Category Archives: Reviews

Walter Hilse plays Bach’s The Art of Fugue at St Peter’s Lutheran Church, NYC

Review of Dr Walter Hilse’s performance of Bach’s The Art of Fugue, played on 9/24/2000 at St Peter’s Lutheran Church, NYC

Today at 4 o’clock, at St Peter’s Lutheran Church in NYC, Walter Hilse gave a splendid performance of the Art of Fugue. The Klais organ sang, whispered, and trumpeted under Dr Hilse’s imaginative registration. Each fugue and canon possessed its own distinctive character, and like pieces of a puzzle they fit together perfectly. Dr Hilse interspersed the fugues with the canons, to “welcome contrast”, as he wrote in the program notes. The program was as follows:

Fugue Ihilse
Fugue II
Fugue III
Fugue IV
Canon II at the Octave
Canon IV at the Twelfth
Fugue VI
Canon I in Augmentation and Contrary Motion
Fugue VII
Fugue VIII
Fugue IX
Fugue X
Canon III at the Tenth
Fugue XI
Mirror Fugue in 4 Voices (Normal, then inverted)
Mirror Fugue in 3 Voices (Normal then inverted)
Fugue XII (Unfinished)
Chorale Prelude Vor deinen Thron


The intensity of the performance grew as time went on. The canons were a pleasant variation to the complexity of the fugues. They also provided the opportunity to exploit the organ’s color to the fullest. The canon in Augmentation and Contrary Motion was, I think, a bit too fast and aggressive. I hear it as having a more composed, meditative character. In the context of the rest of the performance, though, Dr Hilse’s interpretation of the canon was a logical interlude between fugues VI and VII and made perfect sense that way.

The fugues nrs. X and XI were particularly spellbinding. Dr Hilse unleashed the sheer power of those pieces and brought it thundering down into the sanctuary. It was simply thrilling, this windstorm of sound and logic, bound by deeply felt emotion.

As the last, unfinished, fugue started, I was filled with apprehension, waiting for the moment when the B-A-C-H would sound. I’d like to think that I wasn’t the only one in the audience who wondered—just what sound will Dr Hilse choose to represent Bach’s name? It was a flute-like 8′. How fitting. After the last notes of the fugue hung in the air, clean and pure, it was also the sound that started the sublimely beautiful chorale, Vor deinen Thron.

st_peter_extThe minimalist modern architecture of St Peter’s was a perfect background for the highly spiritual music of Bach. Having never visited St Peter before, I was struck with it’s architect’s flight of imagination. I certainly have never seen a church where the sanctuary was below ground level, with ceiling windows facing the street. Several people were glued to the glass during the performance, and that created a feeling that the organ was speaking not only to us, sitting below, but also to the people outside, and to the sky, and to the entire city.

While much bitter discussion is being centered on organists playing recitals for organists, Walter Hilse has performed Bach for the people. I believe musicians and non-musicians alike went home with a memory of something special today.

Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church is located at
619 Lexington Avenue at 54 St
New York, NY 10022
(212) 935-2200 

©2000 Lana Krakovskiy

Andrew Nethsingha plays at St George’s Cathedral, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

We were delighted to have Andrew Nethsingha, the Organist and Master of the Choristers at Truro Cathedral, UK, here in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, to give a recital at St. George’s Cathedral, on Tuesday 10th October 2000.

The programme was as follows:

Grand Choeur in D minor
Folk Tune
J. S. Bach
Trio super “Herr Jesus Christ
Fantasia and Fugue in C minor Hollins
Allegretto Grazioso
Adagio and March from the “Occasional Oratorio”


Chorale-Improvisation “Nun danket alle Gott”
Samuel Wesley
Air and Gavotte
Howells     Psalm Prelude (Set 1, No 1)
“Lo, the poor crieth and the Lord heareth him, yea, and saveth him out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 34.6)
March on a Theme of Handel

Andrew Nethsinga introduced the pieces at the beginning of each half, and then went on to play them as though he had played the organ at St. George’s Cathedral all his life! In fact, he was here some years ago when he gave a recital, which was as enjoyable as the one we heard this week.

The organ has never sounded better!

Mr. Nethsingha also conducted the Diocesan Choral Festival Service, Sunday October 15, 2000, at 4.00 pm.

©2000 Bob Conway

Jürgen Rodeland plays at St. Aureus Church in Büdesheim, Germany

Music from Three Centuries

“Unspectacular” organ recital delighted the audience in the church

November 11th, 2000
by Werner Brandt, Mainz Allgemeine Zeitung
translated by John H. Nisbet

juergenBINGEN – It’s almost unbelievable: In spite of little advertising, even “unspectacular” organ concerts find their audience. Indeed, the listeners in the well-attended Catholic Church in Büdesheim were more than rewarded.

Jürgen Rodeland arranged an interesting program, spanning the period from 1637 to 1992, accentuating the versatile sound of the Oberlinger organ, and fulfilling all expectations, both technically and artistically.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s 6th Organ Sonata began with chorale variations, which ornamented the melody, or treated it with toccata-like, brilliant scales, and arpeggios. The chorale theme was also hidden in the Fugue, but accentuated clearly, and the final movement exuded composure, and sensitivity, thanks to the soft registration of the performer.

In the Passacaglia D minor of Dietrich Buxtehude, Jürgen Rodeland spread out the variety of registration possibilities: the continuing bass theme was clothed attractively by very versatile, bell-like stops, silvery mixtures, and organo pleno. Only the conclusion turned out somewhat too modestly.

With Johann Sebastian Bach’s renowned Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, the artist could prove his enormous virtuosity. He played particularly the “Kaffeewasser” Fugue in a conception like an unbroken thread, held the tempo excellently, articulated very sophisticatedly, and registered transparently, so that the theme always remained clearly audible. He refrained from a grandiose ending.

Olivier Messiaen’s “Apparition de l’Eglise éternelle” began like clusters, using the swell box extensively, and contained sound expanses and rows of chords that could be suggestive of church windows flooded through by sunrays, but the composition revealed little structure, and too much emotion.

Max Reger’s Fantasia on “Ein feste Burg” turned out to be a masterpiece of the performer. If it would have been possible to sing the Chorale before, the appreciation of this piece would have been even greater. However, the information printed in the program, the very clear registrations, the well- played portato choral melody, the large contrasts of dynamics, the mastery of the difficult pedal part, and the great climax to the end: by all of these, a breathtaking interpretation was accomplished by being clear-cut, with a transparent sound despite the complicated chromatic harmony.

The enthusiastic audience demanded by much applause a well-known, exceptionally charming encore: Vierne’s “Carillon de Westminster” honored the listeners with a bell-like, playful sound.

©2000 Werner Brandt, reprinted in translation with author’s permission
For original article: click here

Fred Swann plays last Advent concert at the church before retiring, First Congregational Church, LA

Los Angeles, CA, December 3, 2000
This past Sunday, I had the great pleasure of attending Fred Swann’s annual Christmas concert at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. This would be his last regular Christmas concert at the church inasmuch as he has announced his retirement from the church organ bench after 60 years of service as a church organist, to be effective in May 2001.

(Incidentally, the program notes indicated that Dr. Somerville, Minister of Music, will also be retiring at that time, along with soprano Kathie Freeman.)

Although Dr. Swann has only been at First Congregational about three years, he obviously is already greatly loved and admired, as evidenced by the near-capacity audience who turned out for his concert: Most of the folks in attendance looked more like “church folk” than “organ folk,” so this clearly was a great display of support and respect for him. The announcement of his retirement, although already generally known, was met with many sighs of sadness and shaking of heads, even a few daubing at teary eyes with hankies. (A nice church-like couple sitting in front of me were very unabashed FRED FANS, and showed their adoration for him throughout the concert.)

The program began with a prelude by the Master Ringers, a very fine handbell choir from Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena. (Despite a printed request in the program to “please listen in silence,” not everyone was doing so. Most notably certain inattentive ushers who were escorting people to their seats with audibly barked seating indications. To their credit, the handbelliers’ attention and focus were not diverted despite the insensitive distractions.)

Dr. Swann then laid out an excellent, varied program including some “new fare” along with just enough “old chestnuts” to keep the purple-haired little old ladies (of both genders) content.

Of course, every piece was excellently played. And the seemingly limitless diversity of the Great Organs of the church was marvelously and ingeniously displayed.

We heard quaint touches of “klein-tinkelen und Farten-regalen” in Buxtehude’s choral fantasia on “Wie schön der Morgenstern.” (I heard a teenage kid behind me ask his mom if that was “a song about Rhoda Morgenstern!”)

The organ’s many ranks of lovely, lovely strings were slushed out in full force for Stanley Roper’s arrangement of the original orchestral version of Vaughan Williams’ “Greensleeves.” Absolutely blissful sounds here, layer upon layer of Shimmering Strings and Velvety Voxes. (Who was it who quipped, “More souls are saved with Chimes and Vox Humanas than any other stops in the organ!”)

The full force of the organ was called upon several times to thrilling, thunderous climaxes: Dr. Swann brilliantly played Simon Preston’s hair-raising “Alleluyas” and the captivatingly joyous “Grand Fantasia on ‘Joy to the World'” by Marc Cheban, a young organist from Philadelphia.

There were also the expected rooty-toots on the heart-stopping Holzgraf Memorial Trumpet, but it did appear to me that these trumpets have been reined in a bit as they did not seem as overbearing (indeed, nearly unbearable!) as they originally were.

Dr. Swann concluded the concert with Henri Büsser’s “The Sleep of the Infant Jesus.” My, my, my, my, MY. How can I begin to relate the sweet beauty of this work! Dr. Swann told about how during his tenure at Riverside Church, this piece always took a special and cherished place at the end of each annual Christmas Eve Candlelight service. He then gently requested that there be no applause at the end, “and you will see why.”

At the conclusion of the sublime work, a beautiful soprano voice eerily floated out into the nave seemingly out of nowhere–at once softly emanating from every pore of that sanctuary— singing, a cappela, “Silent Night.”

As the voice grew in intensity, we realized it was coming from a resonant hallway or stairwell behind the altar. The ethereal voice continued to grow in strength as the soprano, Kathie Freeman, slowly made her way out into the sanctuary. What a sweet, tender, peaceful moment. This brilliantly thoughtful treatment perfectly rendered the aural fragrance of the lovely, simple carol. Time seemed to stand still, and we very much felt the gentle presence of Our Creator there with us.

Finally Dr. Swann led us in rousing congregational singing of favorite Christmas carols, led by Kathie Freeman; although she had some stiff competition against the hundreds of ranks of organ and the sanctuary filled with concertgoers!

The concert was then over and done with, seemingly far too soon; and we reluctantly filed out of the gorgeous sanctuary to go back to our “regular lives.” However, even two days after the concert I am still blessed with a quiet peacefulness that has brought into my heart the true spirit of Christmas.

Afterward, Dr. Swann’s many admirers lined up in the cheerfully elegant, tastefully appointed fellowship hall (incongruously christened “The Barnum Room”) below the sanctuary to express their greetings, well wishes, and accolades for the concert, which easily was the best and most enjoyable in recent memory.

– – – – – – –

Here is the complete program:

3:45 Gathering Music
The Master Ringers, Handbell Choir
Lake Avenue Congregational Church
Pasadena – Jeremy Langill, director

4:00 Welcome
Thomas Hunter Russell, Assistant Organist,
Organ Concert Series Chair

Two Settings of the Advent Hymn “Veni, Veni Emmanuel”
Toccata – Andrew Carter
Meditation – Sir Edward C. Bairstow

Choral Fantasia – “Wie schön der [Rhoda] Morgenstern” – D.Buxtehude

Christmas, Op. 80 – Arthur Foote

Two Carol Variations – Max Drischner
“Lo, How a Rose ‘ere Blooming”
“In dulci jubilo”

Alleluyas – Simon Preston

Pastorale on “Forest Green” – Dale Wood
(Harp, Handbells, Organ)
(Jo Ann Turovsky, harp)

Grand Fantasia on “Joy to the World” – Marc Cheban

I n t e r m i s s i o n

Two Spanish Carols for Organ – Norberto Guinaldo
“¿Què li darem a n’el Noi de la mare?”
“El desembre congelat”

Greensleeves – R. Vaughan Williams

Variations on a French Carol – “Il est né le divin enfant” – Henri Büsser

The Sleep of the Infant Jesus – Henri Büsser
(Violin, Harp, Organ)
(Jo Ann Turovsky, harp)
(Steve Scharf, violin)

Silent Night – Kathie Freeman, soprano

Congregational Carol Singing, led by Dr. Swann and Kathie Freeman

Reception in the Barnum Room

©2000 Charlie Lester