Revisiting a Downtown Brooklyn Phenomenon
Organist Gregory Eaton’s more-or-less weekly Wednesday recitals at St. Ann’s Church in downtown Brooklyn are the stuff of legend, partly because they’re during the daytime and unless you work in the neighborhood (or can sneak away from work – it’s less than ten minutes from lower Manhattan by train), they’re not easy to get to. But if you are lucky enough to work or go to school nearby – or aren’t afraid to take time away from wherever you are to get to the church by ten after one in the afternoon – this is an event that you absolutely must see. Eaton made a name for himself playing ragtime and spirituals in addition to the usual classical and sacred repertoire on the mighty 1925 Skinner organ here: not only is he an eclectic performer, he also can’t resist sharing his vast knowledge with the audience in a way that’s interesting and accessible for even the most casual listener.
Today’s program was uncharacteristic in that it was all classical, but otherwise it was Eaton at the top of his game. The fact that it was his birthday might have had something to do with it. Since this is Holy Week, he chose a program that followed that plotline. He took care to explain the differences between two Bach settings of the hymn Valet will ich der geben, the first artfully interweaving madrigal voicings, the second letting the soul slip away with remarkable un-Bachlike restraint at the end as Good Friday arrives. After a lustrously brooding take on Brahms’ Herzlich tu mich verlangen (one of the composer’s gorgeous Eleven Choral Preludes), he closed by explaining how Franck’s Chorale #1 in E Major could be interpreted as illustrative of the whole sequence of events leading up to the Resurrection. And then played it, forcefully but also poignantly, making vivid use of the organ’s opaquely tremoloing vox humana stop. As for the organ, it’s holding up well but still needs some work to get up to full steam again. To jumpstart that project, Eaton is revisiting a well-received program of works for organ and brass (by Bonelli, Dupre, Gigout, Hurd, Phillips, Strauss and others) on May 13 at 7 PM: your $25 suggested donation goes entirely to the organ restoration fund.
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