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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 14, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 02
French organ music suffers out of context
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French organ music suffers out of context

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Organ concert
by Joseph Adam
January 10
Benaroya Hall


When I asked an organist friend about the then-brand-new organ at Benaroya Hall, his response revealed that he could not give serious consideration to any organ stuck in the relatively dead acoustic of a symphony hall. He, of course, was an organist at a cathedral! Inwardly I scoffed at his snobbery.

Sadly, I felt the full impact of his pronouncement during the opening works of this concert. The brilliance of Jehan Alain's 'Litanies for Organ' and 'Trios Danses' was almost snuffed out for lack of cathedral acoustics. I had only minor reservations about the choices Joseph Adam made in playing these pieces; the stops he chose were fine. Perhaps the interpretations were on the tame side, but it was the missing resonance that did them in. The wild exclamations of the young composer had no stone walls to bounce off of, no support from the room. The emotions in the music seemed muffled.

Perhaps it was my lesser acquaintance with the subsequent works that made them seem to suffer less from our location. Maurice Duruflé's 'Prelude and Fugue on the name A.L.A.I.N.' came off very well indeed. I decided perhaps I had not made a mistake in attending this concert.

Louis Vierne's 'Organ Symphony No. 6' filled the second half. Here Joseph Adam seemed a true master, completely at home in a work he obviously loved. Having never heard it before, I found it completely accessible and delightful. The composer's use of classical structures gave a familiar frame to his more 20th-century tonalities. Adam's obvious familiarity with the Watjen Concert Organ showed in his judicious registrations. Indeed, he made the best argument for the use of this instrument in music written for the entirely different acoustical world of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.

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