Chelsea Chen at Northminster Baptist Church,
Jan 19, 2017
Chen opened the program with a vigorous rendition of contemporary
Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo's Sinfonietta - an exellent choice -
setting an exciting tone for the remainder of the evening. It was
lively, somewhat fugal,and used all the resources of the Northminster
organ and the organist!. There was a consistent theme:
do DO ti do
RE do ti DO ti la SOL
This was followed by another Norwegian's work - a trsncription of
Edvard Grieg's familiar Peer Gynt Suite (Op. 46); with
"Morning Song", "Asa's death", "Anitra's Dance", and In the Hall of
the Mountain King", with colorful registrations.
Next - in substantial contrast - was Jean Langlais' Cantilène from
his Suite Brève, with some lush sounds and modal harmonies.
The first part of the program then closed with Chen's own folksong-based
Taiwanese Suite: "Hills in the Springtime" - big, lively and
pentatonic; "Moonlight Blue" - more meditative; and "Mountain of Youth",
again lively and pentatonic.
After an intermission Chen played Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D Major
(BWV 532) with great energy and dexterity - the visually descriptive word
"dazzling" probably sums this piece up best. One of Bach's earlier works,
it is very athletic and closes with one of the great classic passages
for pedals alone. This piece, incidentally, is deservedly heard at
organ recitals more often of late. Next was Ad Wammes' Miroir,
with rapid flute passages in the background.
The last piece was Camille Sain-Saëns' Finale from his 3rd
Symphony, nicknamed "the Organ Symphony" because of the organ's
dramatic use in the last movement. Here, the organ passages were
"enclosed" - as it were - by a transcription for organ of the
orchestral sections - but preserving the overpowering contrasts
when the organ enters.
After an enthusiastic response from the audience, Chen offered
an encore, a transcription of Debussy's Arabesque No. 2 -
an appropriate dessert for a satisfying feast of the classics.
Chen used body language to a greater extent (and more effectively)
than any other organist in my memory. For this to be of benefit, of
course, the console must be readily visible to the audience (as it
is in this venue). It serves several purposes, signalling the
end of a piece (with large arm gestures); not all pieces end in
an obvious way. When done naturally, as it was tonight, it
also signals the performer's emotional engagement with the music,
resulting in something like a dance. Overall, this program, simply
put, was stunning.
We also are grateful to Northminster Baptist Church for sharing its
great organ with our community for many decades.
Glenn A, Gentry