Review of Members’ Recital

Review of Members’ Recital
By Alan Macmillan

The 2008 Dobson organ at St. Peter Claver Church in West Hartford is one of very few tracker organs in the greater Hartford area and the A.G.O. members’ recital on Friday evening, January 25th provided an opportunity to hear it put through its paces in a program of music of widely varying musical styles.

The music of Buxtehude figured prominently in the program with Scott Lamlein of St. John’s, West Hartford, opening with a vigorous and assured performance of the Präludium und Fuga in d minor. Later in the program, Michelle Horsley of South Church, New Britain, offered a fine performance of the Buxtehude Präludium und Fuga in f sharp minor. For listeners more familiar with the preludes and fugues of Bach, Buxtehude’s approach to the form stands in stark contrast to that of the younger master who, as a youth of twenty, made his famous pilgrimage of 250 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear the older man play. Buxtehude’s approach tends to be episodic, with prelude giving way to fugue with no ceremonious cadence announcing the end of the prelude; the fugue freely seasoned with pedal solos and “free fantasy” sections unrelated to initial thematic material. The result is brilliant and arresting. Kari Miller, of Simsbury Methodist gave us some Bach to allow comparison; a well-executed account of the Prelude and Fugue in C major BWV 545. In this early work of Bach, revised in his later years, the unique character of his prelude and fugue style is on full display.

While Buxtehude and Bach may be the expected fare for a recital on a tracker organ with no electric stop action or memory, Messiaen made an unexpected and welcome appearance at the hands of Ms. Horsley. Les Bergers (The Shepherds) from La Nativité proved an excellent choice for this organ as it features sections with uniform registration and a chance to listen carefully to the flutes, mutations and solo reeds evoking the piping of the Judean shepherds.

Contemporary American composer Dan Locklair composed his Salem Sonata on commission for The Home Moravian Church in Salem, North Carolina in 2003. Nathan Lively of St. John’s Lutheran, Stamford gave an arresting performance of the work in which he cleverly arranged the second movement to include and demonstrate the Orgelkids small tracker organ which was played by Susan Carroll of Asylum Hill Church, Hartford. Locklair based his sonata on two early Moravian hymn tunes, “Gregor’s 97th and “Almsgiving” and the result is an appealing work with a folksy, rhythmic and thoroughly American character.

Returning to the Germanic lineage of organ music, the recital continued with Hindemith’s Sonata No. 2. This, the most neo-classical (or neo-baroque, if you wish) of the composer’s three organ sonatas consists of a quick opening movement with a captivating returning motto theme, a middle movement in a Siciliano rhythm and a Fugue for finale. It was an excellent choice for this organ and was well played by Noah Smith of First Church of Christ, Suffield.

Cheryl Wadsworth brought the recital to a close with more 20th century music: a fine performance of the rarely heard Prelude and Fugue from “Five Studies in the Form of a Sonata” by John Cook (1918-1984). This British born organist and composer spent most of his career in Canada and the U.S. and is perhaps best known for his ubiquitous “Fanfare” for organ. The lesser known “Five Studies” date from his Canadian years and are dedicated to Healey Willan, a fellow British-born Canadian. The music itself, as Ms. Wadsworth mentioned in her remarks to the audience, owes much to the influence of Hindemith which was immediately evident amid flashes of the unique voice of Cook himself as the music progressed. A nice follow-up to the Hindemith Sonata, the work provided a satisfying end to an evening of fine organ music amply demonstrating the wealth of talent in our Greater Hartford A.G.O. Chapter.