2015 OHS convention and Gabriel Pierné

From Steve Keyl: In late June and the first days of July 2015 the Organ Historical Society met for its annual convention in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts. Unlike Tucson, where apart from San Xavier and parts of downtown everything is new, in rural New England you often find churches 150 to 200 years old. We spent much of our time in small Congregational, Methodist, or Unitarian churches of classic design, listening to short recitals on organs by the 19th- and early 20th-century Massachusetts builders William Johnson, Steere & Turner, and Emmons Howard. Most were furnished with 8 to 12 stops on two manuals with pedal, very mild and sweet in sound, with the manual stops mostly at 8′ pitch.


Gabriel Pierné

A vivid contrast to the understated charm of these early American gems were two Casavant organs from the 1890s, the oldest surviving Casavants in the U.S. Despite their modest size, they had a distinctly French character. On one of these instruments I heard a real revelation: the Trois Pièces (Op. 29) of Gabriel Pierné, beautifully played by Christopher Marks. The set consists of a brooding Prélude, a gorgeously lyrical Cantilène, and a Scherzando in fugal form. Not long ago I played the first two on the Fritts organ at St. Alban’s (they translated surprisingly well to the Fritts), and I recommend them highly. Pierné (1863–1937) was Franck’s successor at Ste. Clotilde, where he served from 1890 to 1898. Later he was well known as an orchestral conductor, composing and conducting for ballet, among other things. The Cantilène, marked molto espressivo, would not be at all out of place in the realm of ballet. It is not to be missed! The Trois Pièces are in the public domain and can be downloaded from IMSLP at http://imslp.org/wiki/3_Pièces,_Op.29_(Pierné,_Gabriel). You can hear a performance of the Prélude by Olivier Latry at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypmii8guq-w.

Of course larger organs were featured too, some in the brief daytime recitals and some in longer evening concerts. A highlight for many was the final evening concert, played by Nathan Laube on two organs in the Abbey Chapel of Mount Holyoke College. The first half of his program consisted of early music (Buxtehude, Antoni van Noordt, Alessandro Poglietti, M. Rossi) on the Fisk organ (1985) in the rear gallery, while the second half featured 20th-century music (Jongen, Howells, Dupré) on the E. M. Skinner & Son organ (1938) in chambers at the front. The two halves of the concert were an enormous contrast in sound, repertory, and playing technique, and Mr. Laube was equally brilliant in both. The concert was webcast live on the OHS website, and the OHS intends to make the video available for online viewing. Nathan Laube will perform in the coming season at Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Green Valley and will give a master class at Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tucson. See the Events area of this website for details!

Among many fine performers heard at the convention I will mention one more: Monica Czausz, who grew up in western Massachusetts and is now a senior at Rice University. Ms. Czausz played a difficult program (Widor, Alkan, Schumann, Nevin, Saint-Saëns), mostly from memory, brilliantly and with great elegance. Watch for her in the future.

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