Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Belgian Organist Treats a Midtown Audience to Brilliant Obscurities

We recently mentioned scenes in New York which encourage and nurture musicians rather than exploiting them as many venues do. Another one of those scenes, slowly and steadily building a following over the past year or so, is the lunchtime concert series at half past noon at Central Synagogue on Lexington Ave. curated by organist Gail Archer (whose deliciously titled American Idyll compilation of works by American composers is a genuine classic). On the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, she brings in a series of first-rate international performers, established touring artists along with young organists making their first ventures into world-class venues such as this one. Today’s artist was Ignace Michiels, organist at Saint-Saviours Cathedral in Bruges, Belgium.

Like so many performers from overseas, Michiels brought a fascinating mix of unfamiliar material, which actually overshadowed the better-known pieces on the program. He opened with the emphatic, driving triplet volleys of Bach’s Chorale on Valet will ich der Geben (BWV 736), a rousing warmup followed by a warmly cantabile take of the Romanze from Josef Rheinberger’s Sonata No. 9, Op. 142. The pace picked up with the majestic call-and-response resolutions of Alexandre Guilmant’s Allegro con fuoco from his Sixth Sonata.

Then the reallly fascinating part began. In addition to founding the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, which he conducted, Belgian-American keyboardist Camil Van Hulse wrote several symphonic works. Michiels’ flights through the astringently Messiaenesque, upwardly winding branches of the scherzo from Van Hulse’s Symphonia Mystica were a revelation: if the rest of the piece is equally interesting, it’s a masterpiece waiting to be rediscovered. Likewise, Gaston Litaize’s Prelude et Danse Fuguee deserves to be better known, a menacing marionette dance that grows to a clash of titans – or the charge of an orc army, for Lord of the Rings fans. And Joseph Bonnet’s Elves grew from a playful game of hide-and-seek among the low flute stops to a flood of the little things. Michiels closed with Naji Hakim’s rigorously cerebral Ouverture Libanaise (which interestingly didn’t have any overt Middle Eastern tonalities), then a ragtime piece that could have been left off the bill, and finally the showstopper, the Allegro from 20th century Hungarian composer Frigyes Hidas’ Sonata for Organ, yet another too-obscure masterpiece packed with long, stormy full-bore crescendos and torrents that built to an unstoppable, volcanic coda. It was as much a display of speed and power as it was adventurous a choice to include in the program. The series here continues on the 23rd of this month.

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November 9, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Timothy R. Allen at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 10/21/07

There’s been a lot of mudslinging lately aimed at certain music blogs who flog the same horse – usually a pretty dead one – over and over again. At the risk of falling into that category, let it be said here once more that the weekly, Sunday 5:15 PM organ concert series here is one of New York’s best-kept secrets. If we had our way, it would be much less of one.

This evening’s recitalist was British native Timothy R. Allen, an organist with a conscience. While working in Londonderry, Ireland, he reached out with an olive branch to his Catholic counterpart, Donal Doherty at the Derry Cathedral. The result was the interfaith Two Cathedrals Festival promoting peace and intercommunity relations, a major accomplishment. Allen’s dedication to social issues is matched by his skill at the console, as tonight’s diverse program demonstrated. He opened with British composer Percy Whitlock’s Fantasie Choral No. 2, in difficult F sharp minor. In contrast to Allen, Whitlock’s politics didn’t extend to his music: he may have been something of a recalcitrant Tory wingnut, but there’s a warmth and a joy in much of his work. Although this particular piece begins in a minor key, it quickly switches to the major, with a soulful, catchy, recurrent theme, essentially a spiritual without words.

Allen then shifted gears dramatically with Messiaen’s Dyptich: An Essay on Life on Earth and Eternal Happiness. The first section is an almost shockingly grotesque fugue, almost a parody, its call-and-response neither major nor minor, twisted, tormented, deliberately and arduously unmelodic. Obviously Messiaen was looking forward to his heavenly reward, which in the second part is predictably calm and ambient, mostly sheets of sound played in the upper registers on the organ’s flutes. Troubled as it is, the first part is exponentially more interesting than what follows.

Allen closed with Alexandre Guilmant’s First Sonata in D Minor, a typical French Romantic piece, quite long for its sonata form. He effectively emphasized the considerable contrast between the boisterous intro and outro sandwiching the quiet, meditative pastorale in between. Yet another superb concert in this sonically rich yet pretty much undiscovered space. Does organ music scare people off? Do agnostics and atheists stay away because they assume a religious undercurrent (a vastly erroneous assumption!)? Or is this series like a favorite restaurant, one that’s nice to see having enough of a clientele to stay in business but not to the extent that reservations are required?

October 22, 2007 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments