Longer than a Wagner opera, more powerful than Iran’s nuclear program, Saturday’s five-player, one-instrument Organ Recital Marathon was a fascinating array of talent, timbre and repair work that uncompromisingly tested the metal/mettle of performers and makers alike.
First up was Marvin Mills who demonstrated fine, if occasionally uneven technique in Dupré’s aptly named Carillon before settling into an emotionally rich and ethereal reading of Florence Price’s Air. Equally appreciated was his well-spoken admonishment of those who couldn’t wait for the music to end before sharing their thoughts with a neighbour or testing all of the alarm features on their cell phones and hearing aids. Effective as that was, the marvels of the twenty-first century continued to be the unwanted sixth division at various times throughout the afternoon.
Following an appropriately fluffy rendering of Barié’s Intermezzo, Mills settled into the “dark then darker” ideas and colours of Reger’s Chorale Fantasia. Such a dense, multi-layered composition held the attentive crowd in the early going and was only marred by an unexpectedly mucky finale. JWR
Alan Morrison’s offerings proved to be the finest, most consistent playing of the day. Langlais’ Fête
was brilliantly registered, filling Verizon Hall with all manner of tones from “fuzzy” solo horns to clarity-personified positive even as a sprig of “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” kept the pedals happily engaged.
The thoughtful flute declaimed Widor’s eerie theme and was marvellously supported by a well-controlled pace and unaffected inner voices. That mood was more than balanced by the fun and wit of Duruflé’s effervescent Scherzo: zestfully lilting; light, but not dry. Cheers!
Jongen’s Sonata Eroica featured power plus, brassy bonsai blasts and a beautifully restrained middle section that ever-so-discreetly evoked the Shaker tune that Copland would reinvent for Appalachian Spring. After a flutey “Ode to Debussy,” the fugal texture drove everything convincingly home, even as the façade of the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ gleamed impotently (those pipes will be brought into service during the off-season: a 90-foot crane is required for the finishing touches). JWR
With the exception of the only planned improvisation of the organic buffet, Cameron Carpenter juxtaposed original works with his own arrangements of music written without ranks, stops and pipes in mind. The mighty finale of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was bereft of the crisp, inner-voice clarity so vital to unlocking the Pandora’s Box of humanity that lurks on every page of the original. The messy passagework rendered the woodwind recolourizations laughable at best. In the pair of Chopin Études, Carpenter’s fingers were not “secure” (worse than the affected Bach that lumbered along directionless from cadence to cadence), making the music exciting for all of the wrong reasons. But, no worries, the crowd loved it!
Carpenter’s bench time was interrupted by a technical problem that the Dobson Pipe Organ Builders’ elves (many onsite to see how their magnificent instrument responds under fire) remedied quickly. Whether the fault was a design flaw or the over-indulgence of the artists will remain undisclosed here.; JWR
Diane Meredith Belcher
Bach’s challenges were also beyond Diane Meredith Belcher’s abilities. The Sinfonia, from Cantata No. 29, was nearly steady, had no sense of line and presented in too vertical a fashion. Worse was the double concerto. Here the bass was missing-in-action compared to the solo voices that never settled into the heady feeling of inevitability that countless orchestral performances provide. Finally, Franck’s Grand pièce symphonique was overly pedantic and, well, mechanical from stem to stern invoking restlessness instead of offering insight to the drifting gathering. JWR
Gordon Turk lifted off his closing set with the Bach everyone had been waiting for (Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565). He provided intriguing ornamentation and introverted passagework but failed to truly separate the triples from the duples in the opening salvos. The fugue took a pleasant tempo but, nonetheless, managed to move forward with conviction. Only a few late-inning scrambles left this rendition as merely good—the “great” awaiting another day.
The three Widor movements from Symphony. No. 5 showed Turk to better advantage. The “Allegro vivace” had an effective opening lilt and a marvellous set of circus-band variations which rattled all manner of fixtures that teetered on the edge of vulgarity but never fell in. The haunting “Adagio” made full use of the unseen but always felt reservoirs of air, permitting Turk the luxury of extending or lingering on a phrase where only circular-breathing instrumentalists could tread. The ever-popular “Toccata,” busily bombastic and happily in time with the expertly crafted mechanism (sit behind the organ to experience this effect), threw many to their feet in appreciation even before the reverberation had cleared.
Turk’s Siciliano, with its subtle woodwind voicings and, at last, a gentle excursion to the stratosphere made the ear wish for more from the performer as composer. JWR
Now that the tires have been successfully kicked (both in recital and with orchestra, cross-reference below) it’s time to move beyond the hypnotic rush from unbridled sound and hunker down into the subtleties and musical promise that await both performer and audience alike when substance regains its rightful place as the first principle. JWR