Christie’s organ recital features the Baroque and Romantica

By
Monday, February 4, 2008

James David Christie delivered the annual E. J. Lownes Memorial Organ Recital Sunday afternoon in Sayles Hall, demonstrating that a top-notch concert need not include composers with household names. He performed the hour-long recital without an intermission, assuring the good-sized audience that it would be finished in time for the Super Bowl.

Christie’s program was divided into two sections, the first containing Baroque and early music and the second containing more recent Romantic music. The concert opened with Charles Piroye’s “La Beatitude,” from 1711. The piece’s quiet interludes contrasted with its exuberant and joyful sections, which made good use of the organ’s trumpets.

Another Baroque piece was “Praeludium d-moll” by Georg Bohm, one of J. S. Bach’s teachers. The piece consisted of three parts: a foreboding prelude including an extended pedal solo played without the hands, a traditional fugue – a type of piece centered on a single theme – and a rollicking dance at the end.

Christie transitioned to the second part of his program with “Sortie” from J. Guy Ropartz’s “Six Pieces.” By turns thundering and reflective, the piece was strikingly similar to Piroye’s even though it was composed in a different style. Christie used the organ’s swell shutters – wooden slats that open and close to vary the instrument’s volume – to good effect and showcased a variety of sounds.

Albert Alain’s “Scherzo” was a change of pace from the rest of the concert. Composed in 1911 as a wedding gift for his wife Madeline, the piece had a humorous and even slapstick quality.

Pipe organs are often seen as Gothic instruments, and Jean Langlais’ “Suite Medievale” showed where this idea comes from. Clearly meant to evoke the Middle Ages, the sometimes-discordant work sounded dark and evil.

Christie told the audience that Langlais was one of his major influences, and he played an original composition, “Elegie,” in memory of this famous blind organist. Making use of the instrument’s strings and flutes, Christie performed the contemplative piece with great feeling. It is a rare pleasure to hear music played by its composer, and “Elegie” was the concert’s highlight.

The afternoon concluded with the third movement of Alexandre Guilmant’s “Sonata No. 1 in D Minor,” a virtuoso piece originally written for organ and orchestra but transcribed by Christie for organ alone. A Frenchman, Guilmant embarked on an American tour in 1908 during which he played in Providence.

James David Christie is the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s organist and teaches at Wellesley College and the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. He also leads Ensemble Abendmusik, a period instrument group in Boston. Christie has played concerts in Europe, Asia, North America and Australia.

On Feb. 9, Christie will hold an organ master class in Sayles. The event starts at 11 a.m. and is open to the public.

Sunday’s concert was presented by the Edgar John Lownes Memorial Day Fund and sponsored by the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life. The fund was endowed in 1924 by Therese Lownes in memory of her husband, according to Encyclopedia Brunoniana.