published in the 1690’s, an emotionally-charged Fantasy by Kenneth Leighton (1980), and contrasting works by the blind pianist George Shearing (1977) and by Eduardo Torres (1930). Sally Munns read poems by Leighton’s daughter, and the Vicar presented each item with real insight.

The occasion was even more surprising in that no charge was made either for the recital or for the soup and cheese which so generously followed. For sure I have every intention of being present at the same time on February 24, and March 2, 9 and 16. The last date sounds especially attractive, with music by the English Romantics: Parry, Ethyl Smyth, Frank Bridge, Stanford, Howells and Vaughan Williams. At 1pm on Monday March 21 Robert Munns is to play a programme of Bach at St Saviours. By Robin Gregory.