Organ Recital: Ji-yoen Choi (Ji-Yoen Choi/ Wolfgang Rubsam) (Naxos: 8.555367)
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J. S. Bachs Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 547, is unusual in a number of important respects. It is the only organ prelude in a 9/8 time signature, endowing it with a particularly dance-like mood and earning it the obvious nickname, \The 9/8." The prelude begins with canonic entries in the manuals and a fanfare theme in the pedal that also ends the prelude. The first six bars present nearly all of the motifs that make up the entire piece. This economic use of musical material is not unusual for Bach, but in this piece the inventiveness with which he combines and varies the motifs is unparalleled. The fugue is particularly unusual, in that there is no use of the pedals for a full two-thirds of the piece. They make their dramatic entrance in one of the most glorious moments in all the organ fugues, with an augmentation of the fugue subject against stretto entrances of the subject on the manuals. In both the prelude and the fugue a climax is reached when Bach experiments with silence and space in the music, just before the expected low C pedal-point. It is one of Bachs most tightly organized and yet viscerally effective prelude and fugue pairs.
Bachs six Trio Sonatas have long been a test of any organists ability; indeed, they were collected largely for the technical improvement of Bachs son, Wilhelm Friedemann. The sustaining of three independent musical lines, one in the left hand, one in the right, and the third in the pedal, throughout the movements is the primary musical challenge of these pieces. Trio Sonata No.4 in E minor is the most concise of the six. The first movement, a transcription of a sinfonia from an earlier cantata (No. 76), is the only movement in the six sonatas to open with an Adagio introduction and then launch into a relentless Vivace. The lyrical second movement, possibly rearranged from an earlier organ piece, has a plaintive character, with its constantly upward-reaching lines that always fall back down eventually. The third movement has a dancing rhythm and treats its opening subject fugally throughout.
William Albright was one of the twentieth centurys foremost champions of new music for the organ. Best known for his keyboard works, he often combined elements of ragtime and popular music with contemporary classical idioms. His third Organbook, like the first two, consists of a number of short pieces that can be played as a whole or in smaller groups. Organbook III was specifically designed with the limitations (or capabilities) of smaller organs in mind, though they also succeed on larger instruments. The Jig for the Feet (Totentanz) is a tour de force of pedal technique that makes the organist almost literally dance across the pedalboard. The manuals are used sparingly, and the implied harmony and polyphony achieved in the pedal line makes this one of the most difficult and interesting of the works for solo pedal. The Nocturne is also a pedal show-piece, but a perfect contrast to the Jig. The pedal has grand lyrical lines that span the range of the pedal-board, while the hands create "marimba-style" tremolos that are frequently reminiscent of jazz harmonies. Finale - The Offering, like the Jig, relies on popular and dance rhythms, while its frequent juxtaposition of dissonant triads creates a fiery and climactic sound on a fully registered instrument.
A contrast to his well-known Eleven Chorale Preludes, Op. 122, written at the very end of his life, Johannes Brahms early Fugue in A flat minor, written in 1856, is a strict and meditative study in counterpoint. The subject of the fugue is rather ambiguous, both metrically and harmonically. The A flat minor tonality only becomes truly apparent when the other voices enter. The subject is treated in almost every contrapuntal way possible, but always with great musical effect. In fact, the second entrance of the subject is an inversion of the first, which is somewhat unusual in fugal writing. After a brief excursion in the relatively distant key of B minor, the piece returns to A flat minor and treats the subject in regular rhythm, diminution, and augmentation, all within the space of twelve bars. To the listener, these devices come across as a climactic build-up of texture that then thins out to an almost chorale-like ending.
The pedigree of Jean Langlais is impeccable: he studied the organ with Marcel Dupré, composition with Paul Dukas, and improvisation with Charles Tournemire. With this background it is hardly surprising that he became one of the twentieth centurys most prolific composers of organ music and was extremely well regarded as a performer and improviser. Fête, one of his earlier pieces, composed in 1946, still shows much of the style and language of Dukas and Dupré, but the mark of Langlais own creativity is unmistakable. The title says it allthis piece has the verve and noise of a raging party.
Libby Larsen, one of America's most active composers today, is perhaps best known for her choral, orchestral, and stage works. Her small contribution to the world of organ literature is nevertheless a mighty one. Her ongoing work Aspects of Glory currently contains three movements, the third of which is Tambourines. As with many of Larsens compositions, Aspects of Glory has a programmatic goal. They are conceived, according to the composer, "as a group of essays for organ on the word glory." Tambourines takes its cue from the Langston Hughes poem of the same name, in which the humble percussion instrument is used "To the Glory of God!" The music, in reflection of this, is relentlessly rhythmic, and the high pitches of the organ are perhaps meant to conjure up the jangling of the tambourine. Ultimately, it is a fast-paced hymn of praise, with folk rhythms and a stirring finish.
Dan Locklair, who was named 1996 American Guild of Organists Composer of the Year, has been tireless in his contributions to the organ repertoire. The Ayre for the Dance, a short study on the octatonic scale, is at once sinister and bluesy. Largely alternating between the trumpet and diapason stops, often in the same phrase of the melody, the Ayre also shows off the colours of the organ.
Marcel Duprés Variations sur un Noël is undoubtedly one of the most appealing concert pieces ever written for the organ. It is a test of the organists sensitivity and virtuosity. The variations range from mysterious and slow (variations III and VIII) to fast and Chopin étude-like (V and IX). Duprés compositional prowess is evident. Similarly to Bachs Goldberg Variations, Dupré chose to treat the familiar melody canonically in three of the variations (III, VI, and VIII). The frequent colour changes, both in the music and in the instrument, keep the audience riveted throughout. The final variations, a linked fughetta and toccata, are a brilliant and climactic end to an enjoyable piece.