Jacob Benda at St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral, October 19, 2018.
Benda opened the program with three pieces by Clarence Mader (1904-1971)-
an American organist and composer whose works he has featured in his
recitals. These were "Fanfare Prelude" with sections alternating between
ff (reeds) and mp (flutes); "Bell Serenade", meditative,
somewhat softer, with arpeggios; and "Afternoon of a Toad", including
solo passages over an "oom-pah" accompaniment. These were mildly dissonant
in style but nevertheless tonal, and followed by spontaneous applause.
The "Andante Sostenuto (II)" from Widor's "Gothique Symphony" (Op. 70,
No. 9, for organ) followed, featuring a large flute melody in a familiar
harmonic style. August Ritter's Organ Sonata No. 2 was to have been next,
but had to be omitted because an unexpected funeral earlier in the day had
prevented Benda from working out the registration. Perhaps we will have
another opportunity one day to hear this unfamiliar piece from the 19th
The program closed with The Seven Last Words and Triumph of Christ, by
Pamela Decker (b. 1955), currently Professor of Organ & Music Theory at the
University of Arizona. There were 9 different movements:
I. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" - with a
large and somewhat polyphonic sound as well as reed solos;
II. "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise" -
also a large sound with considerable movement;
III. "When Jesus therefore saw his mother and the disciple standing by,
whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, 'Woman, behold thy son!
Then saith he unto the disciple, 'Behold thy mother'! - with solos
on reeds representing conversation;
IV. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" - again a large
sound and choppy;
V. "I thirst." - softer, with a solo in the tenor range;
VI. "It is finished." - large pedal sounds, toccata-like, a good
match to the text;
VII. "Father, into Your hands I commend my Spirit" - in form a trio,
with triplet figures in the left hand and a solo in the right - perhaps
a reference to the Trinity;
VIII. Passacaglia: Procession to the Tomb - big chords, s persistent
march with repetitions of a pedal phrase (typical of a passacaglia).
IX. Toccata: the Resurrection. - a variety of sections with some
major tonalities, building to a fortissimo final major chord.
While this program featured mostly unfamiliar music, it was nevertheless
enthusiatically received; partly, I think, because of Benda's virtuosity,
and partly because of the familiarity to the audience of the Seven Last
Words. In regard to the latter, I do feel that it would have added to the
drama if each of the sections had been introduced by a simple reading
aloud of each of the nine passages. Finally, we look forward eagerly to
hearing more from Jacob Benda.
- Glenn A. Gentry