Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

Justin David Miller at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 1/27/08

At the risk of redundancy, we will continue to sing the praises of the stellar, 5:15 PM Sunday series of organ recitals that runs through the end of May at St. Thomas Church at 53rd and 5th Ave. Their 1913 Skinner organ is a magically potent instrument and the sonics in the church are spectacular, with about a three second decay (the time it takes for sound to fade completely after a note is played). As a result, all the best touring organists want to play here. But tonight was a completely unexpected treat. The scheduled organist was unavailable, so Miller was pressed into duty on short notice. A student at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey, the young organist’s regular assignation is Assistant Organist at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, New Jersey. St. Peter’s head organist and music director, Brian Harlow, is a specialist in duets and a regular guest at St. Thomas, which may explain what Miller – who doesn’t look much older than 16 – was doing behind the console tonight. Whatever the case, he was a revelation, playing a difficult and frequently ostentatious program with uncommon subtlety and sensitivity.

He opened with the famous Allegro from Widor’s Sixth Symphony, whose intro and outro Elton John infamously ripped off for Funeral for a Friend. It’s a standard in the organ repertoire and something of a showcase, meaning that diehard aficionados would immediately pick up on any imperfection. But there were none. In the fiery cascades and long crescendos of the work, it was as if Miller was sending out a particularly auspicious announcement: he had arrived.

The subway rattled underneath, and the church bells rang within seconds after he finished. Slowly, it became apparent that he had already launched into the next piece, Max Reger’s Benedictus. Building very gradually from an almost subsonically low, sustained pedal passage, it’s Reger sounding uncommonly modernist and ambient. The next piece, the great British composer Herbert Howells’ Psalm Prelude made a marvelous segue. Howells’ work is rich with melody, warmth and optimism, and Miller brought out every bit in this trademark composition. He closed with Maurice Durufle’s famous tribute to Jehan Alain, where quotes from many of the great French composer and WWII hero’s best-loved works are sewn into a strikingly dark, bracingly imaginative suite, as far outside the box as Durufle, the great traditionalist, ever went. Other organists blaze through this. Miller didn’t, finding the room to emphasize all the strange dissonances, longing and unease woven into the piece. You read it here first: this young organist is someone to watch, and to experience live, certainly worth a New Jersey Transit trip for the time being.

January 28, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments