Jacob Benda
Friday, October 6, 2017.
Northminster Baptist Church

Benda opened the program with a dramatic rendition of César Franck's Chorale for Organ No. 3 in a minor, with a liberal use of the many reed stops on the Northminster organ, and a wide dynamic range. The next two pieces, by Clarence Mader, were a well-chosen contrast to the Franck. First, there was "Bell Serenade", in which the chimes were used as a solo stop, then together with a flute, and then back and forth with other voices - this is a welcome addition to the organ literature for chimes. Mader's second piece was "Fangle" (from the term "new-fangled"), with a reed solo together with an arpeggiated flute, somewhat episodic but nevertheless very effective.

Movement 2 of Bach's Trio Sonata #4 in e minor (BWV528) followed. As a free-standing piece it was charming, with the two melodic lines for the hands in an equal highly ornamented interplay, with the pedal providing a less complicated bass line. This is more often heard with its much more vigorous bookends, movements 1 and 3, in which the pedal line is more complicated. Then Benda played Bach's Toccata in E major, (BWV566). A traditional registrational approach was used, with reeds in the pedal vs a principal chorus in the manual. There were virtuosic passages in the pedal; I thought a little more brilliance would have helped the pedal line in the early part, but in general this piece was very well-played.

Again a quiet piece (David Conte's "Soliloquy") provided a welcome contrast with a meditative content that waxed and waned in dynamics.

Another contrast, in the other direction - came with Duruflé's Suite for Organ, Op. 5, No. 1. There was an opening drone on a reed stop that overlaid a deep rumble in the pedal, full of apprehension and foreboding - a really striking piece that grabbed my attention as a tiger might grab a prey and run away with it with no possibility of escape for it. The music was dramatic, compelling, and exciting.

The last piece, Choral Improvisation on Victimae Paschali Laudes, by Charles Tournemire, topped the Duruflé, both in dynamic range as well as in other ways with large chords thrown around like dwellings in a mighty flood. The interesting back story is that Tournemire played the improvisation without any plan for writing it down; Duruflé heard it and was so impressed that he remembered it well enough to recreate it on paper, and this is what we heard.

Jacob Benda clearly has a virtuosic touch and I hope we will have more opportunities to hear him as he develops. He did use the swell pedal somewhat more than usual, although the traditional performance of the Franck does include using the swell to increase the volume of the very slowly rolled chords near the beginning, which Benda did quite well. All in all this was a great evening!

We also are grateful to Northminster Baptist Church
for sharing with us its great organ.

Glenn A. Gentry