A few steps east of Grand Avenue on Ninth Street, Kansas City’s Grand Avenue Temple United Methodist Church was host, Monday, to an organ recital by one of the world’s most esteemed pipe organ concert artists, Thomas Murray. Mr. Murray has taught organ at Yale for 32 years, and is currently University Organist and Professor of Organ. He has taught many of today’s important organists, played many of the important organs of the world, played with many respected ensembles, and his recordings are in much demand.
Many people pass by Grand Avenue Temple (1912) each day little realizing that it and the E. M. Skinner, Opus 190, pipe organ (1912) are on the National Historic Registry. The organ is the oldest four-manual E M Skinner that has not been altered by follow-on craftsmen. He returned in 1948 at age 83 for some updating. Currently it is maintained per original specifications by Mike Quimby and Eric Johnson of Warrensburg’s Quimby Pipe Organs, Inc.
J. S. Bach’s opening Sinfonia, from Cantata #29: Wir danken dir, Gott, was originally a violin concerto and, as was common in Bach’s day, was repurposed to the cantata. Rachmaninoff, in turn, featured it as a piano solo. Tonight’s arrangement for organ was by Harvey Grace (1874-1944). It was delightfully lively, assertive, contrapuntal (of course) and a perfect starter.
César Franck’s Fantaisie in A, began with somber tones, but quickly parted the clouds to admit some major sunshine. A section followed that could accompany ice skating. There followed a section of Vierne-like flying notes accompaniment, but the slow melody was in a piccolo solo instead of the pedals.
For a man who is reputed to have said, “In my eyes and ears the organ will forever be the King of Instruments,” Wolfgang Mozart (1765-1791) left little literature for the instrument. W. A. Mozart’s, “Fugue in g, with Introduction,” (by George Thalben-Ball) K 401, was written for a mechanical musical clock (popular in the day) which had maximum 8′ pipes. The texture was Bach-like counterpoint, pleasant to ponder, but contains little of the Mozartean fire.
“Four Sketches for Organ or Pedal-Piano,” opus 58, by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was based on a thrice stated dotted figure with a two-note landing, which was more than completely mined by the end of four movements. What was actually more a set of variations than anything else did jump through several staccato, legato, and dream-like hoops, but was not up to some of the great variation works. The hunting horn section added some grandeur; Mr. Murray gave it the most benefit, using the many sounds of this great instrument.
Edvard Grieg’s (1843-1907) Suite “From Holberg’s Time,” opus 40, transcribed for organ by Richard Ellsasser (1926-1972) was a heavy dessert. It varied from demanding notes flying every which way to majestic. pomp and circumstance. The opening, “Praeludium: Allegro vivace,” was regally hurried; played as grandly as vivace will allow. The “Air: Andante religioso,” had a Handelian feel, two centuries after that composer was working. Overall, it was an altogether pleasurable experience to be in the same room.