By Alan MacMillan
St. John’s Episcopal Church, West Hartford once again rang with hisses, boos and hollering: the traditional greeting (and dubious form of acclaim) for the many costumed performers at the annual Pipescreams organ concert on Friday evening, October 26. This highly entertaining event was, as in many previous years, introduced by “Mistress of Sorrow-Moan-Ees,” Meg Smith (St. Matthew’s Lutheran, New Britain), whose pig costume led to some serious “hamming it up.” Meg did double duty on the organ bench as part of a “hostile takeover” version of the obligatory “Toccata and Fugue in d minor,” BWV 565 by Bach; a performance in which St. John’s organist, Scott Lamlein and six of his students playfully hurried one another on and off the bench, and sometimes shared manuals by reaching around from both sides of the console in a sight reminiscent of a Victor Borge act.
The concert opened with a biker/hippie costumed Peter Niedmann (Dean of the Greater Hartford A.G.O. chapter) performance of the “Toccata” from the Suite Gothique of Boëllmann with a suitable emphasis on the spooky pedal melody. A great gag was the ringing of Peter’s cellphone, which, most amusingly, he answered both as he was about to begin playing and later a split second before the final chord. (Someone backstage had some spot-on timing!)
Next, a bear-costumed Vaughn Mauren (A.G.O. sub-dean and organist at St. James’s, West Hartford) treated the large audience to the Prélude from the Op. 5 Suite of Duruflé. The beauty of this work, while dark in character, made one briefly forget the context and want to applaud in the normal fashion…..but, of course that’s a no-no at Pipescreams!
Mark Child (Grace Episcopal, Windsor) offered a brief chemistry lesson before launching into “Two Noble Gases: Neon and Argon” by American composer Daniel Gawthrop: works of a mystical yet pleasingly melodic character.
The prelude from the film “Psycho” effectively arranged and performed by a knife wielding Kari Miller sent a chill through the air preceded and followed by a mock knife attack on poor Miss Piggy.
A sea-captain-hatted Jim Barry (St. James’, Glastonbury) next launched into Noel Rawsthorne’s “Hornpipe Humoresque: A Nautical Extravaganza” which cleverly combines the familiar Sailor’s Hornpipe melody, Arne’s “Rule Britannia,” Bach’s 3rd Brandenburg, Vivaldi’s “Spring” Concerto and the Widor Toccata into a genuinely funny mash-up. Jim continued with Gounod’s “Funeral March for a Marionette” in the Frederick Hohman arrangement while the Costume Parade commenced; complete with a shower of candy to the delight of the many children present.
Susan Carroll (Asylum Hill Congregational) and Nathan Lively (St. John’s Lutheran, Stamford) joined forces for a four-hand, (and presumably four- foot), performance of a “Fantasia in D Minor” by the obscure 19th century composer Adolph Hesse. Going for broke with the registration, this dynamic duo made the piece sound a good deal better than it was!
Franck’s Pièce HéroÏque is a natural for this type of program, and host organist Scott Lamlein deftly demonstrated the registral possibilities of the resourceful Austin, ending with a rafter rattling full organ.
A scampering, “moto perpetuo” ragtime, cheerfully belying its title, “The Devil’s Rag,” ended the program on a fun and cheerful note. Composed by the Tunisian-born Jean Maetitia, this work, arranged for saxophone and organ, was breathlessly (especially for the sax) and brilliantly dispatched by Natasha Ulyanovsky (Congregation Beth Israel) and Max Schwimmer, saxophone.