AGO Natl Conv (ChicAGO)/Valparaiso Univ. events, 7/3/06, part 3

Looks like my Valparaiso photo link page has been well used – thanks for your interest! I did go through and add some photo annotations to it: http://lorenz.seboldt.net/photos/060703-valpo/images.html

RECITAL by James O’Donnell

It is fortunate that life moves on after sad organist/clergy relationships led to the sacking of the noted Martin Neary at Westminster Abbey a few years back. James O’Donnell has kept the noted royal landmark hopping musically since his appointment in 2000, and he even passed through Westminster Cathedral (Roman Catholic) on his way there! (I only mention this because it was such a big deal years back when Stephen Cleobury was the first Anglican musician to be appointed to Westminster Cathedral, so it looks like, whatever faith community Mr. O’Donnell belongs to, that it appears to matter less to the authorities these days.) The ChicAGO bio of him is at http://www.agohq.org/2006/html/artists/odonnell.html

As a player, O’Donnell wonderfully balances technique and musicality, both of which were needed to sell a powerful but austere program. The program was billed as exploring various aspects of “fantasia” or “freedom” (my printed program got lost, so I’m operating from memory). Needless to say, the instrument was up to the task as well!

Michael Berkeley (son of Sir Lennox Berkeley) was represented with the 1986 composition “Wild Bells”, a colorful tintinnabulation. Bach’s “Pièce d’Orgue,” BWV 572 (aka Fantasia in G Major) was perfectly well-done, the only opinionated comment being: why the relatively light plenum in the middle section?! (Guess I just wanted to hear that Great 16′ based plenum, darn it!) With all the evolving knowledge on the “gravität” of Bach’s preferences and the huge weighty choruses of organs close to Bach, it just seemed a bit wimpy. Minor nitpick…

A commission for the convention, Augusta Read Thomas’s – “Angel Tears” and “Earth Prayers” for organ and trumpet (2006) were welcome lyrical additions to the organ/solo instrument repertoire. Kevin Hartman, trumpet pulled off some very lyrical music in the high register, not achievable by many more average players most of us are likely to work with – but fear not, the composer, in true “gebrauchsmusik” spirit, recommends the work to practically any solo instrument, with parts in various transpositions provided.

Who can resist the powerful wailings of the Jehan Alain “Deuxième fantaisie?” I myself have always associated this with Good Friday, but have usually followed the paradigms of minimal instrumental support on this day, so have never followed up on this mental connection. Nonetheless, hearing this, watching the wash of stained-glass up front, and connecting this with music of Alain heard in this place in my formative years, made this a highlight for me.

A new and delightful discovery for me – the 1989 composition “Miroirs” by the Dutch composer Ad Wammes. The most delightful little ostinato/scherzo piece you could program, perfect for showing off colorful prompt flutes – all the delight of something like Vierne’s “Naïades”, with half the difficulty! You can hear audio samples and see a sample first page, and order the piece for 12 euros, at the composer’s web site, http://www.adwammes.nl . The wonderful quiet titterings from the audience as the piece ended testify to a great shared delight in the work, so perhaps this little gem will show up more often – it’s not that unknown, having been played by the likes of John Scott and recorded by Thomas Trotter at Birmingham (UK) Symphony Hall.

OK, now, you want something that transcends the Duruflé Toccata for gnarly, knuckle-busting dark sonorities? Try the 1970 “Toccata” by Patrick Gowers on for size. I first heard this on a BBC Choral Evensong broadcast (there’s also a fugue that goes with it, but it ends quietly, so I can see why it might not have been played today), and found it quite gripping. Personally, I’ll be lucky if I finally take on the Duruflé before I die, but it’s nice to know there’s something even beyond that devilish deluge of notes.

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