Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Heekyung Lee at the Organ at Central Synagogue, NYC 1/26/10

Korean-American Heekyung Lee, AGO scholar and assistant organist at Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s University Presbyterian Church, delivered an elegantly paced performance marked with smart subtleties and a ruthless attack on the keys and pedals when she needed it.

She opened with the upbeat Bach Prelude and Fugue in C Minor (BWV 546), a popular standard and solid opener with its steady call-and-response in the prelude followed by the the more apprehensive sway of the fugue that follows. Then she switched gears with two Jean Langlais works from his Neuf Pieces suite: the ambient, sometimes even minimalist Chant de Paix and the mighty, towering, surprisingly ominous Chant de Joie. This particular kind of joy seems something of a response to something less joyful, and Lee let it loose with a vengeance. After a breather with a hypnotic and frankly sleepy Sweelinck theme and variations on a hymn, it was back to the fire and brimstone, yet with the kind of precision and articulation necessary for a Max Reger piece, in this case the mighty Introduction and Passacaglia in D Minor. The forceful crash and burn of the intro rattled the interior of the sanctuary, giving way to the artful, fugal flow of the Bach-inspired second half. She closed with a showstopper, Bertold Hummel’s Alleluja. Messiaen-esque in its rapt, awestruck, somewhat horrified intensity, it’s a partita featuring a neat little flute passage over atmospheric pedals midway through, as well as a theme that borders on the macabre with its severe tonal clusters and recurs with a portentous triumph at the end. With its breathless staccato contrasting with big sustained block chords, it’s not easy to play, and Lee nailed it.

This particular recital was one of the bimonthly Prism Concerts, programmed by noted organist Gail Archer, which take place here at half past noon on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month. It’s a great way to reinvigorate if you work in midtown and can sneak out for awhile, and (shhhhh, don’t tell a soul) almost like having your own free, private concert.

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January 26, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gail Archer Plays Messiaen at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC 5/29/08

A riveting, marathon performance. In the console for the better part of two hours with only a brief ten-minute intermission, Barnard College Music Department chair Gail Archer played all eighteen parts of Olivier Messiaen’s complete Livre du Saint Sacrement (Book of the Holy Sacrament) with extraordinary grace and fluidity. Like the composer, Archer is somewhat idiosyncratic, a performer seemingly not particularly fond of and therefore not particularly suited to much of the traditional organ repertoire. In Messiaen, she’s found her holy grail: her performance last night was the last in her own series of Messiaen recitals this year, and without question one of the highlights of the many concerts going on around town this year in honor of the Messiaen centenary. A lesser talent would have fixated on the suite’s many jarring dissonances and the strangeness of its tempos. Instead, Archer treated the audience to a limousine ride through a minefield: fireworks were going off everywhere, but she glided along with an agility that seemed effortless. She even set her tempo to the church’s natural reverb. Much of the piece is fugal, a constant call-and-response between the left and right hand, a device that would quickly get old if not for Messiaen’s extraordinarily imaginative, eerie, often outright macabre melodicism. Archer played at precisely the pace where, when one note would start to fade away, the next would take its place. Whether this was deliberate or strictly intuitive, it was a stroke of genius.

The suite itself is an amazing composition. A work from late in the composer’s life, it features all of Messiaen’s signature characteristics: liturgical themes (Messiaen was a devout Catholic), otherworldly tonalities, unusual time signatures and in this case a defiant resolve to avoid the use of either major or minor chords throughout practically the entire piece. And, of course, birdsong. But here, they are birds of prey, talons outstretched, primed to do battle in the cause of righteousness.

Archer segued seamlessly from one part to the next, making it difficult to tell which was which, although this interpretation made the work admirably whole. For the most part, Messiaen is at his most minimalist here, only rarely utilizing the icy, atmospheric sheets of noise that characterize most of his other great organ works such as the Birth of Our Lord and the legendary Apparition de l’Eglise Eternelle (Dawn of the Eternal Church). When these did occur, Archer literally pulled out the stops, emphasizing all the drama in the Resurrection, or Jesus’ posthumous appearance to Mary Magdalene, or the exhalted, triumphant prayer that concludes the suite. Otherwise, she calmly let Messiaen’s quieter yet often nightmarish passages speak for themselves. What was left of the crowd at the end of the performance (at St. Pat’s, it’s always hard to tell who’s just passing through, and who’s actually here for the concert) rewarded her with three standing ovations. Which also spoke for itself.

If this concert is any indication, Archer’s new cd of Messiaen works should be very much worth seeking out.

May 30, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment