Robert Knupp at St. Peter Catholic Cathedral, February 9, 2018.
Knupp opened the program with some of Maurice Duruflé's most
accessible organ music - three variations on "Veni Creator", from
the Prelude, Adagio, and Chorale, Op. 4. The first two, on various
flues, were followed by a grand piece featuring reeds and the melodic
use of the pedals.
In welcome contrast Knupp then played Movement II - "Chorale" - from
Widor's Organ Symphony No. 10, a calm and peaceful precursor to what
followed the 1st movement - "Allegro" - from Widor's 6th Symphony, in my
view the most exciting piece in all of Widor's symphonies - even moreso
than the famous "Toccata" from the 5th. Knupp gave it the performance
it deserved - bold, and aggressive, with a flawless rendition of one of
the longer rhythmic strings of 2 vs 3 vs 4 in the organ literature.
In another contrast, the audience - led with the organ alone - sang
three verses of the hymn "Lord, You Give the Great Commission", tune
Abbott's Leigh with an upward shift in dynamics for the last verse.
I recall Craig Cramer's dedicatory recital in the 1980s, when he
led - again with the organ alone - the audience in singing "A Mighty
Fortress" to great effect. Including a hymn in an organ recital is not
done very often, but for me it is a sine qua non. It is also a
custom for each recital in the Organ Historical Society's national
conventions. Their reasoning is that leading congregational singing is
the first and foremost function of any church organ, and that how well
the organ functions in that role deserves to be heard.
Larry King's "Resurrection" followed. It began with some small and
stark passages in a contemporary but tonal style that initially made
me wonder where it would end, but then developed slowly and powerfully
so that it became one of my favorites of the evening. Symbolically it
suggested that rebirth (or resurrection) is not a sudden process but
a long and painful one that nevertheless manages to blossom into a
triumph as it progresses.
Again another marked contrast, with Joel Rainey's "Variations on
Amazing Grace". There were four, 1st with an ornamented melody,
2nd principals with strings, that included some "blue" notes,
3rd, a full and jazzy version (reminiscent of Dixieland), and
finally a more straightforward (but still full) one.
Knupp then turned to the German literature, with Bach's Prelude and
Fugue in c minor (BWV 546), a full and satisfying experience like a
powerful river relentlessly flowing to the sea. Interestingly, the
fugue was composed in 1716 and the prelude some 14 years later. Did
Bach's style mature significantly during those years? Although it
would be hard to say, it is interesting to consider.
Finally, just as in many great individual organ pieces in which the
end develops relentlessly and concludes with a majestic climax (as
in Bach's Passacaglia & Fugue in c minor), this entire recital also
underwent such a development, ending with a great finality in the
3rd movement of Julius Reubke's sonata on the 94th Psalm. Knupp gave
a passionate and powerful reading of this work, which occasional
inspired feelings of foreboding similar to those encountered in
Mulet's toccata "Tu Es Petra". It is worth quoting two verses from
Psalm 94: vs3, "Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall
the wicked triumph?" and vs22, "But the Lord is my defence, and my
God is the rock of my refuge".
We are grateful to St. Peter Cathedral, not only for sharing their
remarkable organ with the community, but also for sponsoring this
series of three outstanding organ recitals.
Glenn A. Gentry