Lis­ten Up James M. Keller re­views a few re­cent recitals

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TEN years have passed since the C.B. Fisk or­gan known as Opus 133 first let loose its voice in First Pres­by­te­rian Church. It was a mo­men­tous event for Santa Fe, en­rich­ing the city’s mu­si­cal land­scape with a tracker-ac­tion spec­i­men, the me­chan­ics of its in­nards es­sen­tially mir­ror­ing what was em­ployed in the pre-elec­tri­cal era, when much of the clas­sic or­gan reper­toire was com­posed.

The church is mark­ing Opus 133’s 10th birth­day by spon­sor­ing or­gan recitals spread through the year, with the cel­e­bra­tions reach­ing their pin­na­cle dur­ing the past month. We caught two well-at­tended in­stall­ments on con­sec­u­tive Fri­days, be­gin­ning with a per­for­mance on Nov. 2 by Kim­berly Mar­shall, or­gan pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona. She ti­tled her pro­gram “In Memo­riam: Re­mem­ber­ing the Past,” the idea be­ing that the pieces ei­ther were from, or ru­mi­nated on, ear­lier times. Mar­shall is a scholar as well as a per­former, and much of her re­search has in­volved the old­est sur­viv­ing or­gan reper­toire, from the lateme­dieval and Re­nais­sance pe­ri­ods. It was there­fore fe­lic­i­tous that she in­cluded pieces from two early col­lec­tions, the Lochamer-Lieder­buch (dat­ing from the mid-15th cen­tury) and the Bux­heimer Orgel­buch (an ex­ten­sive man­u­script com­piled around 1460-1470). She used no ped­als in ren­der­ing these his­toric se­lec­tions. The Lochamer pieces, ar­range­ments of songs of that time, were per­haps the less in­ter­est­ing, although deft em­bel­lish­ment added light­ness to her buoy­ant ren­di­tion of “Domit ein gut Jahr.” Two se­lec­tions from the Bux­heimer col­lec­tion were more id­iomatic to the key­board, reach­ing back to an ex­ot­i­cally dis­tant vo­cab­u­lary: the “Pream­bu­lum su­per mi” and es­pe­cially the “Rede­untes in mi.” A rede­untes is a genre in which re­peated left-hand notes evoke bell-ring­ing — or per­haps bells were ac­tu­ally sup­posed to be tolled as the piece was played. Mar­shall sug­gested this con­nec­tion through the use of the or­gan’s Zim­bel­stern stop, ba­si­cally a set of re­volv­ing jin­gle bells.

An­other high­light of the recital was Sweel­inck’s Vari­a­tions on “Mein junges Leben” (from around 1600), en­tirely per­sua­sive in the way she im­posed dis­tinct char­ac­ter­i­za­tion on its sec­tions. A tiento (that is, a toc­cata-like piece with con­tra­pun­tal de­tails) by early-Baroque com­poser Fran­cisco Cor­rea de Arauxo pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to em­ploy the loud trum­pet stops that were pop­u­lar in Span­ish mu­sic of the time, and three move­ments from François Couperin’s “Messe des paroisses” (pub­lished in 1690) in­vited some of the in­stru­ment’s more French-ori­ented sonori­ties, though the sec­ond of these se­lec­tions, the “Récit de chromhorne,” seemed aw­fully sober. The six move­ments of Mar­garet Vardell San­dresky’s Mass “L’homme armé,” com­posed in 1979 and us­ing a fa­mous Re­nais­sance melody as a can­tus fir­mus, was in­ter­mit­tently in­ter­est­ing but ul­ti­mately failed to jus­tify its length. Bach’s E-mi­nor Pre­lude (BWV 548i, shorn of the pop­u­lar “Wedge” Fugue that usu­ally fol­lows it) opened the pro­gram, which closed with an im­pres­sive ren­di­tion of the Pas­sacaglia from the Eighth Or­gan Sonata of Josef Rhein­berger, the only com­poser of note to hail from Liecht­en­stein. Mar­shall in­tro­duced her pieces in some de­tail, mak­ing this al­most a lec­ture-recital; but her re­marks were en­rich­ing on the whole, since some of the reper­toire was on the ar­cane side.

Aweek later, on Nov. 9, the con­sole was the do­main of Nathan Laube, who cur­rently serves as as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of or­gan at the East­man School of Mu­sic and as “in­ter­na­tional con­sul­tant in or­gan stud­ies” at the Royal Birm­ing­ham Con­ser­va­toire in Eng­land. The recital fully val­i­dated his sta­tus as a ris­ing star of the or­gan world. Like Mar­shall, he spoke quite a lot, but much of his com­men­tary was help­fully geared to point­ing out how his choices of reg­is­tra­tion — his “or­ches­tra­tion” of the pieces — re­flected the spe­cific ca­pac­i­ties of Fisk Opus 133, which was de­signed to en­com­pass sounds as­so­ci­ated with both the French and the Dutch/North Ger­man es­thet­ics of Baroque or­gan-build­ing. He opened with an at­ten­tion-get­ting set of tran­scrip­tions of or­ches­tral move­ments by Rameau. The Over­ture to Pig­malion, the most pro­gram­mat­i­cally de­scrip­tive of any Rameau opera over­ture, sprung to life with nasal fe­roc­ity. The piece is fa­mous for its quickly re­peated notes, which rep­re­sent the sculp­tor Pyg­malion chip­ping away at the statue that will en­snare his heart. Laube ren­dered them with crys­talline ar­tic­u­la­tion.

From his French set, he moved to a Fan­tasy on the 24th Psalm by 17th-cen­tury Dutch com­poser An­thoni van No­ordt, very Protes­tant-sound­ing with its whole­some, warmly blended flute stops. An unpublished, pleas­antly flow­ing Lul­laby by Calvin Hamp­ton, an early ca­su­alty of AIDS, showed off how the in­stru­ment can adapt to the ex­pres­sive re­quire­ments of 20th-cen­tury mu­sic. It was the only piece in the en­tire recital that Laube did not play from mem­ory. It struck me as re­mark­able that he did not use scores else­where not be­cause he would have needed them for the sake of the notes, but rather be­cause he could have re­ferred to them for his de­tailed choices of reg­is­tra­tion that might have come less nat­u­rally when play­ing an in­stru­ment on which he had not per­formed pre­vi­ously — which was the case here.

He fol­lowed with ex­em­plary in­ter­pre­ta­tions of two works by Men­delssohn: the Or­gan Sonata No. 3, which is in the stan­dard or­gan reper­toire, and the

Vari­a­tions sérieuses, which is not. The lat­ter is a piano piece, but Laube’s tran­scrip­tion made it sound na­tive to the or­gan. He pro­vided an ex­cit­ing, Ro­man­ti­cized read­ing filled with dy­namic shad­ing. Fine in­stru­ment that it is, Opus 133 of­ten sounds dry in the church’s un­re­ver­ber­ant sanc­tu­ary. Some­how Laube ob­scured that short­com­ing, I sup­pose through some leg­erde­main in­volv­ing shad­ings of at­tacks and re­leases. I have never heard this in­stru­ment sound bet­ter. The recital ended with a whiz-bang ren­di­tion of the first move­ment from Wi­dor’s Or­gan Sym­phony No. 5, a piece more fa­mous for its last move­ment, the much-vis­ited Toc­cata. This Al­le­gro vi­vace al­ways strikes me as a rather silly piece, but there was no gain­say­ing the fi­nesse of the per­for­mance, which brought the recital to its end with a touch of lev­ity. Although the con­cert sea­son is still young, Laube’s recital will surely count as one of its high­lights.

THAT evening, his last notes sounded at 7 p.m. Thanks to winged shoes much like Mer­cury’s, I was able to at­tain my seat in the Great Hall at St. John’s Col­lege in time for Con­rad Tao’s piano recital, which be­gan a half-hour later. Tao has been a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to Santa Fe since he was four­teen years old. In the decade since, he has de­vel­oped into a fas­ci­nat­ing and charis­matic mu­si­cian, a com­poser as well as a pi­anist. In the lat­ter ca­pac­ity, his strong suit is con­tem­po­rary mu­sic of a vir­tu­osic, ex­tro­verted bent. He opened his pro­gram with Ja­son

Deft em­bel­lish­ment added light­ness to Kim­berly Mar­shall’s buoy­ant ren­di­tion of “Domit ein gut Jahr.”

Eck­hard’s Echoes’ White Veil (1996), which he played after read­ing the W.S. Mer­win poem that in­spired it. Per­haps I was not the only per­son who failed to grasp much of the poem at a sin­gle recita­tion; pos­si­bly the in­tri­ca­cies of Eck­hardt’s piece would have been more mean­ing­ful if I had. As it was, it seemed lit­tle more than 11 min­utes of ri­otous erup­tions and tum­blings de­scended from Henry Cow­ell’s out­bursts of a cen­tury ago. A lot of work must have been re­quired to learn it. It was played mostly loud, but its end faded away to an un­cer­tain con­clu­sion — in­dis­tinct to the ex­tent that the piece segued di­rectly into Beethoven’s Sonata No. 17 (Op. 31, No. 2, nick­named the Tem­pest).

In re­cent years I have not been greatly moved by Tao’s treat­ment of clas­sic reper­toire, and this was no ex­cep­tion. In this hard-hit­ting per­for­mance, he some­times punched out notes here and there, yield­ing odd dis­trac­tions of line. It must be said that the piano on which he played was not re­ally at the stan­dard of a fine, res­o­nant con­cert grand, and that wielded con­sid­er­able ef­fect on the sonic prod­uct. Hav­ing said that, I should add that I rather liked the in­stru­ment. If its sound was a bit dull, it was none­the­less warm-hearted. That, com­bined with the lay­out of the room (in which the chairs stretch broadly across the wide space), lent the spirit of a sa­lon to the whole evening.

Fol­low­ing in­ter­mis­sion, Tao played El­liott Carter’s

In­ter­mit­tences (2005, its ti­tle in­spired by Proust), a piece of per­haps six min­utes’ du­ra­tion in which the com­poser set out to ex­plore “the many mean­ings si­lences can ex­press in mu­si­cal dis­course.” When Tao was in town in April 2016, ren­der­ing Beethoven’s Em­peror Con­certo with the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Or­ches­tra, he played Carter’s Caté­naires as an en­core — more im­pres­sively than he had the con­certo, I felt. In­ter­mit­tences was writ­ten as a com­pan­ion piece to Caté­naires and shares some of its spirit. Like the pro­gram-opener, this was a highly dy­namic, knuckle-bust­ing piece; and since Tao is not your man for a del­i­cate touch, it was a win­ning se­lec­tion. It made an im­pres­sion sim­i­lar to what the Eck­hardt piece had, but Carter was a bet­ter com­poser and In­ter­mit­tences of­fered more op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­ter­est­ing phras­ing and ar­tic­u­la­tion.

Again the piece pro­ceeded with­out a break into Beethoven, this time to the Sonata No. 18 (Op. 31, No. 3). That trick can sur­prise once in a recital, but not twice. This sonata shows to best ad­van­tage when in­fused with lyri­cism, but that is not what Tao does, although he did make an ef­fort in the third move­ment. Else­where, he played with­out a great deal of in­flec­tion, and in the fi­nale he set­tled too of­ten for sim­ply bang­ing. I have no doubt that Beethoven also banged at the key­board. In fact, he was quoted (per­haps speciously) as say­ing, “The piano must break,” when ad­vis­ing about how one should in­ter­pret the first move­ment of the

Tem­pest Sonata. The ef­fect was com­i­cal in the scherzo move­ment of Op. 31, No. 3 — and, yes, com­i­cal is what a scherzo sets out to be — but by the end the on­slaught proved ex­haust­ing. Again, one wouldn’t want to go very deep into the weeds dis­cussing in­ter­pre­ta­tion given the na­ture of the in­stru­ment Tao was work­ing with. An odd tran­scrip­tion of the Largo from Bach’s C-ma­jor Sonata for Un­ac­com­pa­nied Vi­o­lin seemed in­tended as a “pro­grammed en­core,” but then Tao re­turned to play a short piece of his own com­po­si­tion, “All I Had For­got­ten or Tried To,” its ti­tle re­lat­ing to a Kevin Kil­lian poem. This en­ter­tain­ing piece traced a char­ac­ter­ful con­tour as the com­poser busily tapped, plucked, and strummed the strings “un­der the hood,” in ad­di­tion to strik­ing notes via the key­board. The recital con­firmed Tao’s gifts as a mu­si­cal ath­lete and as an en­thu­si­as­tic cham­pion of new mu­sic.

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