Review of Janet Yieh Recital
By Alan MacMillan
The newly appointed Associate Organist of Trinity Church, Wall Street, Janet Yieh, offered a richly varied program of organ music at Trinity College Chapel on Friday evening, November 16th sponsored jointly by the Greater Hartford A.G.O. and Trinity College. Ms. Yieh, who holds degrees in music from both Yale and Julliard, opened with a rarity: the overture to Mendelssohn’s oratorio Paulus, or St. Paul, transcribed for organ by the 19th century British organist W.T. Best. Based freely on the chorale Wachet auf! (Wake, awake for night is flying,) the overture opens with a solemn statement of the chorale which soon gives way to a swiftly unfolding fugue. This in turn leads to a rapid deluge of 16th note runs in the pedal which Ms. Yieh dispatched with accuracy and élan.
In her spoken program notes, the organist cited Mendelssohn’s part in the revival of the work of J.S. Bach and then continued her program with Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, BWV 564. The artist’s delightfully light touch brought out the playful side of this work in happy contrast to the heavy handed, overly serious approach it has suffered in times gone by.
In a stylistic leap from the previous works, Amy Beach’s Prelude on an Old Folk Tune, “The Fair Hills of Eire O” proved an apt adaptation of Beach’s piano work. Transcribed in 1943 by the composer, this is a piece well worth adding to any organist’s repertoire.
Ms. Yieh ended the first half of her recital with a fine performance of the Fugue from the Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain by Duruflé; a work one never tires of hearing.
After intermission, the recital continued with the first movement of Elgar’s Organ Sonata; a work replete with all of the composer’s hallmarks: the maestoso regal theme, the iambic, lyric melodic line and quasi-orchestral sonority. Known, of course, for his orchestral music and oratorio, Elgar also managed to include something in almost every genre but opera within his oeuvre. Primarily a violinist, the composer also served as organist at St. George’s Catholic Church in Worcester beginning in his late twenties, and we can be grateful that he left this fine organ work for posterity.
In radical contrast to the Elgar, Two Chorale Preludes on German Hymn Tunes by the contemporary composer Johannes Matthias Michel explored jazz style treatments of the form. While Ms. Yieh executed the intricate rhythms and riffs brilliantly, I found the compositions themselves clever but a bit one dimensional.
Returning to a quintessentially British style, we heard next the movingly beautiful Elegy by George Thalben-Ball. Originally an improvisation to fill up time at the end of a BBC broadcast during WWII, the organist wrote it down from memory when listeners writing to the radio station demanded to know where they could find copies of the work. It was subsequently published with Novello where it remains available to this day.
To bring the recital to a majestic close, Ms. Yieh chose not the Toccata, but rather the first movement of Widor’s Symphony No. 5. Although not titled as such, the movement is actually a tour de force theme and variations which almost disguises its form through contrasting keys, configurations and tempi to compelling effect.