John Brock at St. Peter Catholic Cathedral, September 22, 2017.

It was "deja vu all over again", as John Brock returned to St. Peter after a hiatus of 18 years, recreating the same profound sense of awe this organ is capable of. Brock opened the program with an ideal choice, Vincent Lübeck's Praeludium in E major. Lübeck was a contemporary of Bach and this piece served as a showcase (or perhaps better, "hear"case) for a beguiling variety of sounds and compositional moves from the times, including fugal passages and prominent melodic use of the pedals, which we would not hear again until the Mendelssohn sonata.

Frescobaldi's Toccata I (2nd book) followed, in a meditative style that pointed toward polyphony. Again, the St. Peter organ served well here, with a flute solo with tremulant. Froberger, a student of Frescobaldi, took some of Frescobaldi's ideas north into Europe, and his Canzona, a more fugal work, was based on a theme with variations. The French organist Georg Muffat based his Ciacona on dance forms, with recurring patterns and highly ornamented melodic lines. It grew in intensity, with the addition of stops (the St. Peter organ has no swellbox, although in a couple of instances Brock made it sound as if it did!)

Two works followed, by Louis Marchand (also a French composer and organist): Tierce en taille, with a reed-like sound based on several non-unison higher pitched flue stops, and an ornamented melody with a more mellow background. The second work, Dialogue in C, included back-and-forth passages between different ensembles, in a style reminiscent of fanfares, featuring extensive use of the reed stops on the organ. It was in this piece that the pedal organ first reappeared (since the Lübeck work) in a recognizable form, a massive sound but only used in a primitive way, as a single note, with no hint of any attempt at melody. This is a major difference between north German organ music during the baroque, and all other national styles of the day.

Mendelssohn's Sonata VI in D minor was next, a majestic work played majestically, Based on the chorale "Vater Unser in Himmelreich" ("Our Father, who art in Heaven"), it used musical structures from Bach's time clothed with later harmonies, including a fugue and a presentation of the melody in the pedals. When Mendelssohn became interested in Bach's music, he did not play the organ, and took a year off to learn to play the pedals. When he went to England the organs only had vestigial pedal divisions, if any, and the English had to have organs enlarged just so Bach's organ works could be played on them. Thus began the spread of the Geman-style pedalboard to other nearby countries.

Bach's chorale prelude Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele (Deck Thyself, My Soul with Gladness) followed, a familiar favorite, played with passion. It begins with a passage of ornamented parallel sixths, with the chorale tune following as an ornamented solo. Brock closed the program with Bach's Prelude and Fugue in G major, a monumental work with prodigious descending pedal passages throughout the prelude, and with a heart-pounding fugue that might be compared to a rushing river with a huge waterfall at the end. Brock's performance brought the enthusiastic audience to its feet immediately at its conclusion, even before the reverberation of the last chord had died away.

John Brock played at St. Peter previously, in 1999, and was then as now received enthusiastically. To read a review of his 1999 recital, Click Here. We also are grateful to St. Peter Cathedral for sharing with us its marvelous organ, in an amazing acoustic.

Glenn A. Gentry