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Old 16-03-21, 09:14 AM
sriyanj sriyanj is online now
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Default Organist Lucian (later Rev. L.G.B.) Fernando

When a packed congregation listened in hushed and reverential silence
Dr. Lalith Perera who assisted Lucian Fernando at the Pipe Organ at St. Michael's Church, Polwatte, Colombo 3 remembers that memorable performance of the St. Matthew's Passion by the Colombo Philharmonic under Gerald Cooray in March 1956

The Colombo Philharmonic Choir was established by Dr. Gerald Cooray on December 6, 1955 by joining the Maradana Methodist Choir which was conducted by him (where he was also the organist), with the Colpetty Methodist Church choir. Both had good choirs and the combined choir thus formed began giving recitals of sacred music in the two churches. This then became the Maradana- Kollupitiya Choral Society and later the Colombo Philharmonic Choir.

Organist Lucian (later Rev. L.G.B.) Fernando was often the lone accompanist for the large choral works performed. He was at the organ for the landmark performance by the Colombo Philharmonic Choir of Bach's St. Matthew Passion when British tenor Peter Pears sang the part of Evangelist accompanied by famed composer Benjamin Britten on the Piano in March 1956.

When the Choir performed the English version of Bach's St. Matthew Passion at St. Michael's Church, there was an audience of what seemed a thousand people, many standing outside the church and at the windows.

Pears and Britten were in Japan just before, and hearing that they planned to come to Ceylon at the invitation of the British Council, Gerald Cooray wrote to them and asked them if they would be kind enough to take part in a performance of the St. Matthew Passion, although they would not be able to pay them the kind of fee they were used to. They replied graciously saying that they would be delighted to take part in the performance, and that they did not want a fee of any kind. Such were the attributes of truly great men!

The Ripieno Choir was made up of choristers from S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia, among whom was Ronnie Thangiah, choirmaster at Trinity College. The remarkably gifted Lylie Godridge sang the bass arias while Joan Cooray sang the soprano arias. Lucien Fernando accompanied the choir on the organ brilliantly. There were no other instruments, except for the solo violin for the violin obligato accompanying Godridge's Bass Aria, 'Give O give me back my Lord', played by Dr. Christopher Canekeratne, a qualified Surgeon.

The very large congregation which packed St. Michael's Church that evening to listen in hushed and reverential silence, if any of them are still alive would not have forgotten the experience. I remember that at one point, after the death of Jesus on the Cross, when there was absolute silence in the church, one could clearly hear a sob from someone in the congregation.

During their stay in Colombo Peter Pears also gave a song recital at the Ladies' College Hall, Flower Road accompanied by Benjamin Britten on the Marshall & Rose grand piano belonging to the school. Another memorable experience.

In all Lucian Fernando's performances, I had the privilege of sitting beside him. not merely to turn the pages but to help him with the numerous changes of stops which he needed, as marked by him on the pages of his organ score; both when he accompanied choral performances and during solo voice and organ recitals he gave from the still extant Hill, Norman and Beard two manual pipe organ at the St. Michael's Church, Polwatte, Colombo 3. These were regularly relayed by the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation, as were recitals on the Pipe Organ at St. Andrew's Church, Colpetty by Mrs. Spencer-Sheppard.

I do not think sufficient credit was given to Lucian Fernando's mastery at the organ except for some such as Gerald Cooray. Fernando was largely self-taught.


The choir rehearsing with Dr. Gerald Cooray in 1961 and the performance of St. Matthew's Passion in 1956. Pix courtesy Colombo Philharmonic Choir archives

Benjamin Britten (left) and Peter Pears
Attached Images
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File Type: jpg St-2.jpg (73.6 KB, 6 views)

Last edited by sriyanj; 16-03-21 at 09:18 AM.
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