PipeChat Digest #4455 - Monday, April 26, 2004
Felix Hell Takes Milwaukee! (X-Posted)
  by "Larry Wheelock" <llwheels@mac.com>
This week's MP3 from Jonathan
  by "Jonathan Orwig" <giwro@adelphia.net>

(back) Subject: Felix Hell Takes Milwaukee! (X-Posted) From: "Larry Wheelock" <llwheels@mac.com> Date: Mon, 26 Apr 2004 00:33:29 -0500   Felix Hell Strikes Again! (Winning over yet another group of devotees)   Felix Hell Made his first appearance in Wisconsin this afternoon=20 (4/25/04) at Kenwood United Methodist Church, and captured the hearts=20 of yet another crowd of organ-lovers. One would suspect that this is=20 hardly news as this young man seems to have this effect wherever he=20 appears, yet, to those who have not yet been exposed to his incredible=20=   gift, it is no less than a revelation. An afternoon with Felix leaves=20=   one with the feeling that one=92s life has somehow been touched by his=20=   music in such a way that it cannot be quite the same again.   The afternoon began with Bach. First was the g-minor Fantasy and Fugue,=20=   (BWV 542) and from the opening chord one recognized immediately that=20 the instrument was not merely being played, but rather mastered. This=20 is one of the most dramatic of Bach=92s works, yet, this performance=20 never sacrificed the music for the sake of the drama. The larger more=20=   dramatic parts were full of pathos, and fantastic in the sense of still=20=   pushing the harmonic envelope beyond expectations, even these centuries=20=   after Bach=92s death, but Felix never pushed beyond good taste. The=20 quieter interludes moved with such a sure and steady pace -- not fast,=20=   in fact more slowly than many performances I have heard -- but marked=20 and steady in a way which seemed to anchor the fantasy to reality. One=20=   sensed already that this performer was exposing more of himself in this=20=   music than many do in a lifetime. Then the fugue launched. There was=20=   a steadiness and insistence in the rhythmic presentation which never=20 lapsed into sing-song caricature, but was nonetheless at a breathtaking=20=   tempo. The remarkable thing was, however, not the tempo, but the way=20 in which the fugue seemed to sing. Even watching from behind, the=20 movements in Felix=92s body radiated a sense of joy in this fugue,=20 finally crashing into a final cadence that was like the burst of joy=20 from a runner, breaking the finish tape, hands in the air. And that was=20=   just the opening piece.   Then followed the organ-chorale =93O mensch bewein dein suende gross.=94=20=   (BWV 622) Once again, the pace was sure and steady, but not at all=20 fast. In less skilled hands this piece can drift-off into =91boring and=20=   aimless,=92 but not in today=92s offering. I choose the word =91offering=92= =20 purposely because, as this piece drew to a close, there was a palpable=20=   sense of holy awe in the audience, so much so that there was,=20 spontaneously, no applause. Usually, in any audience there is at least=20=   one person who decides that the piece is over and it is his/her job to=20=   prompt applause. Not this time. There was no =91please no applause=92=20 announcement, nor any mention in the program beyond the title. I=20 believe the audience was just so moved that there was a silent=20 consensus that applause was inappropriate to such an intimate and=20 personal sharing of this music.   Then the mood changed completely as Felix launched the Prelude and=20 Fugue in D-Major.(BWV 532) This piece exposed the unabashed joy and=20 exuberance of the life of an 18-year old. This is how Bach would have=20 played this piece at 18 if Bach had the technique of Felix Hell=20 (judging from the technical demands of many of the early works, I=92m=20=   guessing he didn=92t, yet.) But make no mistake, youthful exuberance = does=20 not, in this case, mean carelessness or inattention to detail. The=20 details were all in place, but old ears had to work at keeping pace=20 with the excitement. The fugue was no less than a romp. This was an=20 unabashed, thrilling, display of virtuosity; virile and showy, but with=20=   nary a note out of place, and I think, after all, that is what this=20 piece is really all about. Bach had a blast writing it and Felix had a=20=   blast playing it. It almost seemed as though you could see his grin=20 through the back of his head, and the grin was contagious. I must=20 confess that at this point a moment of personal jealousy overcame me=20 and, during the applause, I remarked to a colleague =93and after all=20 that, the little brat had the audacity to accelerando during the=20 closing pedal cadenza!=94 Envy aside, it was a technical feat executed=20=   with such obvious joy that it seemed mere child=92s play.   The Mendelssohn Third Sonata, =93Aus tiefer not schrei ich su dir=94 = (op.=20 65) is a personal favorite and I was delighted to see it on the=20 program. I also happen to think that this instrument at Kenwood is=20 never happier than when Mendelssohn is being played on it. This piece=20=   bears many similarities to Mendelssohn=92s choral works, and this=20 possibility was not lost on Felix. Felix has a wonderful way of causing=20=   the organ to =91sing=92 the line of the music, and this was nowhere more=20=   evident than this piece. When the piece launches into the busy-busy=20 part over the chorale, the tempo was spirited, but the notes were=20 always clearly articulated; you might say that the consonants were=20 well-formed; you understood every word. When the opening maestoso=20 finally bursts forth after all the turmoil, the cathartic moment was=20 not forced, but presented with just the right declarative and=20 triumphant resolution. It brought me to tears. Oh yes, and he played=20 all the notes right too. A parishioner -- one who is usually better=20 attuned to =91happy-clappy =91 music -- was amazed today as Felix played=20=   the closing =91Andante tranquillo=92 entirely on the Solo division = (which=20 speaks from above the west gallery.) She grabbed my arm at the=20 intermission and exclaimed, =93It was like the sound was coming from=20 nowhere and everywhere -- it was amazing.=94   By contrast, the Liszt Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H is a piece which=20 has never made much sense to me as a piece of music. Call it personal=20 bias or long-standing ignorance, whatever.... It does, however serve as=20=   a wonderful tool for showing off the performer=92s virtuosity, and Felix=20=   has virtuosity to spare. There is no need to describe that to you, but,=20=   despite my bias, what did catch my ear was the careful and imaginative=20=   use of the color-stops of the organ. The registrations served the=20 disjunct music very well, and, to my biased ear, the long phrase near=20 the end which slowly descends nearly the entire gamut, which Felix=20 chose to play on the English Horn stop, was every bit as artful as the=20=   wild runs up and down the keyboard. If one were not watching closely,=20 you could swear that those light-speed runs were glissandi -- but they=20=   were too clean and articulate for that. Felix=92s pedal-work was=20 astounding.   After the intermission came the Prelude and Fugue in B Major (op. 7/1)=20=   of Marcel Dupre. This piece, to me, is Dupre showing-off -- not merely=20=   out of a sense of ego, but rather, simply because he COULD. Playing=20 this piece is not for the faint-of-heart, but Felix seemed absolutely=20 unintimidated. The reason is obvious -- like Dupre, Felix CAN too! And=20=   he did. Spectacularly. The fugue here is -- to borrow a description=20 once applied to Hindemith=92s third -- a =93fugue on an improbable = theme;=94=20 disjointed, and capricious, and I dare you to try to sing it right now=20=   -- go ahead, try! Dollars to doughnuts you can=92t (and neither can I.)=20=   Somehow Felix managed to keep this cacophonous theme piercing through=20 the jazzy counter themes, and wound it all up to a logical conclusion,=20=   and I guess that is the mark of a true musician; one who can take all=20 the noise and make sense of it. In 1976 the Rev. Peter Gomes preached=20=   to the convention of the AGO in Boston and told us that the calling of=20=   the musician is =93to bring order from chaos.=94 In this piece, that is = no=20 small task, and yet when Felix wound it all up for us, I had the sense=20=   that this was exactly what he had accomplished. I confess, I haven=92t=20=   the slightest idea whether or not he played all the right notes, but it=20=   surely sounded good to me.   In conversation before the program, Felix mentioned to me that he had=20 some reservations about programming the Samuel Barber =93Adagio for=20 Strings=94 (arr. William Strickland) on this instrument, based on the=20 written stoplist. I don=92t know whether the instrument presented to him=20=   differently live, or if Felix just coaxed the very best out of the=20 instrument, but I do know that his performance was as moving as any=20 have been or could be -- organ or orchestra. Once again, the real proof=20=   is that another parishioner -- a man with little musical interest or=20 experience -- told me that he had been moved to tears. What could be a=20=   better measure of success for this piece?   The program as printed concluded with Alexandre Guilmant=92s Sonata No. = 1=20 in D Minor. This is another virtuosic showpiece, but it is also a=20 well-crafted and well-thought-out piece. Felix played to both=20 strengths, reveling in the display, but taking care to present the=20 thematic interplay in a clear and appropriate manner. It was both fun=20=   and satisfying. The =91Pastorale=92 once again showed-off Felix=92s=20 imaginative ear for color with an ingenious combination and contrasting=20=   of flutes and color-reeds. It was so intriguing, I only wish I could=20 hear it again (and again.) The Final was another romp thru the=20 exposition of virtuosity, but, once again, the awesome technique=20 served to bring to life the music. What a joy.   It is obvious why Felix never gets away without an encore, and, after a=20=   bit of comic =91schtick=92 between Felix and his father, we were = rewarded=20 with the Vierne =93Final.=94 Played from memory, and including Felix=92s=20=   =91signature=92 additional 4 measures, he took a lively, but not = breakneck=20 pace and just flowed through it as though it were the simplest thing in=20=   the world to play, while still not =93playing-down=94 to the audience.=20=   Felix has played 300-some recitals, and I would venture to guess, he=92s=20=   probably performed this piece 250 times, yet, it felt as if he was=20 playing it especially for us.   Perhaps that is the essence of what makes Felix such an outstanding=20 organist. Obviously, he is gifted with a superlative technique, but,=20 just between you-and-me, there are quite a few young folks out there=20 with technique-to-spare. What sets Felix Hell apart from the crowd of=20 fine young musicians, is the way in which he risks putting so much of=20 himself into the performance. Someone said, =93When you hear him play,=20=   you come away feeling as though you know him personally, because he=20 puts so much of himself in his music.=94 I cannot imagine how such a=20 thing could be taught or learned, and I suspect that it is just a part=20=   of who Felix Hell IS. At the end of the day, I have only one request=20 of Felix; more, please!   Larry Wheelock Director of Music Ministries Kenwood United Methodist Church Milwaukee, Wisconsin musicdirector@kenwood-umc.org=    
(back) Subject: This week's MP3 from Jonathan From: "Jonathan Orwig" <giwro@adelphia.net> Date: Sun, 25 Apr 2004 22:46:37 -0700   Hello, fellow organ friends   This week's MP3 file is the lovely little Rosace by French organist = Ren=E9 Blin.   http://www.blackiris.com/orwig/blin_rosace.mp3   Blin (1884-1951), one of Dupr=E9's many pupils was the organist at Ste. = Elizabeth in Paris. In addition to this little gem, he wrote a = monumental Symphonie in B (over 62 pages long!) and several other = pieces. =20   This work is dedicated to Leonce de Saint-Martin, successor to Vierne at = Notre Dame   Enjoy!   Jonathan