PipeChat Digest #2420 - Sunday, October 7, 2001
Felix Hell at "Basically Bach" & Plainville CT
  by "Malcolm Wechsler" <manderusa@earthlink.net>
Pipedreams show about Felix Hell coming up
  by "John Cormack" <jcorm@bellatlantic.net>

(back) Subject: Felix Hell at "Basically Bach" & Plainville CT From: "Malcolm Wechsler" <manderusa@earthlink.net> Date: Sat, 6 Oct 2001 20:59:24 -0400   Adding this to a spate of Felix Hell postings in recent days:   Dear Lists and Friends,   In addition to some words about Felix Hell's part in the Ninth Annual Basically Bach Festival at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Manhattan at the end of September, I feel an urge coming on to make some parallel reference to a concert of his I attended at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Plainville CT just two weeks earlier, on Sept. 16th. Bon Smith has already reported in some detail about that.   Most of what went on at Basically Bach took place on the Saturday. A distant wedding kept me away from all that. Other than morning church, the big event on Sunday was Felix - his 2 p.m. concert was huge - in the end, lasting well over two hours. The Plainville concert was perhaps a bit shorter, but covered a very substantial chunk of the repertoire = nonetheless! And it was at Plainville that I entered into serious musings about the = role of charisma, of spirit, of a hard-to-quantify contagious element in performance and in a performer. Plainville has a very handsome modern church, traditional materials and nothing shocking, but an unusually attractive and worshipful space. Through the determination of a beloved former music director, the parish pulled together and got itself a fine pipe organ. The Wicks people really outdid themselves on this very beautiful instrument, and without benefit of any silicon implants! And here is a rarely-heard tale I delight in passing on: After the organ was installed, the church's very complete wall-to-wall carpet was removed, replaced by a tile floor! Bon mentioned this in his review. Let this happy tale be told and re-told throughout the land!   Plainville, CT and New York, New York. Two different audiences, similar in being quite large, but also similar in a kind of commitment. One would not expect suburban Plainville to have a heavy concentration of sophisticated lovers of the Pipe Organ and its music, but having been in that audience, you could have fooled me. The concentration was complete - the = appreciation clear throughout a long program. Here, something of an organ culture is developing. Diane Bish dedicated the instrument. Simon Preston has been to play it, and now Felix. As for New York, New York, here was the Lutheran veneration of Bach, a co-religionist, as in Plainville-a reverence for the parish Pipe Organ, and on top of all that, their feelings about Felix - = and the "departure of a beloved brother." (The parish has refused to take his name off the Sunday bulletin!)   Well, on to "Basically Bach," which really wasn't in this recital much = Bach at all!   As this substantial musical event unfolded, I found myself wondering if Felix, the day before, had sung to himself the old English carol, = "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day!" The late Arthur Poister often began programs = with the Luebeck E Major Prelude and Fugue, and this was the first "dance" on Felix's program, and dance it did. Having learned and loved it as a = student, it was lovely to hear again. Here followed an amazingly intricate chorale prelude, actually, a many-sectioned chorale fantasy - on Ich ruf zu dir, = one of only a couple of extant chorale preludes by Luebeck. What a piece! What complex interplay between cantus and pedal, and what remarkable variety of compositional techniques. The clarity and color of this instrument, = Felix's imaginative registration, and his absolutely impeccable ear made of this = one of the high points in this recital. Given this kind of performance, this = is a chorale prelude even a Bruce could love!   Sparkle plenty!! The great Buxtehude chorale fantasy on Wie schoen = leuchtet der Morgenstern played as I never have heard it played before. It had a superb clarity and exuberance, and yup, it did indeed dance - and this = young man, even in places where he is not as familiar with an instrument as he = is here, hesitates at no difficulty to find the most telling registration possible.   TWO MAJOR BACH WORKS: First, the Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor 542 - I = made a note at the beginning that it was played with an astonishing sense of fantasy, with an interesting sort of light articulation of the second section - putting a bit of space into the texture. He did this in Plainfield, and I was not sure I liked it very much, but the second time around convinced me that it is an okay idea. The Fugue was one big happy romp! My introduction to the great Passacaglia in C Minor was through the Biggs recordings, with registrations that seemed to respond to the musical textures of the variations. I have always found off-putting performances of this work done = a big plenum throughout, something Felix does not do. I can only describe = his treatment of the Passacaglia with the words tender and lyrical. The fugue was faster than I recall ever hearing it, but it was completely = controlled, with no hint of the frantic in it. It is very clear & precise and the dance goes = on! As all of these thousands of notes are processed, there is not overmuch physical movement but what there is is both gently athletic & balletic, arising out of the music itself and not at all contrived. Rather than = being a distraction, I think it may well draw people into the music better.   After a brief intermission, the Mendelssohn Second Sonata, for me the only unsatisfying performance on the program. The Grave began at something of a gallop and as the end approached, the tempo was gradually reduced to the point of becoming quite somber. I thought the Adagio rather on the fast side, but that is subjective, and probably only because I play the = movement more slowly rather than from any revealed truth given me from on high! Again, perhaps because of how I feel it, the Allegro wanted its Maestoso, but then, perhaps I have paid too little attention to the "e vivace" part = of the marking. The opening of the fugue seemed quick and glib to me, and = when the left hand 16ths arrived, it got a bit wild. The grand finish, however, really was indeed grand.   Mendelssohn Sonata Six - on the "Vater unser". On the occasion of his wonderful birthday gathering at St. Peter's on September 14th, only days after the horrors of the 11th, Felix decided to end his part of the = musical program with this Sonata. It was tremendously moving on that occasion, and hearing it again at this concert, and hearing it in the future, I will probably always think of the emotions of that week. Felix clearly feels = this work very deeply, and it is a powerful experience to hear him play it. He worked to find mellow and truly warm registrations for this piece, and succeeded totally. The whole enterprise had great dignity, even the big toccata, which really ripped! After the fugue, there came that final Andante, and again that September 14th image comes to me of an audience, = by Felix's request, sitting in total silence following that last quiet movement.   Not one, not two, but three Mendelssohn sonatas. We heard next the first = in F Minor. I thought tempo caused the full sections in the first movement to sound a bit jumbled. He found a lovely celestial registration for the secondary sections. The andante was pleasantly flexible. In the recitative section, he found a really rich 16' based sound for the big sections. Allegro was quite fast but, without any muddle at all, made for a very exciting finish.   A bit more Mendelssohn, the Prelude in G, opus 37. The fabulous and extensive program notes provided to us, written by Watson Bosler, remind = us of Robin Langley's suggestion that the Adagio of the First Sonata is reminiscent of the Songs Without Words, and Bosler suggests that this has also to apply to this prelude. Who could disagree?   During the Liszt B-A-C-H, I took no notes, deciding just to sit back and enjoy it. Felix's first public performance was in Stamford, Connecticut, = at St. John's Episcopal Church, sponsored by our chapter of the AGO. He = brought then, and continues to bring to this piece all of its excitement and mystery. I believe a performance of Ad Nos is in the works, but I have not heard when.   Encore? Of course! - The Bach Jig Fugue - at a speed that might upset more t han a few microprocessors!! It was nothing less than incredible, and the audience essentially erupted after it.   Most touring virtuosi (take a look at Felix's schedule at = www.felix-hell.com if you think he is not one of those) travel with one program, with perhaps minor variations for differences in the instrument or the audience. = Between Plainville and St. Peter's, two weeks apart, the following works were in common: Bach - Fantasy & Fugue in G Minor, Mendelssohn Sonata 1 and = Prelude in G Major. Works played in Plainville but NOT in New York were: Bach - Prelude in G (568), Bach - Ich ruf zu dir, Bach - O Mensch bewein, Bach - Prelude & Fugue in D Major, Franck - Chorale in A Minor, Norbert Schneider = - Toccata: Schlafes Bruder, Widor - Adagio and Toccata from Symphony No. 5, and the encore: Karl-Elert - Nun danket alle Gott. Other than Hans, I was surely the only other person at both - he need not have worried about repeating the program. Felix Hell is NOT afraid of work! This weekend, he began at Silver Spring, as Rich Blacklock has reported, today (Saturday), = he went back north to Brooklyn, to be at an organ presentation for young = people at the Baptist Temple, and tomorrow, it is back south to Baltimore!   New York can easily assemble an attentive and knowledgeable audience for almost anything, and the organ is no exception. And, to be sure, the St. Peter's audience was well packed with parishioners who are used to great organ music from Kantor Tom Schmidt and often Felix himself. Plainville, Connecticut is just a typical suburban American town, and the audience = there is of just plain church folk, motivated to be there by many different things. Rich Blacklock mentioned in a recent posting that he thought Felix ought to speak more at concerts, and I don't disagree in principle. When Felix programmed Schlafes Bruder for our Stamford concert, I thought there ought to be a program note, written or verbal, to explain this wild piece = - the story is interesting. However, in neither Plainville nor New York did Felix speak a word, and I came to the realization in Plainville, where one would have thought some notes would be wanted to help people enjoy the music, it really did not matter. People were very much absorbed in the = music and the music making, and this is where the charisma factor comes in. = Upbeat and purposeful, clearly confident, cheerful and friendly, Felix walked the long walk to the center of the church, smiled warmly, and proceded to the organ loft. The battle was won at that moment, and the victory was = confirmed throughout by the sparkle and solidity of the performances. The slight movement of Felix jogging along gently and happily at the console helped = to define the rhythms, stresses and releases in the music. Even Schlafes = Bruder seems to have been assimilated and appreciated without help.   Check out Pipedreams probably the weekend of November 4th. The whole = program is devoted to Felix, including performances, and interviews done with Michael Barone. Particularly if you have not had a chance to hear him, = this will help you to work out what all the fuss is about.   Cheers,   Malcolm Wechsler                              
(back) Subject: Pipedreams show about Felix Hell coming up From: "John Cormack" <jcorm@bellatlantic.net> Date: Sun, 7 Oct 2001 02:15:02 -0400   Malcolm:   > Check out Pipedreams probably the weekend of November 4th. The whole program > is devoted to Felix, including performances, and interviews done with > Michael Barone. Particularly if you have not had a chance to hear him, this > will help you to work out what all the fuss is about.   I checked the Pipedreams web site and it is program 0144 aired the week of Oct 29. Your NPR station may air Pipedreams one or two weeks behind this schedule. Wisconsin Public Radio adheres to the web site schedule and airs the show = on Fri night starting at 9:30pm Eastern time. For those with broadband = Internet connections, the data rate is 176 kbps (Real audio format) quite = acceptable fidelity. Here in the Nations Capital, with two full time NPR stations, Pipedreams is not aired anymore. Shameful!!!   -- John Cormack