An interesting combination at the Blue Whale
For the Herald
The Klais organ at the Blue Whale is spectacular and dominates the perspective from the hall. It is enormously powerful and much more adapted to what is called symphonic organ, the school derived from the Cavaillé-Coll organs and that bred the production of Franck, Widor and many others. It isn’t a Baroque-style organ, and that is a problem. For undoubtedly if you think of organ music your mind goes first and foremost to Bach and Buxtehude.
I heard the Klais organ no less than three times before reviewing the concert I’m referring to. Once at the very start, when the CCK was opened; then, at the end of 2015 (late November); and more recently played by Innocenzi. But the marketing of this concert mentioned it as the “inauguration” of the Klais.
The structure of the programme was unusual: two scores for organ; one for organ and orchestra; interval; two works for orchestra. On this occasion, two German artists were brought over: the organist Hans-Dieter Meyer-Moortgat (debut) and conductor Bernhard Wulff, who has worked with the National Symphony before.
Also a pianist, the veteran organist Meyer-Moortgat has had what is usual in this line of work: long tenure at a determinate post. He is organist of the Braunschweig Saint Magni Church since 1973, and since September 2013 also of the Bad Gandersheim Basilica, two Lower Saxony towns. As did Mario Videla last year, he chose the ultra-famous Toccata and fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps his most celebrated youthful work; it probably dates from 1706 or 1707, when he came back from Lübeck fascinated by Buxtehude’s improvisations in the vast church of St Mary’s. It is very free, has wide contrasts and impressive command of the organ’s possibilities.
Meyer-Moortgat proved to be a good professional, apart from minor smudges and hesitations, but he certainly knows that a full organ chord in Bach can never sound like it surged from the Klais, a behemoth of sound. My intrigue, for with Videla, our greatest Bachian, something similar happened: is it impossible in the Klais to play down the volume, or do they succumb to the temptation? For if it is, it proves that the Baroque isn’t for this instrument.
Naturally, Ginastera’s only creation for organ, the Toccata, villancico y fuga (1947) was much more amenable to the Klais, with the massive passages in the first and third pieces sounding out with powerful dissonant glory; but the villancico was the opposite, charming and delicate, and here the Klais proved its versatility.
Now Meyer-Moortgat descended from his high perch to the stage, and played Bach’s Organ Concerto in D minor at the console (of course, connected to the Klais) with the National Symphony conducted by Wulff. The orchestra was rather big for Bach, though it had to contend with the organ. I am disconcerted by this Concerto: it doesn’t have a single catalogue number, but the following: 1052, 1052a, 146 and 188. Well, the first two coincide with the First Concerto for harpsichord, and the other two with cantatas, but the music I heard sounded like an augmented transcription of the Concerto; and I found only one recorded performance, where it says “reconstructed by Schureck.” It was, as heard, rather long and prolix, with ample cadenzas and endless strings of semiquavers. Again, the organist played well rather than magisterially; the orchestra accompanied in kind.
Nowadays you rarely encounter Stokowski arrangements of Bach, they are supposed to be démodé; but Komm, süsser Tod (“Come, sweet Death”) is Nº 40 of the Schemelli Musical Song Book as harmonized by Bach, a short, discreet sacred song orchestrated by Stokowski with taste and containment, even if with some instruments that Bach wouldn’t have used; it was nicely played.
And then, what for me was the best choice of the evening: after a long silence, Buenos Aires finally heard again Hindemith’s Suite Nobilissima visione, extracted from the 1938 Massine ballet on the life of St Francis of Assisi. This is beautiful Neoclassic music, of enormous contrapuntal ability and fresh inspiration, in its parts Introduction and rondo; March and Pastorale; and a marvelous final Passacaglia. Wulff and the orchestra offered a fine performance both globally and in refined solos like those of flutist Patricia Da Dalt.