Members’ Recital Review

Members’ Recital Review

By Alan MacMillan


A richly varied organ recital by members of the Greater Hartford Chapter of the A.G.O. was hosted by Trinity College, Hartford on Saturday evening January 28th in Mather Chapel. Appropriately, the recital was dedicated to the memory of “our beloved colleague and friend” David Spicer who had passed away just over a week before. Dean Kari Miller shared a brief but warm tribute to David which I’m sure spoke for all of us who knew him.

The 3 manual, 79 rank Austin organ of 1971 is a favorite of organ music lovers in the area and this recital certainly demonstrated why. The moderately reverberant acoustic of the chapel allows for a pleasing clarity of passage work yet retains enough ambience for a rich blend of sounds. This was apparent from the first dramatic utterance in the Franck Choral in a minor, played masterfully throughout by Ezequiel Menendez.

Edward Bairstow’s two movement Sonata in E flat is a rarity which proved to be the ideal vehicle to demonstrate virtually every conceivable registration of which the instrument is capable; I dare say with more clarity than the composer himself would have heard in his beloved, highly reverberant York Minster. A fanfare from the Trompette en chamade provided one of many dazzling moments in the performance and Vaughn Mauren proved equal to the task as interpreter of this difficult and colorful work.

What would an organ recital be without Bach? He was well represented by Natasha Ulyanovsky’s energetic performance of The Prelude and Fugue in a minor. Clearly this Prelude was the muse behind the Franck Choral, the two works beginning with nearly identical figures. The intriguing fugue subject, which manages a sense of off-beat rhythm within a string of even 16th notes, never ceases to delight and amaze. By way of contrast, Ms. Ulyanovsky turned next to music of Max Reger: Consolation, Op. 65 . The initial “consoling” string writing in this work gave way, in seeming contradiction to the title, to a busy contrapuntal middle section of characteristic Regerian angst. A return to the peaceful opening material featured the gentle celestes and a final satisfying rumble from the 32’ Bourdon.

The combination of cello and organ proved to be a most commodious pairing in Margreeth Ch. De Jong’s Sonate, performed by Kathy Schiano, cello with Christa Rakich at the organ. New to Ms. De Jong’s music, I was tempted at first to place her style somewhere between Fauré and Poulenc; or more appropriately I should say, between Chaminade and Tailleferre. By the end of the brilliant last movement: Fuga, however, I was certain I’d misjudged entirely. Subsequent research revealed her to be the contemporary, prolific and highly honored Dutch organist and composer that she is. This introduction to her music was heightened indeed by the well-matched and lovely ensemble playing of the artists.

The American organist and prolific composer Charles Callahan’s six movement Partita on “Slane” provided further glimpses into the myriad registral possibilities of the instrument. Peter Niedmann gave a fine performance in spite of one or two small interruptions by recalcitrant pipes. Peter followed up with a tribute to the late rock keyboardist Keith Emerson with his “Clotho” from The Three Fates, originally recorded by the composer in 1970 on the Harrison and Harrison organ of Newcastle City Hall in England. A fanfare gesture alternating with pedal reeds opened the piece followed by a scurrying section on flute stops, evoking, perhaps, the spinning of the cloth of human life by the “Clotho” of Greek mythology.

As frequently as it shows up in recitals and on occasions of various sorts, one never tires of marveling at Duruflé’s Prélude et Fugue sur le Nom d’Alain. Containing arguably the finest fugue subject of modern times and including, in seemingly effortless fashion, the theme from Jehan Alain’s “Litanies” in various places and guises, the work never fails to astonish and please. Susan Carroll finished the recital with a brilliant performance.

I would have happily listened to another hour of playing from such fine performers on such a versatile and beautiful instrument.