Zelek Recital Review
By Alan MacMillan
Inviting young artists who are still pursuing advanced studies but already establishing concert careers to give recitals here in Hartford was an idea put into action in 2017. Last month’s recital by Greg Zelek at St. James’s, West Hartford has hopefully made that idea into a tradition; one that provides a window into the future of virtuoso organ playing in the United States. A wonderful view it is, if this recital and the young artists’ recital of last year are anything to go by.
Zelek is an artist’s diploma candidate at Julliard and his concert, punctuated with his own breezy commentary, offered a program of standard repertoire along with lighter transcriptions. The recital also gave the substantial audience a first listen to the re-built Austin organ at St. James’s (minus a few stops still awaiting installation.) The missing stops were no problem for the recitalist who explored the organ’s tonal changes and possibilities with a deft and masterful technique in a concert played entirely by memory.
The Mendelssohn f minor Sonata opened the program and was balanced in gravitasby the final work, Guilmant’s Sonata No. 1 in d minor. Sandwiched in between were two transcriptions, one by Zelek himself, Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” and another by organist Nigel Potts, Liszt’s “Liebestraum No. 3.” Between the transcriptions we heard a brilliant rendition of the Bach a minor Prelude and Fugue, BWV 543, a work well represented of late in programs in the area, but always a welcome inclusion. Following the Liszt, John Weaver’s substantial and colorful Fantasia revealed another facet of Zelek’s virtuosity while representing music of our own time.
The Mendelssohn provided the perfect vehicle for registral contrasts: the opening hybrid sonata cum chorale prelude a case in point. I particularly enjoyed the Adagio, a kind of “Song without Words” where melody had the preeminence and was the more effective with Zelek’s ever changing solo registration.
The Guilmant sonata provided a bracing close to the recital. From its thundering French overture opening, to the spare fugue disguised as a piping shepherds’ pastorale, to the racing figuration of the finale, this powerful work brought an appreciative audience to its feet. The ovation was rewarded by an encore: the artist’s own transcription of Ernesto Lacuona’s “Malagueña” played with all the requisite feeling for the style.