Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Rick Erickson at the Organ at Central Synagogue, NYC 4/13/10

There’s a free, biweekly Tuesday concert series at half past noon at Central Synagogue in midtown – the next one is on May 11. You’d think that as busy as everyone in that neighborhood seems to be, they’d welcome a chance to relax in a setting like this one. Maybe everybody’s too busy, not even paying attention to the sign right there on the sidewalk announcing the concert. In the meantime, while the series continues, you can pretty much get your own free recital here, very possibly a performance as inspired as the concert Rick Erickson played last Tuesday.

Erickson, who mans the console at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and is also responsible for the popular Bach cantata program there, delivered a robustly good-natured program of upbeat, inspiring material. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C, BWV 545 set the tone, followed by Max Reger’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Op. 59, No. 5. It’s less convoluted, more straightforwardly Romantic than a lot of Reger’s work and it fit the bill beautifully. The Allegretto from Romantic-era American composer Horatio Parker’s E flat Organ Sonata was an attractively rustic throwback to the baroque, segueing well with Schumann’s Two Etudes in the Form of a Canon, which also could have been a hundred years older than it was. Erickson ended on a high note with a magnificently ebullient rendition of the Mendelssohn Sonata No. 4, its warmly atmospheric, contemplative third movement a vivid contrast with its ambitious introduction and blazing, Bach-inspired finale. Wish someone would play you a private concert like this one? May 11, half past noon.

Advertisements

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

Concert Review: Gail Archer Channels Bach on the Organ, 3/14/10

Gail Archer may be a big name on the organ recital circuit, but she approaches performance like a DIY rocker. At her concert Sunday on the mighty, midrange-enhanced organ at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church uptown, she could have stayed up in the console waiting for the signal to begin. Instead, she was downstairs handing out postcards for her next show and greeting people with unselfconscious enthusiasm. The minute she got started, a little girl about six years old in the front row started dancing in her seat. The piece may not have been the ode to joy but it was some kind of ode to joy, and the girl knew that instantly. And so did Archer. The dance was in waltz time, actually, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 547, ablaze with optimism and good cheer, establishing the triumphant tone that would resonate throughout the show.

In recent years Archer has pushed herself from one radically dissimilar genre to another, from the American composers on her felicitously titled American Idyll cd, to her landmark recording of Messiaen last year, to this year’s new release Bach the Transcendent Genius. Like the composers she chooses, Archer’s playing spans the range of human emotions – with Bach, there’s always plenty to communicate, but this time out it was mostly an irresistibly celebratory vibe, whether on the Sonata in G Major (BWV 529) or a terse and amiably direct take on the Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor (BWV 582). She turned the Adagio of the Concerto in C Major (BWV 594) into a dizzyingly mesmerizing exercise in natural reverb, playing at exactly the right tempo where the counterpoint echoing off the walls became part of the performance, playing along as its own metronome (she did the same thing with Messiaen last year, at a much slower pace, at St. Patrick’s and the effect was equally perfect if completely different moodwise). By the time she got to the big showstopper, the Prelude and Fugue in E Minor (BWV 548), there was nothing to do but to blaze through, her tightly glistening, festively romping cascades earning her a roaring ovation at the end. By now the girl in the front row had stopped dancing, although she’d remained with her face to the organ for most of the show. Maybe years from now she’ll be the one in the console, playing to yet another generation who know joy when they hear it.

Archer’s next New York recital is April 21 at 7:30 PM on her home turf at the sonically gorgeous St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia, 116th and Amsterdam.

March 16, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Edward Landin at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 12/6/09

Westminster Choir College keeps churning out good organists and they’re getting the chance to let the world know – see Justin David Miller’s concert last year at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue last year. This time around it was WCC’s Edward Landin, who’s also assistant organist at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, NJ who left the audience here spellbound, and as effortless as his playing seemed, it was just as soulful. He opened with Bach’s big, exuberant Piece d’Orgue (BWV 572), its portentous call-and-response building methodically to a volcanically arpeggiated crescendo which Landin handled with a graceful intensity. After that he took a breather with the lengthy hymn Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Ehr (BWV 662), evoking a sparse crowd exiting Bach’s Marienkirche on a cold winter day but not much more than that– as hubristic as it may be to criticize the mighty Johann Sebastian, it goes on too long. Landin followed it with the considerably more inviting, upbeat Komm, Gott, Schopfer, Heilger Geist (BWV 667).

Then he took everything to the next level with a trio of familiar Cesar Franck compositions. He worked the Piece Heroique with a thoughtful, deliberate pace and dynamics, obviously aware that this concert standard is about struggle far more than it is about victory. And when the gorgeous, memorable main theme finally gave way to something of a triumph, Landin’s fiery rivulets were delivered warily with clenched teeth. In other words, he got it.

He followed that with the warmly atmospheric Cantabile, emphasizing the melody’s subtle bitersweetness – that some rock band hasn’t turned it into a pop hit is surprising – and closed with the Final, Op. 21. Finally, at the end, after its brief, quietly macabre pedal solo and the first of its blaring trumpet passages (making splendid use of the trumpet stops in the ceiling here) Landin made the long, crescendoing overture a real showstopper, riding out the big, inexorable ending for all it was worth. Landin is a fan of Jeanne Demessieux, the French organ teacher and composer who’s definitely due for a revival – it’s not as if she’s ever gone away, in organ circles, but she deserves to be better-known than she is outside outside that demimonde. From this concert, this guy looks ideally suited to be the one to usher it in.

December 8, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Bach Brandenburg Concertos – The Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr

If there was ever an iconic classical piece that deserved a fresh interpretation, this is it. The operative question, of course, is how to do it in a way that hasn’t been done before. Answer: the oldest trick in a musician’s book. Transpose it! In this case, Richard Egarr – who took over the Academy of Ancient Music from Christopher Hogwood in 2006 – justified the move as a return to the deeper tuning of the French-made instruments that would likely have been utilized had the suite been performed during Bach’s lifetime. Along with lowering the pitch a full note, he decided on a new arrangement with period or period-style instruments, one instrument per voice in the original score. Egarr likens the overall sound to giving the score a big, relaxing glass of wine, a wonderfully apt comparison. The darkest passages, notably the adagio in Concerto #3 and the andante in #4 gain considerable gravitas from this treatment, the ensemble clearly inspired to deliver a joyously energetic performance.

 

In contrast to other Brandenburgs, this is far more lively: the tonal quality is more sparse, vastly brighter than usual. A side-by-side comparison with a favorite recording will confirm this. By contrast, a long out-of-print 1957 version conducted by Charles Munch with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is beautiful but distant, like an old flame, lush and richly memorable but ultimately less interesting than the exciting newer version. The production here is also strikingly well thought out, particularly in the case of Egarr’s harpshichord. It doesn’t sound like the instrument was close-miked, making it part of the ensemble rather than allowing it to compete with the strings during more expansive passages. Instead, its spiky textures remain in the background, even during solo parts, drawing the listener in with fresh ears. It’s a remarkable opportunity to hear the Concertos in a way closer to how Bach intended, removing or at least distancing them from their three contemporary associations of bedtime, the month of December and pledge drive.

 

The two-cd set on the esteemed Harmonia Mundi label is sturdily packaged along with a booklet including liner notes in English, French and German with a facsimile of Bach’s title page from the manuscript presented to the Margrave of Brandenburg on its cover. This is a treat for fans, a fine way to get reacquainted with the piece or to discover the Concertos for the first time. For those who don’t know them, the answer is that that you probably do, especially if you listen to NPR. This is court music: lively, bright, warm and reassuring, and in the case of this recording both richly soothing and robustly played. We don’t really know what happened with Bach’s manuscript, other than that he dedicated it to a relatively minor figure in the German nobility, whose library it was discovered in after both had died. Did Bach sell it or give it away, hoping for a commission? We know that the composer cannibalized parts of it for several other works. Did the Margrave not like the piece? That’s a question that can never be answered. There’s no accounting for taste, anyway.   

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joyce Jones in Concert at Trinity Church, NYC 7/24/08

The reliably superb, annual summertime festival of organ concerts at Trinity Church always has a theme, and this year’s is “Organ Divas.” The artist who played today is perhaps the prototype. A legend in organ circles, Baylor University Professor Joyce Jones is something of a ham, a performer just as likely to play a supersonic Flight of the Bumblebee on the pedals as she is to keep the audience in stitches with a seemingly endless supply of puns, some of them pretty corny, delivered in a deadpan Texas accent. Self-effacing, down-home persona aside, Jones reaffirmed what an extraordinarily imaginative, sensitive and original a player she is.

Virtually every organist good enough to tour major cities has superior chops, and Jones’ are among the best. But what invariably impresses the most is how different her approach is, and how much fun she clearly has playing. Today “The Accidental Organist,” as she bills herself – a piano major in college, she hurt her hand and only turned to the organ as a way to practice to keep herself sharp until it healed – opened with Leo Sowerby’s Pageant. As the title implies, it’s a big, stately, optimistic piece that opens with the kind of pedal figure that Jones has made her trademark. She followed that with an idiosyncratic but absolutely brilliant version of the famous Bach Passaglia and Fugue in C Minor (BMV 582). Introducing the piece, she told the crowd that while a student, her playing had come to sound “like it was sprayed with Lysol disinfectant” due to overwork and perhaps overthinking. But this was anything but sterile. A lot of organists hurry through it to get to the big crescendos, but Jones took her time, making it a casual but deliberate stroll through the work’s swells and ebbs, using several different registrations to vary the tonal quality of particular sections she’d singled out. In Bach’s day, registrations were left pretty much up to the individual organist, meaning that Jones was fully within her rights to do this. And it was stunning, particularly when she balanced a fast pedal solo with screaming, upper-register chords, against which the pedal melody was only semi-audible.

She then played Marcel Dupre’s brief Fileuse, a striking contrast and showcase for speed with its somewhat hypnotic, circular upper-register motif, something akin to the Flight of the Bumblebee as the melody circles against an airy, repetitive arpeggio. Introducing the final number on the program, Liszt’s remarkably melodic, climactic Fantasie and Fugue on the hymn Ad Nos, ad Salutarem Undam, she explained how it was influenced by the composer’s student Julius Reubke (who went on to write the legendary, vengeful Sonata on the 94th Psalm) as well the Merrybeer opera The Prophet. Which makes sense: Liszt seems like someone who would be especially fond of bombast. Jones made the point that the work could be called the first real organ symphony, considering how long and segmented it is, and like the Bach she absolutely nailed it. Afterward, she rewarded the audience for their two standing ovations with a brief, percussive transcription of a Prokofiev piano toccata – a sort of organist’s revenge for all the piano and orchestral transcriptions of classic organ works – and then a classicized arrangement of The Church in the Wildwood. “If you didn’t hear this growing up, well then, you were deprived,” Jones deadpanned. No doubt she would have kept playing, and the audience would have stayed much longer, had this been possible.

July 24, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Eric Plutz at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 10/14/07

An impressively diverse performance by Princeton University organist Eric Plutz: the nation’s most heavily endowed school appears to have spent wisely to get him. He opened with 20th century American composer Leo Sowerby’s Jubilee, a characteristically playful, somewhat disturbingly carnivalesque piece. The centenary of Sowerby’s birth, twelve years ago brought renewed interest in this extremely versatile figure, who also wrote jazz and pop songs in addition to his substantial works for the organ. This one begins rather eerie, later juxtaposing a series of somewhat exaggerated, funhouse mirror melodies playing against each other in the right and left hand. If it’s a celebration of anything, it’s a celebration of strangeness. Plutz let the piece speak for itself without unneeded embellishment.

He followed with Eugene Gigout’s Scherzo, from his well-known Ten Pieces. This is an old warhorse in the organ repertoire, and, again, Plutz showed remarkable restraint by not rushing through its comfortably energetic changes as must be tempting to do. Maintaining the concert’s upbeat, ebullient feel, he then played Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541. As everyone knows, there were several composers in the Bach family, all known by their initials: patriarch J.S., followed by son, C.P.E., eventually 1970s spoof P.D.Q. and most recently, a seemingly distant relative who might be called N.P.R. Bach. This member of the family is the Bach you hear on public radio, especially around Christmas: generous amounts of pretty melody, predictable call-and-response and not much more. This is one of those pieces, as lighthearted as Bach ever got with any of his big preludes and fugues. It swirled like a carol chanted in the round, its few minor-key moments a welcome respite from the incessant good cheer.

Plutz then completely shifted gears with Dale Wood’s arrangement of the traditional Welsh folk song Ar Hyd Y Nos (All Through the Night), a very calm, somewhat sleepy tune. He then reverted to the program’s earlier boisterousness, closing with Belgian late Romantic composer Joseph Jongen’s Sonata Eroica, which unsurprisingly owes a lot to Beethoven with its stop-and-start crescendos and false endings, beginning with the organ roaring full blast, punctuated by quieter, slower passages that eventually build back to the piece’s initial stately yet bold brushstrokes. A welcome shot of adrenaline to comfort anyone dreading the prospects of Monday morning. It’s surprising that more people, notably parishioners, don’t take advantage of the free, weekly 5:15 PM Sunday recitals in the magnificent space here.

October 16, 2007 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment