Saturday, October 13, 2007

Friday Night Organ Concert #2

Christ Church was as full last night as it is for some Sunday services, as word continues to spread around Town of the fabulous monthly organ concert series organized (pun!) by James Kennerley, the newly-promoted Associate Director of Music. This recital was performed by one of the Church's new Organ Scholars, Enrico Contenti, who is in the process of earning his master's degree at Yale's Institute of Sacred Music.

The program was structured by locale rather than the more usual chronological order, which made for some interesting listening. The first section was comprised of examples of the North German school, beginning with Buxtehude's wonderful G Minor Praeludium. The opening section has a majestic passacaglia-like ground bass in the pedal, followed by several sprightly fugue-like sections before a final full-organ conclusion. Then came two Brahms chorale preludes, contrasting nicely with the Buxtehude and the subsequent Bach piece that concluded the German section of the program. Of course, the Bach selection showed the composer's wide-ranging musical interests, as it was the Concerto in D Minor adapted from Vivaldi: Italian music with a German accent, as it were.

The second section was contemporary American music, all of which was new to your scribe. Two pieces by Ned Rorem exemplified his rich polyphonic texture that somehow combines tradition and modernism in an ear-pleasing blend. The quiet "Lullaby" was played as a tribute to its composer, Calvin Hampton, who for twenty years was the organist at Calvary Episcopal Church in the city, and who died at the young age of 46. The centerpiece of the American section - indeed, of the whole recital - was the trilogy of pieces based on poems by Stephen Crane composed by Aaron Travers (b.1979). Technically difficult, full of abrupt changes of manuals and registrations to produce a bravura brilliance, these pieces allowed Enrico to show us his virtuoso keyboard and pedal work at its best. As always, the video feed from behind Enrico's shoulder to a large screen set up at the front of the chancel allowed everyone to watch as well as hear his outstanding performance.

The final section was comprised of French music, and again Enrico gave us a chronological sandwich. First came Tournemire's Improvisation on the Gregorian hymn "Te Deum Laudamus" - full of Tournemirean sound and fury (he is not your scribe's favorite composer) - followed by two much less noisy Baroque pieces by Jean Adam Guilain, including a prototypical use of the crumhorn (literally, "bent horn") that was a standard solo stop of the period. The final selection was the brilliant Toccata by Joseph Jongen, a mid-20th century heir to Vierne and Widor. We gave Enrico round after round of applause, and some people called for an encore; but James stepped up to invite us to a wine and cheese (and asparagus and salmon and whitefish, etc., etc.) reception, so we stopped clapping and started moving.

Once again the talented Isabelle Demers did an outstanding job of page-turning and stop-pulling and piston-pushing. As James said afterwards, her assistance in these vital functions is three-quarters of the reason for the success of these recitals - a pardonable exaggeration, perhaps, but not far off the mark. The next recital, in fact, is on November 2 by Isabelle herself, and your scribe is wondering already how she will manage without her own assistance. No doubt James or Enrico will step in; we shall see if they're as good at it as she is.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend an autumn evening. Various costumed ghosts and ghouls passed among us handing out reminder fliers about next Friday's performance at 10 pm: a showing of the silent horror classic "Nosferatu" (a version of the Dracula story), at which James will provide an improvised organ accompaniment just as the piano players used to do in the old-time movie houses. It promises to be a thrilling event!


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