Recital Review Print



Organist Frederick Swann

September 11, 2002 - Pinehurst, NC:


On the evening of September 11, at The Village Chapel in Pinehurst, Frederick Swann (www.concertorganists.com/htdocs/artistdocs/swann.html [inactive 7/06]), Organist Emeritus of the Crystal Cathedral and Organ Artist-in-Residence at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California, inspired a crowded sanctuary with splendid, strong organ music that celebrated the spirit of the day. The Rev. Dr. Glenn I. Miller, Senior Pastor of The Village Chapel, delivered an inspired 9/11 commemorative prayer, after which the visiting artist was introduced by Music Director and Organist John Shannon.

Swann provided spoken program notes with a sense of humor that would warm the heart of the least likely listener. For instance, of the obligatory Bach work, he quipped, "If you like it, there it is; if you don't it will last only six minutes."

The commemorative program reached heights beyond the evening's formal remembrance of Frank J. Byrne, in whose memory the concert was presented. The recitalist displayed with great ease the capability of the recently installed Cornel Zimmer organ (http://www.zimmerorgans.com/). The instrument is comprised of a combination of pipes and digital sounds, totaling 80 ranks of pipes. There are 94 stop controls. It is said to be the largest organ in Moore County.

Swann opened with a familiar work by Paris organist-composer César Franck (1822-90), having selected it to celebrate the heroics of 9/11 a year ago. This was accomplished both in its name, Piece Heroique ( Heroic Piece ), and in the strength of the performance. Great French organ sounds were evoked, showing the capability of the Cornel Zimmer. A bold minor opening theme moved to a swelling of dynamics that gave new meaning and interest to the mid-section. Great chords moved the concluding theme to resolution on a note of supreme strength punctuated by virtual Morse code in the pedal

My personal interpretation of the Resquiescat in Pace by Leo Sowerby (1895-1968) was that it served as a representation of what transpired on the fateful morning of September 11, 2001. There was first a warm theme, then an anxious theme. A calm strong solo voice spoke consistently even below the eventual noisy disaster. The artist had asked in advance that there be no applause following the quiet ending that featured soft chimes. He preferred that the audience sit quietly with their thoughts.

His next offering was a departure from traditional music. Who would have known by hearing the charming little piece entitled Toccata that Roland Erismann (b.1947) was not a renaissance baroque organist/composer, had not the audience been told? Erismann, Swiss by nationality, was in the forefront of the computer movement. Swann said that the young man apparently pushed a few buttons and out came this "antique sounding" piece, rather gentle for a toccata, and delicately played.

Meditation by Maurice Duruflé (1902-86) featured soft stops of the organ, and this time, the request to abstain from applause allowed him a silent segue into the aforementioned Bach Fugue in E Flat, S.552. Based on what has since become the hymn tune, St. Anne ("O God Our Help In Ages Past"), the neatly repetitious accompaniment, typical Bach perpetual motion, was nicely executed. A secondary theme, building suspense, was never dull. The six minutes passed swiftly.

Contemporary composer John Weaver (b.1937) cloaked the next hymn tune with subtlety but nevertheless it could be detected, artistically laced through Introduction and Fugue on "St. Denio" ( Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise ). Thereafter, a Scherzo subtitled Cats by organist/composer Jean Langlais (1907-91) echoed the sound of cats moving across the strings of a grand piano left open at night.

Swann's spontaneous addition of improvisations on hymns appropriate for our National Day of Remembrance included "Amazing Grace," with simulated bagpipe, presumably by digital sound and a second verse with funeral parlor tremolo, at last followed by a fine finish with a beautiful reed on the melody and a brief sigh of a flute echo. There was a chime transition and a diapason chorus into a toccata when "O God Our Help In Ages Past" entered as the principal theme. Hands jumping chords back and forth over the three manuals were delightful to watch. A toccata develops, and after Swann ended it, he commented, following the applause: "Left over from my television days!"

The evening didn't end with Healy Willan's (1880-1986) "magnum opus" (sic), Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue, but its performance did use nearly everything on the magnificent organ in its 17-minute duration. There was a brief baroque encore reminiscent of the music for glass harmonica.

The organist then asked the 500+ people who had packed the sanctuary (where as few as 100 sometimes turn out for an organ recital), to sing . This first annual 9/11 commemorative evening was thus topped off with the rafters ringing with three significant verses of "For All the Saints Who From Their Labors Rest" (tune: Sine Nomine , Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958)). Space permits me to quote only these few words of the hymn by William Walsham How (1823-97):

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle; they in glory shine!
... Alleluia!

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Note: We are pleased to introduce to CVNC Mary Elizabeth Nordstrom, well-known organist, choir and event director in the Sandhills and in AGO circles in Winston-Salem and the Triangle. The "Handel On Hunger" events have been her principal charities over the past four years. She is a dual member of the NC and NH Chapters of the AGO, having worked in NH during this past summer.