Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Richard Webb Plays Karg-Elert at St. Thomas Church, NYC 5/16/10

According to the Karg-Elert Archive (of which organist Richard Webb is a member), the German composer’s work is “a peak of late Romantic music.” They aren’t kidding. Sigfrid Karg-Elert remains well-known in the organ world but too little-known outside it. He was a colorful character: born into poverty, he began his career while still in his teens, playing in saloons in disguise so that his teachers at the conservatory wouldn’t discover his aptitude for “low art.” A contemporary of Schoenberg and Webern, he abandoned the avant garde and rededicated himself to the pursuit of melody. Highly acclaimed during his lifetime for his choral works, he was a virtuosic multi-instrumentalist, equally adept at wind and stringed instruments as at the keyboard. His favorite instrument for composing was a small French portable organ, similar to a harmonium: his lifelong goal, never realized, was to be a church organist. It’s about time somebody in New York decided to put on an all Karg-Elert program: on the venerable, smoky old Skinner organ at St. Thomas in midtown on Sunday evening, Webb passionately and expertly brought out every facet of the composer’s remarkably diverse work.

He began strikingly and dramatic with the insistence of the Preambulo, from the Music for Organ, Op. 145, with warmly melodic echoes of a Cesar Franck-style heroic anthem. Three of the Pastels, from his Twelve Pastels from the Lake of Constance made a balmy, atmospheric, almost minimalist contrast, long sheets of sustain casually woven together. The showstopper was the Funerale, Op. 75, No. 1, dedicated to the memory of his fellow composer Alexandre Guilmant. Plaintive sostenuto ambience gave way to the epic grandeur of ornate pedal passages, cannonball runs up the scale, stormy full-bore counterpoint and then a return to quiet poignancy. Webb closed with Aphorismus, Op. 86, No. 10, a frequently ferocious piece equally well known in piano literature, replete with drama and majesty. Here’s hoping another organist, or ensemble, will pick up and follow where Webb left off.

May 18, 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

Concert Review: Herve Duteil at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 11/15/09

Herve Duteil trained as a classical organist, along the way winning and later judging international competitions. His dayjob appears to be finance, along with a position at NGO relief organization Fidesco USA. Good thing he hasn’t given up his other job as a concert performer: his recital at St. Thomas on the fifteenth was blissfully intense.

Many of us have groused about how performers not only in classical but also in jazz will follow a rousing piece with a composition which is 180 degrees the opposite. And which makes a horrible segue. Why? To give themselves a breather? To offer a study in contrasts? Too frequently, this device seems to be a cop-out – and vive Duteil for not doing it. He kicked off the evening on the rear organ, designed and tuned especially for the baroque and composers of the North German School. Pulling out all the stops, he turned this usually understated instrument into a force of menace with Nicholas Bruhns’ Praeludium in E Minor (this link offers a decent version but one that can’t compare with the vigor and good cheer that Duteil served up).

Moving to the redoubtable Skinner organ at the front of the church, he then lit into German Romantic composer Josef Rheinberger’s Sonata No. 8 in E Minor. Opening with a full-bore plein jeu attack, the piece  builds to an extremely clever tradeoff between its initial waltz theme and the dramatic, straightforward stomp that follows. It ended as ferociously as it had began. Duteil then pulled back, but just a little, for the Moderato and then the Andante Sostenuto of Charles Widor’s Symphonie Gothique (which is actually pretty far from what we think of as gothic.) Sturm und drang from a distance built to a little real sturm und drang, followed by marvelously nuanced, nebulously muted cantabile disquiet. The program closed with Charles Tournemire’s famous Improvisation sur le Te Deum, all high-pressure fluid dynamics and dramatic counterpoint. It’s a showstopper, and in Duteil’s hands brought what was already a powerful performance to a wall-shaking crescendo. Duteil is no stranger to this venue; hopefully he’ll be back, before the old Skinner (ostensibly in disrepair but sounding no worse for the wear and tear of almost a century) gets pulled off the wall and replaced.

November 26, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

David Goodenough Plays Vierne’s First Symphony in New York, 4/13/08

Scottish organist David Goodenough had the good taste and imagination to play the great French composer Louis Vierne’s First Symphony in its entirety at St. Thomas Church Sunday evening. While its fiery introduction and rousing finale are standard performance pieces in the organ repertoire, it’s not every day that this fascinating work can be heard all the way through. In hindsight, this isn’t the same Vierne whose wife would leave him for his best friend, who lost family and students in World War I, wrote the scathing, wrathful Third and then equally scathing, wrathful Fifth Symphony (although there is some foreshadowing). The First Symphony contains none of the eerie, macabre, atmospheric sheets of noise that would be one of his signature devices for the rest of his career. Rather, it’s a boisterous, generally optimistic work, a prime example of late-period French Romanticism, something Cesar Franck – who taught Vierne a thing or two about it – would be proud of.

Goodenough began the famous intro a little fast (resist the pun, resist the pun), but the piece eventually worked itself out. Vierne has the pedal playing the central melody, ascending toward a resolution that never happens. Finally, after several permutations, it bursts into flame, one of only two places where any real anger comes out. It’s followed by a pretty if generically baroque fugue, an even gentler, quiet, equally pretty, pastorale and then the symphony’s piece de resistance, the allegro vivace which is a devious, defiant little dance on the flute and woodwind stops that ends with a cynical flourish. Goodenough absolutely nailed it, bringing out every bit of disobedient bounce. The andante that follows builds up to the warm, Mendelssohn-esque melodicism of the famous finale, the pedals once again making the church rattle all the way up to the big, predictable, chordal conclusion.

Despite all of Lucid Culture’s incessant attempts to popularize the organ repertoire, it looks like it’ll take a much more substantial PR campaign before the general public will be caught dead listening to this. That being said, adventurous listeners would be richly rewarded getting to know both the organist and the composer on the program tonight.

April 14, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment