Jean-Baptiste Monnot at Northminster Baptist Church, Nov 18, 2016

This program was titled "The Art of Transcription" and began with J.S. Bach's transcription of Vivaldi's "Concerto in d Minor" for Concerto Grosso (a form in which there is a back-and-forth between a small group of soloists and a full otchestra). Monnot (shown on right) played it precisely as one might imagine Bach himself would have played. Bach was famous for this and other transcriptions, and in turn much of his music has been transcribed successfully for other instruments; one example: the very popular Toccata and Fugue in d Minor for organ (BWV 565) was transcribed for orchestra by Leopold Stowkowski. At a simpler level, some of the 2-part keyboard inventions have been played by guitar and oboe and other unlikely combinations. This flexibility pervades Bach's music.

Next was Liszt's well-known blockbuster, the famous Fantasy and Fugue on B.A.C.H (or, in musical nomenclature the notes Bb, A, C, B (the German term for B natural is H), composed in 1855, revised by Liszt in 1869-70, and transcribed for piano, again by Liszt, in 1870. Jean Guillou created a syncretic version for organ, which adds several new ideas found in the two later versions. An example in literature would be a syncretic version of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), usually termed a harmony of the gospels. In any case, this piece resulted in a memorable performance, with an episodic structure and a variety of elements, fugal and otherwise.

Monnot's own transcription for organ of two piano pieces by Alexander Scriabin then followed: Etude Op. 2 No. 1, a darkly meditative piece, and Prelude Op. 11 No. 2, a somewhat brighter work. If not informed otherwise, one might well have assumed that these were originally composed for organ.

The final work listed in the program was Guillou's organ transcription of Moussorgsky's monumental piano work, "Pictures at an Exhibition", with an opening promenade and ten movements, each a musical response to a different painting by artist Viktor Hartmann. Of these paintings, six have been been identified unequivalently:

(5)Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
(6a)Samuel Goldenburg
(8)The Catacombs
(9)The Hut On Hen's Legs ("Baba Yaga")
(10) The Bogatyr Gates

The promenade is interspersed several times, probably to represent a walk through the gallery. Some of the images ("Baba Yaga") are fantastic (in the weird sense), as is some of the music; to the performance as a whole, fantastic in the colloquial sense would apply. This work does, in my view, cry out for a multimedia presentation with projected images; such a performance was done with piano and artwork a few years ago at MS College. In fact there has been a continuing interest in multimedia events there; I recall that James Sclater (then Professor of Composition at MC) did a multimedia production of his setting of "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" some years ago in Mara Hall.

After such a rich feast of music, there was an encore; here Monnot was untraditional, and instead of a fluffy light dessert, he served up another main course, Bach's athletic Fugue in D major (BWV 532). Shifting to the athletic analogy, it was as if Monnot had completed a marathon run (Pictures alone lasted about 40 minutes), and, to celebrate a victory, then sprinted a hundred yard dash in less than 10 seconds. One word serves to describe this event: awesome!

It is interesting to note that in this week's reviews, all three organizations have had a stable presence in Jackson for decades, and we are grateful for them:
Jackson Choral Society [JCS]                          56 years
The American Guild of Organists [AGO]       62 years (Jackson Chapter)
                                                                             >100 years (National AGO)
Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra [MCO]     33 years

We also are grateful to Northminster Baptist Church for sharing its great organ with our community for many decades.

Glenn A, Gentry