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.

Advertisements

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

Crista Miller Excels at the Modern and the Pre-Baroque at St. Thomas

In the first year of this site, when we were first trying to carve out a space for ourselves, weighing whether or not running a New York blog dedicated to meaningful music would be worth the effort, we set an agenda. Our initial focus was on events and scenes that were underappreciated or underrated. One of them continues to be the free, 5:15 PM Sunday evening concerts at St. Thomas Church at 53rd St. and 5th Ave. We spent a lot of time there that fall because the performances were a guaranteed source of good copy (this was before the PR world discovered us and the deluge of press releases and concert invites followed). Three years later, that series remains as vital as ever: we are remiss in not attending this fall until this past Sunday, when Crista Miller, organist at Houston’s Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, dazzled the crowd with a mix of pre-baroque and modern material.

Like so many of the performers at this series, Miller is a genuine star on the organ circuit, a rare American invited to play the Odense competition (they take their organ music even more seriously in Denmark than we do here – Buxtehude, anybody?) and a leading advocate of Franco-Lebanese composer Naji Hakim (with whom she studied, and who seems to be a mentor). She played his well-known Te Deum last, opening fanfare blazing from the trumpet stops in the church ceiling, its swirling, physically taxing low pedal riffage giving way to marvelously articulated ripples versus sustained ambience and a big blustery conclusion that was every bit the showstopper it was designed to be.

That was on the front organ, the old hybrid Aeolian-Skinner monster that according to the church fathers is difficult to play and beyond the point of restoration (although it didn’t sound like that). Miller also got the the church’s more recent organ, located over the entryway to the sanctuary, to sing with a surprising gusto. She literally pulled out all the stops for Nicholas Bruhns’ seventeenth-century Praeludium in E Minor, a strikingly complex, modern-sounding piece for its time, meticulously precise staccato righthand passages shifting to powerful chordal swells. Sweelinck’s organ version of the old Dutch folk song Under the Linden Tree, a series of increasingly difficult permutations on a very simple, catchy hook, took on the feel of a dizzying round. After a matter-of-fact sprint through the endless eight-note runs of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Major (BWV 532), she gave Georg Bohm’s version of the Vater Unser im Himmelreich theme a marvelously nocturnal feel, using the low flute stops. It was as much a display of imagination as visceral power. The series here continues through the end of May of next year, with breaks for holidays.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment