PipeChat Digest #3887 - Monday, August 18, 2003
 
Stuart Forster - Methuen -  8-13-03
  by "Malcolm Wechsler" <manderusa@earthlink.net>
 

(back) Subject: Stuart Forster - Methuen - 8-13-03 From: "Malcolm Wechsler" <manderusa@earthlink.net> Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2003 02:30:38 -0400   STUART FORSTER - METHUEN MEMORIAL MUSIC HALL Wednesday, August 13, 2003   Only in America? Probably! In this amazing place, we are looking at an enormous E. F. Walcker Organ (somewhat altered over the years), built in Germany for the Boston Symphony Hall and inaugurated in 1863. The nothing less than astonishing case was built in Black Walnut by Herter Brothers of New York City. By 1884, the orchestra needed more space, and we are told = the public had lost interest in the Organ, so it was expelled! It survived, unheard, in various storage places until Edward F. Searles, a Methuen millionaire organized a purpose-built Henry Vaughan building to hold the great behemoth. The whole story is far more complex than this, and I = highly recommend you read the complete and rather gripping tale by Edward J. Sampson, Jr., who heads the enthusiastic group of volunteers whose hard = and devoted work makes it possible for us now to hear (and see) this amazing instrument. It's all on the website, at: http://www.mmmh.org/home.htm   Three good hours (or often, four bad hours) will get me to Methuen. It's = not a trip one takes lightly. In the last few years, I have heard there, Kent Tritle, Ken Cowan, Felix Hell, and now Stuart Forster. I have chosen well, have I not? I have known Stuart, an Australian, for several years now, and have admired his playing for all of them! He is a graduate of the = University of Sydney, with post-graduate work at Yale with Thomas Murray. I have = heard and remember well two performances by him at Woolsey Hall. He is presently Director of Music and Organist at Christ Church, Cambridge, MA, on the Harvard Campus. More about him later.   The recital began with the Guilmant <Grand Choeur alla Handel,> Opus 18, = No. 1. I have learned not to like this thing, but it really is a perfect = recital opener, being virtuosic in its way, and giving a pretty good introduction = to the resources of an Organ. The performance was solid and exciting, and got lots of enthusiastic applause, as the large (and very sophisticated) audience this hall attracts understood that this first-time Methuen performer was to be taken seriously.   Next came two movements of Stuart's own transcription of the complete New World Symphony of Antonin Dvorak. It's a transcription that really works, and I have to tell you that as tough and painstaking as is this process, = in this case, it included also the complete typesetting of the transcribed score, using "Finale." It is beautiful to behold, and is now published by Editions Chantraine of Belgium. We heard first the famous Largo, and what can one say? It is and was ravishing. We heard a wonderful solo reed with = a tremulant that I somehow could feel pulsating on the marble floor where I sat, somewhere near the back. This is possibly Methuen's answer to the New York Subway, which graces so many performances in Manhattan churches with = an unexpected 32' sound. We then heard the last movement, <Allegro con = fuoco.> In cyclic fashion, it includes all the themes of the rest of the symphony. It is a great ball of fire. I was present at the first performances of the four movements of this transcribed symphony, at Woolsey, and I remember thinking, when Stuart first played the last movement there: "This is not possible. No one could possibly catch everything played by a huge = orchestra with just ten fingers and a couple of feet." It was, there and here, a = great astonishment, but, with all that, a performance of great beauty, and I = have to add, sensitivity, a requirement of the fact that this movement is quite sectional, and there are many changes of mood. The whole thing was breathtaking, and we all made our approval loudly clear, as Stuart left = the stage for intermission. You might want to do as lots did after the = concert, and buy Stuart's recorded performance of the entire symphony, on the JAV label. http://store.yahoo.com/ohscatalog/worldsymphony.html will take you directly to the listing for this recording.   Intermission   While not unbearably hot this night, the hall was certainly warm. Apparently, however, the elevated stage moved up a notch to unbearably hot status. "Jacket off, ruft uns die Stimme," and then it was indeed Bach = time, with the large Fantasie on <Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott,> BWV 651. = The Pedal boomed away with wonderful majesty, as the tempo moved along quickly without losing any clarity or any of that majesty! I love Hermann Keller, who says of this piece: "It is primarily the task of the organist not only to 'boom' in the pedals and 'whirl' in the manuals, but to play in a = singing and inspired way." We had all of that, and it was really powerful and = grand.   We next heard "Two French Fourths!" From the Widor Sixth Symphony, he being the first writer of Organ symphonies, we heard the fourth movement (of course), <Cantabile.> What a gorgeous melody, accompanied by a rapidly bubbling Flute accompaniment on = a lovely reed. All was clear and clean throughout.   Then, the fourth movement of the Vierne First Symphony, <Allegro vivace.> (Vierne was once Widor's assistant at St. Sulpice.) This is a wonderful scherzo. I well remember it in the many practice rooms in Rice Hall at Oberlin in the 50s, as students (me too) tried to squeeze this piece, metronomes a-tick, out of the old Mollers. There was no doubt in anyone's mind but that the time was well spent! Tonight's was a wonderful performance, deft, precise, and full of fun.   From "Three Impressions," Opus 72, of Karg-Elert, we heard a glorious = color piece, showing off the virtues of this instrument's Flutes & Strings. <Harmonies du Soir.>   Speaking of transcriptions, Peter Sykes did one of the entire Planets, of Gustav Holst, which he transcribed specifically for the OHS Convention in Central Connecticut some years ago. The performance took place on the big Austin in the Bushnell Auditorium in Hartford, CT, the ceiling of which is covered with pictures of various celestial bodies. I was fortunate enough = to be there. The transcription of "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity," the = fourth movement (another fourth!) was meant for two players. At the premiere, = Peter was one, and his wife the second, playing the choral parts on an upper manual. Stuart has tinkered with this movement, making it playable by one player, in this case, himself, and it made a magnificent finale to a truly superb concert. (Peter Sykes was present for the occasion.)   We insisted on an encore, and were graciously given something not so = usual, the Serenade by Derek Bourgeois (b. 1941), written for his own wedding in 1965. In 11/8 time, it is a wonderfully and gently jazzy piece.   What a superb bit of program building this concert was, so very full of substance, but also full of fun. It was a worthy addition to a long line = of presentations of great Organ music in this very special place. Long may it prosper!   Malcolm Wechsler www.mander-organs.com