Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Stephen Price Rattles the Walls in Midtown

He may be only a couple years out of college, but Stephen Price proved Sunday night at St. Thomas Church that he’s a rising star of the organ circuit. He did it with a diverse and difficult program which, even if was pieces fairly well known to devotees of the classical organ repertoire, gave him the opportunity to showcase his grasp of pretty much everything that’s possible with a big pipe organ. He started on the rear gallery organ with Sweelinck’s Echo Fantasia No. 1. Rather than employing actual echo effects, it’s a fugue whose call-and-response eventually shifts from the stately to the comic; with a deft precision, Price let it speak for itself. Bach’s arrangement of three segments from Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico were next, played on the somewhat quieter gallery organ as well; though designed specifically with the Northern European repertoire in mind, the pieces would have been better suited to the louder and more Romantically-hued front Skinner organ. In the Vivaldi oeuvre, L’Estro Armonico ranks second only to the Four Seasons; perhaps predictably, Bach’s arrangement added Teutonic gravitas to the uneasy Mediterranean shades of the original. Price agilely navigated the dynamic shifts of the opening Allegro/Grave/Fugue section, the more ominous Largo e Spiccato and the brief, apprehensive Allegro.

Switching to the Skinner, he brought out every cubic foot of airy, atmospheric suspense in Dupre’s Prelude and Fugue in F Minor, Op. 7, tackling its breathily bustling, captivatingly melodic pedal passages with a virtual effortlessness. He then closed with the showstopper, Marcel Durufle’s arrangement of Charles Tournemire’s famous Improvisation on Victimae Paschali. Ablaze with massive, full organ chords, abrupt little digressions and the long, final swirling crescendo to its blazing coda, he made it sing, more like a choir of devils than angels. That, and everything he’d done before, earned him a standing ovation.

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March 8, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Iain Quinn Makes the Organ Whisper Mightily

Here’s a clinic in contrasts for you: next up here, after a jazz organist who makes a Hammond B3 organ roar, is a classical organist who pulls the gentle subtleties from the depths of a massive church organ. That’s what Iain Quinn did yesterday at St. Thomas Church in midtown. He opened on the big, colorful but soon-to-be-decomissioned Skinner organ with Carl Czerny’s Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, Op. 607. It was pretty much what you would have expected (especially if you ever grimaced while making your way through a homework assignment of Czerny’s etudes): brazenly derivative, something that anyone who’s ever played Bach could have come up with. And yet, irresistibly fun: Quinn let its predictable changes go fluidly so that listeners could play along in their heads to see if they could guess where the melody would go next.

He followed with a considerably quieter, transparently baroque-influenced work, the Larghetto from Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s Six Pieces, all gentle, stately call-and-response. Samuel Barber’s Prelude and Fugue in B Minor moved from acerbic austerity in the Prelude to warmer consonance in the Fugue, which Quinn again let speak for itself.

The most captivating work on the bill was Quinn’s own composition, Continuum (Notre Dame). A beautifully hushed, still, richly overtone-tinged tone poem, Quinn masterfully mixed low flute stops, elegantly subtracting them one by one as it wound down to just a single sustained wash of sound. Spectral music for organ has rarely been so gripping.

Quinn’s own arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Barcalolle, Op. 10 played up a gently lilting Venetian sway; he closed with the one fortissimo piece of the night, Glazunov’s blustery Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, Op. 98, dedicated to Saint-Saens and strongly evoking the French composer’s mix of rigor and playfulness.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Ahreum Han at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 4/11/10

A rising star on the international organ circuit, Ahreum Han first crossed our radar as part of a “festival of organ divas” at Trinity Church about eighteen months ago. Since then she’s earned her master’s at Yale while serving as organist at Stamford, Connecticut’s St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Han plays with great focus, fire and intensity, yet this time out she brought the fun set.

Jeanne Demessieux’s work is well known in the organ community; it deserves a wider audience, so it was nice to see Han tackle all the memorable contrasts in Demesieux’s Te Deum, Op. 11. A richly melodic, diverse piece, Han brought out all the spookiness in the pedals beneath the soaring upper register swells that open the piece, smartly negotiated the tricky little waltz that follows and aired out the big block-chord conclusion, veering eerily off into atonality and then back again. Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s Valse Mignonne, Op. 142, No. 2 seems to be a favorite of Han’s. The title is a misnomer: playful as it is, it’s not exactly cute and Han made sure everybody got that, emphasizing the distant longing in the wistful musette movement halfway through, then going warm and cantabile to end on a lullaby note with a gracefully memorable three-chord motif.

The showstopper was Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on Ad Nos, ad Salutarem Undam, S. 259. It’s an intricately sophisticated, frequently exhilarating example of a composer taking a centuries-old device – in this case, variations on a hymn – to the next level. Its quiet ambience contrasting with bold, heroic passages, it’s easy to see how Charles Widor would pick up on the idea and popularize a new style, the organ symphony. Han worked the counterpoint vividly, low pedals providing a striking undercurrent to all the upper-register swirls, stabbed out the Beethovenesque insistence of the second movement with a merciless precision and then tore through the majestic, triumphant, full-bore processional that takes it out in a rumbling blaze of glory.

Han may have once been characterized as a diva but she hardly comes across as one – the church staff practically had to push her out of the console, visibly winded after such a physically exhausting performance, for a second standing ovation.

April 17, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: John Scott Plays the Organs at St. Thomas Church, NYC 9/30/07

A flawless, frequently exhilarating performance of some aptly chosen, difficult pieces. John Scott, the church’s main organist and music director, is a major figure in classical music, receiving considerable well-deserved acclaim for his herculean performance of the complete works of Buxtehude here last year (a feat he had previously accomplished in his native England). This evening’s program revisited the Buxtehude marathon, opening with seven pieces illustrating how diverse the great Dane could be. For those unfamiliar with his work, Dietrich Buxtehude (circa 1637-1707) was the greatest composer of his era, a titanic, pioneering, paradigm-shifting figure who still casts a long shadow over anyone writing organ music. It was Buxtehude that J.S. Bach idolized, went AWOL from the Marienkirche to hitchhike north, meet, and study with for several months while his parishioners wondered what had become of him. Scott’s familiarity with the Buxtehude canon paid dividends tonight, particularly with the registrations (the stops which control the organ’s ranks of pipes, divided up into reeds, horns, brass and so on). In Buxtehude’s era, specific registrations were rarely specified by the composer, and then only as a suggestion, leaving organists to essentially work out their own orchestration. Scott did a masterful job of this, playing on the church’s back organ, a fairly recent addition which was designed specifically with the North German repertoire in mind.

Scott opened auspiciously with the stately A Minor Prelude (designated as BuxWV 153 to differentiate it from his other A minor preludes and such), following with the well-known Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (Come, Holy Ghost, Great God), the hymn Puer Natus in Bethlehem (A Boy is Born in Bethlehem), and then picked up the pace with the D Minor Passacaglia (BuxWV 161). Then he played the Canzonetta in G (BuxWV 171), an uncharacteristically lighthearted folk dance played on the flutes.

The final Buxtehude piece was one of his finest, the towering G Minor Prelude (BuxWV 149), its ominous, opening minor-key melody played low on the pedals as stormy broken chords swirl overhead until a brief break in the clouds. This is Buxtehude in all his rage and glory, and Scott’s impeccably tasteful choice of registrations gave him the headroom he needed when it was time to build to its long crescendo.

He then switched to the magnificent Skinner organ at the front of the church for the great Canadian composer Herbert Howells’ eerie, knotty Rhapsody in C Sharp Minor, Op. 17, No. 3. It’s a relentlessly disquieting composition, sometimes almost contradictory, part airy ambience and part barely restrained rage, more than a bit evocative of Louis Vierne. It’s also very hard to play. Scott brought out every bit of its disturbing contrast. He followed with William Mathias’ Chorale, a strange, fairly quiet, ambient reflection. Like a lot of English organists are prone to do, he closed with an Elgar piece, the allegro maestoso section from the Sonata in G, and this easily could have been left off the program: a lot of Elgar is bombastic, shallow and melodically deficient, and while this wasn’t painful to hear it wasn’t anything remarkable either. Yet on balance this was a typically brilliant concert for Scott and a rewarding payoff for the parishioners who’d had the foresight to stick around after the Sunday afternoon service. Those wishing to witness something equally rewarding should plan to arrive early at Scott’s upcoming December 20, 6:15 PM concert here, where he will be playing Olivier Messiaen’s breathtaking La Nativite du Siegneur (The Birth of Christ), which in the Messiaen oeuvre ranks second only to the immortal L’Apparition de l’Eglise Eternelle (The Foundation of the Eternal Church).

October 1, 2007 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment