Gail Archer at St. Peter Catholic Cathedral, Jackson, MS, March 1, 2019.
Archer began with Bach's Praeludium et Fugue in e (BWV 548). It was
so commanding that I immediately closed my eyes and imagined I was
transported all the way back in time to the 1700s, and all the way
to Germany, into a typical north German church with very live acoustics
and an organ perhaps from Schnitger, with J. S. Bach at the console,
playing his own work. It was pure magic. Archer then continued the
magic with Bach's chorale prelude "An Wasserflussen Babylon" (BWV 653),
with the cantus firmus in the tenor line and played on the Cromorne
and, for the feet, a double pedal line.
Next we heard, from Schumann's "Sechs Fugen uber den Namen Bach" Op. 60,
No. 5, very detached and with a relatively light registration. The
actual notes in the German system were Bb (for "B"), A (for "A"),
C ("C"), and H (for "B natural").
Then we heard "Prelude for Organ in F Major", a big piece by Fanny
Mendelssohn Hensel, sister of Felix Mendelssohn.
This was followed by No. 6 from Schumann's "Sechs Fugen...", somewhat
simpler than No. 5 (above), but very solid and smooth.
The next four pieces were a kaleidoscope of organ music from the 20th
and 21st centuries. They began with Judith Shattin's "Dust and Shadows",
commissioned by Archer in 2017, that included passages that sounded as
if there were a swellbox (which there wasn't). Next was "Elegy", by
Mary Howe (1882-1964), another big piece. This was followed by "Toccata"
by Sergei Slonimsky (b. 1932). It began with a series of very big but
short chords, that got the listener's attention, continued, and ended
with a very big sound. The last of this group was the Prelude and Fugue
by Alexander Shaversaschvili. While all four of these were tonal, they
each stretched that designation in their own unique way.
The program closed with Zsigmond Szathmary's 2012 transcription of
"Night on Bald Mountain", a monumental piece by Modest Mussorgsky
(1839-1881), given a rousing performance by the intrepid Archer.
Here is a quote from a review of Archer's program at Galloway Methodist
Church, November 8, 2008 (from The Continuo):
"Archer's playing was brilliant, and she got sounds from the [organ]
that most of us had not heard before...she had total control of her
fingers and feet, but additionally used her ears most impressively."
Glenn A. Gentry