REVIEW: Seasons of Sebastian XIII (HT – Jacobi)


Organist accomplishes strenuous feat of more than an hour’s worth of music

By Peter JacobiH-T Reviewer |
September 19, 2012

Good planning: Janette Fishell chose to give her latest installment of “Seasons of Sebastian,” No. 13, while more than 60 Indiana University Jacobs School organ department alumni were in town for a three-day reunion conference.

That permitted them to hear the current chairman of the department at the superb Fisk organ in Auer Hall, an instrument new to the many who graduated before its installment. It permitted them to hear the gifted Fishell do what she loves most at the organ: play the music of Bach.

Her intention with the “Seasons of Sebastian” cycle, if you’ll recall, is to play everything extant that Bach wrote for the organ, an inconceivably mammoth task, not only for the voluminous amount he did write but also because so much of it is so difficult.

On Monday evening, she focused on a topic, “Five Degrees of Separation,” thereby dealing with keys and key relationships in a concert of pieces so positioned that each one’s tonal center had five degrees of separation from those of the works that immediately preceded and succeeded it.

Intriguing, but what really counted for this listener was that Fishell sat at the organ for an hour and a half of music. The preparation for such a strenuous feat boggles the mind. It was difficult enough just to take in the richness of fare as a listener, but for an organist to have fought her way through all those scores was beyond belief. And she did so, even more remarkably, as if the achievement was no struggle at all.

One heard lovely chorales, such as the comforting “Erbarme dich mein, O Herre Gott,” Bach’s setting of Psalm 51 (“Be merciful to me, O Lord God”); “Jesu meine Freude” (“Jesus, my Joy, pasture of my heart”), with its unusual, coloratura-style use of the flute stop; the serene “Vater Unser im Himmelreich” (“Our Father, Who Art in Heaven”); the oft-used in Bach’s time “Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend” (“Lord Jesus Christ, be present now”); the toy stop-punctuated setting of Martin Luther’s Advent hymn, “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein” (“Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice”), and “Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend” (“Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now”).

Add four Prelude and Fugue and two Toccata and Fugue combinations, ending with the glorious Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564, and that, prodigiously, is what Fishell offered her listeners. Each of those combines is a technical minefield, requiring consistent and exemplary virtuosity, which Fishell supplied unsparingly and unerringly.

For Fishell: highest praise for her daring, her labor and her conquest. From Bach: reminders of how deep his faith, how rich his mind in musical ideas and how incredible his genius.

Next for Fishell: “Seasons of Sebastian, Concert XIV” on Dec. 6 at 12:15 p.m. in Beck Chapel. The theme: “Sleepers, wake! Music preparation and celebration.”

Copyright: 2012

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