Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Michael Unger at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 1/11/09

Unger, the winner of a whole slew of recent awards and organist at South Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY treated an impressively enthusiastic crowd to a varied program imbued with a remarkable subtlety. He began on the church’s newer gallery organ, which was designed with the North German organ school in mind and proved well-suited to his tersely stark interpretation of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G minor (BWV 535). Tersely stark, that is, until the second reprise of the opening theme where the piece picked up considerable steam. Taking liberties with Bach tempos can be hubristic to the extreme, but whether this was intentional or not, it worked out perfectly: at the end of the passage, a tempo, and it was back to more understated wariness. A five-part Buxtehude partita (Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, BuxWV 75) was attractively fluid and matter-of-factly paced, and literally segued into a characteristic Buxtehude scorcher, the Praeludium in E Minor (BuxWV 142), whose cascading swells and ebbs gave him a welcome chance to bring up the volume and the drama without overdoing it.


He then switched to the church’s front organ, the big, beautiful, several-times-modified 1911 Skinner behemoth that the church fathers have decided to replace in the near future: for now, irreparably damaged as it may be, it remains a powerhouse, although Unger didn’t push it to any kind of extreme. His take on Cesar Franck’s monumentally tuneful, riff-driven Piece Heroique was surprisingly quiet, letting the melody carry the drama rather than airing it out by pulling out all the stops. Unger closed with two Gaston Litaize pieces from the 1939 series Twelve Pieces, effectively bringing out the Prelude’s optimistic atmospherics and then delivering a playful take on the Variations on an Angevin Christmas Carol, a simple, accessible tune that wouldn’t have been out of place a couple of blocks south at Rockefeller Circle where the skaters were circling.

January 12, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews

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