Recital Review



Big Music on a Big Organ by a Big Performer


Event  Information

Raleigh -- ( Sun., Jan. 18, 2015 )

Raleigh Moravian Church: "3 Gs and a Shining Star" Organ Recital
Performed by Geoffrey Simon
Free and open to the public -- Raleigh Moravian Church , (919) 787-4034 , http://www.raleighmoravian.org/ -- 7:00 PM

January 18, 2015 - Raleigh, NC:


The organ in Raleigh Moravian Church was built by Adam Stein of Baltimore in 1902 and originally stood in the First Presbyterian Church. In the 1960s it still retained its original casework and was installed in its first location in the Raleigh Moravian Church. It was later moved to its present location in a newer space in the same church; at that time it was visually but not tonally modified. (Raleigh has another fascinating old pipe organ with mechanical action, also made in Baltimore. It is also a two-manual instrument, built in 1883 by the Pomplitz firm. It was originally in Christ Church and was moved to Dinwiddie Chapel at William Peace University about 1917.)

In the literature of the time the Stein would have been described as full-toned; its specification follows.

Great — Diapason 8, Doppel Flute 8, Viole di Gamba 8, Dulciana 8, Octave 4, Octave Quint 2 2/3, Super Octave 2, Trumpet 8; Swell — Bourdon 16, Open Diapason 8, Stopped Diapason 8, Salicional 8, Aeoline 8, Flute Harmonique 4, Flageolet 2, Bassoon/Oboe 8. Peda l — Bourdon 16. The action is mechanical, with the usual complement of couplers.

Geoffrey Simon has undergraduate degrees from Duke and Kent State and a DMA from Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, as well as individual study with Leo Sowerby and Paul Callaway.

Simon is the curator of the Adam Stein organ. His knowledge of both the front and the back side of the organ served him in good stead to prepare and present a generous concert on a somewhat demanding instrument.

After a very learned verbal introduction, Simon began with the first of his three Gs, the 1890 Toccata in B minor from the 10 pièces pour orgue by Eugène Gigout (1844-1925). The very soft and delicate introduction soon bloomed into a display of the hairy-chested full organ. The tonal foundation, the sixteen-foot bourdon, is a really big fat stop capable of undergirding any stops pulled on top of it. Simon's dexterous fingers and toes made the performance sound effortless.

Pachelbel and Buxtehude's Chorale Preludes on Wie schön leuchet der Morgenstern make very limited demands on an organ's registrational ability, requiring merely different colors, not specific colors. In the Buxtehude, Simon played the first variation on two manuals. The second was effective on the diapasons. The third had interesting echo passages using Great and Swell. The fourth featured a tiny, breathy flute and the tremulant. The fifth was again on the diapasons; there was a little rushing here, but the piece never got away from Simon. The sixth was a little awkward in the middle, but Simon pulled it back together very precisely before the end. The seventh utilized the swell box to create the terrace dynamics that Buxtehude would have accomplished on two manuals.

Next, the audience stood and sang two verses of the present-day arrangement of “O Morning Star How Fair and Bright,” from the liturgical section of the Moravian Book of Worship. The organ and Simon's accompanying were excellent to sing with.

The second of the program's Three Gs was a Prelude and Fugue in D Major by Alexander Glazunov. The prelude opened on full organ, with numerous changes of registration. Simon, the masterful curator as well as performer, managed the swell box and stops absolutely silently; there was none of the clatter that a less sensitive person might have caused. Simon brought out very effectively the stately sounds of the instrument, emphasizing its usefulness.

Three more chorale preludes on Wie schön were by William Klenz* (1915-88), Paul Manz (1919-2009), and Bernard Reichel (1901-92). Comparisons are odious, but the sprightly version by Paul Manz won some kind of prize in my book; Manz's piece seems very much precursive of some of the "Grace Notes" compositions by Emery University organist Timothy Albrecht. Simon played with facility and grace.

The audience again stood and sang the older and more melodically complex version of Wie schön.

The final of the three Gs was the Pastorale and Finale from Alexandre Guilmant's First Sonata for the Organ, Opus 42. Simon said by way of preface that this piece was conceived for an instrument with three manuals [and, I might add, with an independent pedal division], while the Stein has only two divisions and no independent pedal. Simon said that working around these limitations to play the Guilmant sonata on the Stein was “part of the fun.” Although Simon made a lot of verbal concessions to the resources of the Stein, his performance was splendidly devoid of any indication of shortcomings. The Finale is a big composition and got exactly the big performance it needed. Simon is a total professional; his skill allowed the audience to hear the Guilmant as pure music, up to tempo, precisely played, and saturated with feeling.

The movement of historically informed performance is now well established, and there are many modern instruments in the area that have a few or a lot of the attributes of the classical organs of north Germany, the Netherlands, Alsace, or Saxony. The Stein is too old to have these modern old attributes and too new to have been born with the attributes. But performing on the Stein is historically informed performance in its own right. The music is highly evocative of the era of this instrument's era; the organ is also capable of serving any modern congregation with a competent organist. It totally deserves the care it receives from Simon and from the Raleigh Moravian Church. It doesn't work like a student fresh out of music school might expect, but under the hands of a talent like Simon, it's a fascinating century-old instrument. In the world of foodies and gastropubs, music on the Stein is like cooking on a woodstove: it won't be like a microwave, but the results are excellent in their own way. And Geoff Simon was really cooking in this recital!

*The composer, a cellist, was based at Duke for a time in the mid-20th century.