Thursday, October 25, 2012

Organ Recital Dr Richard Elliott

Thankfully the wonderful Casavant Frères op 3875 organ does not sit grandly idle as some concert hall organs do. Last evening, a very full Helzberg Hall audience was treated to the first in a series of four organ recital concerts featuring prominent organists from around the country. Each concert is hosted by Michael Barone, host of Public Radio's long running “Pipedreams” program. The organist was Dr. Richard Elliott, Principal Organist of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

The concerts begin with an informal fireside chat between Barone and the organist, discussing the organist's training and experience and then progressing to a demonstration of some of the organ's voices and timbres. While the experienced organists might find this a bit uninteresting, for the layman, it was a fascinating glimpse into the world of the King Of Instruments.

The program was well designed to show off the capabilities of Opus 3875. Its French genes were highlighted by the majestic Louis Couperin Chaconne from 1658. The organ's characteristic sec French reeds were in full show in this grand arrangement by Joseph Bonnet.

The magnificent Bach Toccata and Fugue in F displayed Elliott's talent on the pedals and his ability to keep the drama of the toccata and the entrances in the Fugue flowing through Bach's torrent of notes. Elliott was aided by the organ's clear and precise pedals. A piece titled “Cantelena”by former Tabernacle Organist John Longhurst let the dulcet flutes have their fine, yet ephemeral moment. The piece was lovely, but did not make a long lasting impression. Composed for a Tabernacle radio broadcast, perhaps that was its intention.

Elliott's arrangement of “Every time I feel the Spirit” was a fine and amusing arrangement, capturing the improvisational style of African-American spirituals. But no matter how agile the organist, music like this just comes out a bit clunky when played on a concert organ; a rousing “Amen” coda made things all right however!

The main course was an arrangement for organ of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. I had heard orchestra, piano and brass ensemble live and even on rock band, synthesizer and guitar through recordings. But never on an organ.

While Elliott's technique was formidable, to me this arrangement sounded like it was arranged by Charles Addams instead of Jean Guillou/Keith John, emphasizing the spooky and otherworldly voices of the organ. This fit the music well in the strange “Gnomus”, “Catacombs” and “Baba Yaga” sections and to some extent the “Old Castle”. The “Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells” was fleet and light, marred by the unnecessary bird chirping sound effect. But Elliott and Op 3875 made the grand “Great Gate at Kiev” the highlight of the evening. Grand and glorious but not over-the-top, the might of the pipes could easily force the audience back in their seats. Elliott even negotiated the unforgiving runs and finger work in this mighty movement, which really fit the organ the best of all.

The encore of “I got Rhythm” simply blew me away. Much more idiomatically arranged for the organ than the earlier spiritual.

Thus a new concert series for the Kansas City Symphony and Op 3875 is off to a fine start. A most enjoyable and enlightening evening.

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