Wilma Jensen plays Vicksburg’s 1st Presbyterian Church, October 14, 2016

    In the historically rich city of Vicksburg, MS, one of the world’s most renowned organists performed a recital at the First Presbyterian Church. From the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., to the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Wilma Jensen has established herself as a recitalist, lecturer, and clinician for workshops on both choral and organ music. In addition to her concert on Friday night, she also led a workshop on keyboard technique the following morning, marking the weekend as a highlight for many Mississippi organists.

Jensen opened the program with two selections from Louis Vierne’s 24 Pièces de Fantaisie, Hymne au Soleil (Hymn to the Sun) and Étoile du Soir (Evening Star). In the first piece a grandiose main theme entered in dotted rhythm on full organ, with a modulating interlude continuing the dotted rhythm in Bb major. The second theme appeared later in Eb major on the swell, and Jensen expertly played through the various modulations until the first section reemerged with the theme in the pedal. She accompanied the reprise on the manuals, handling the multiple parts with flair as if effortlessly.

She paired the exciting beginning with a quieter selection, Étoile du Soir. This piece displayed the expressive strings and flutes of the church’s organ, an Aeolian-Skinner. Jensen played into the improvisatory nature of Vierne’s work with expressive trills that alternated between manuals.

Next, Jensen performed a contemporary work, Michael McCabe’s Flourish and Chorale. Written in 1987, this piece dispels any misconception that organ music must be old or dated. She followed this with a prelude and fugue and chorale by Georg Böhm, a Baroque composer not as oft-performed as Bach, but still prolific and highly influential on Bach’s compositions, according to the informative program notes. Followed by Buxtehude’s Fugue in C Major, this juxtaposition illustrated the development of organ music across the years, and allowed Jensen to further prove her technical abilities.

The following set displayed several English organ works. Old Air on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams afforded Jensen the opportunity to show off the organ’s expressive solo stops and her own passionate interpretation. Howells’ Saraband In Modo Elegaico continued the mood with a gradual growth that demonstrated the full dynamic range of the organ. Finally, J. Stuart Archer’s arrangement of Londonderry Air closed the English set with an elegantly expressive finish and a tune familiar to almost all concertgoers.

The ambitious closing works harkened back to the French Romantic era, beginning with Tournemire’s Petite rapsodie improvisée. Jensen visibly enjoyed the short, playful work and expertly navigated the chromatic patterns toward the end. Next, she performed the more contemporary Méditation à Sainte Clotilde by Philip James, a meditative piece she also performed at her 80th birthday recital. She concluded with Widor’s Allegro from Symphony VI, a staple of Romantic organ repertoire, and a great challenge for even the most accomplished organist. Even after the long program, Jensen executed the lengthy technical passages with the same energy as her opening number.

Any concertgoer unfamiliar with organ music would quickly understand how Jensen established her stellar reputation, performing music of such difficulty for so many years. The English tunes provided short respites from the longer works, creating an accessible atmosphere for new listeners. Despite her extensive list of accomplishments and a substantial concert that would have rightfully exhausted anyone, Jensen thanked concertgoers with a unique and welcome humility and grace, reminiscent of an appearance she made in Jackson many years ago.

We thank First Presbyterian Church for the use of their Aeolian-Skinner, and for what is sure to remain one of the best memories among an impressive 2016-17 concert series from the Jackson AGO.

Amy Lauren Jones©2016
Contributing Editor