Sunday, January 7, 2018

An organ pot-pourri for Epiphany


First Fridays at First!, First Lutheran Church, Torrance


Namhee Han.
The previous Classical Crossroads’ “First Friday” serenaded by organist Namhee Han at the instrument of First Lutheran Church, Torrance, was in December 2016 – ushering in that year’s holiday season. This time around her lunchtime recital functioned more as a postlude to the 2017 holidays, specifically landing on the day before Epiphany, as she noted in her engaging spoken introductions to each item of the program. First up was Drummer Boy/Pat-a-Pan, billed as being composed by the organist Diane Bish but in truth an arrangement of the American Christmas song and the Burgundian carol, the two tunes stacked together with fine effect by Ms. Bish and played by Ms. Han with an appropriately lulling rhythmic focus. 

J.S. Bach in 1746.
The main musical meat of her recital came with the Canonic Variations BWV769a on “Vom Himmel hoch da komm' ich her”, said to have been prepared as a showpiece for Bach's entry as the 14th member of Mizler's Music Society in Leipzig in 1747. These were delivered by Ms. Han with delicately pointillist registration for the first three variations and expanded tonal resources for the bolder fourth variation (the fifth and final variation was omitted). 

William Albright.
Then there was a complete change of pace and tone with Sweet 16ths – Concert Rag for Organ by William Albright (1944-1998). I’ve always associated rags with Scott Joplin and the perky sounds of an upright honky-tonk, but here the initial, slightly ponderous, aural impression of organ tone taking its time to emerge and “speak” was soon accommodated by the work’s easy-going, natural-sounding swing. 

Richard Purvis.
The “Caravan of the Three Kings” from Three Christmas Preludes by Richard Purvis (1913-1994) had its own rhythmic signature: the uneven, swaying gait – as suggested by Ms. Han – of camels padding through the desert. This was followed, again in complete contrast, by the shimmering radiance of Guy Bovet’s Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star), its celestial beauty projected with evermore etherealized delicacy through the refinement of Ms. Han’s selection of woodwind stops on the First Lutheran Church organ. 

… and to conclude, what better wake-up call than the final section of Rossini’s William Tell Overture? It never failed the Lone Ranger and – as transcribed by the English organist and composer Edwin Lemare (1865-1934) and played with plenty of gusto by Ms. Han – it didn’t fail here (who was it who defined an intellectual as "a man who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger”?) Welcome to 2018, music-lovers of the South Bay! 


“First Fridays at First!”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 12.15pm, Friday, January 5, 2018.
Photos: Namhee Han:; J S Bach: Elias Gottlob Haussmann; William Albright: Bach Cantatas website; Richard Purvis: Pipedreams.

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