Music reviews: Weekend keyboard recitals featured challenging programs
June 25, 2013
A pair of weekend recitals featured gifted keyboard artists unwilling to play it safe: organist Janette Fishell and pianist Emile Naoumoff. They always tend to give their all and then some while engaged in the most challenging of repertoire.
Fishell on Friday evening in Indiana University’s Auer Hall offered the 19th of her 21-concert series titled “Seasons of Sebastian,” meaning her traversal through everything Johann Sebastian Bach wrote for the organ. This session she titled “A Summer Solstice Bach Bash,” in recognition of the date, which marked the start of summer.
What does the solstice have to do with Bach? “The short answer,” Fishell explained in program notes, “is probably nothing. However, a night such as this leads one to consider the unity of Heaven and Earth, the symbolism of light and dark, and the importance of numbers and balance in the ordering of this planet and the creatures who live on it.”
More explanation followed about Bach’s interest in numerical symbolism and the specific date, 6/21, but suffice to say, Fishell chose for the concert, in her words, “human works of great mastery and perfection that portray the duality of the human condition.”
Suffice to say also that one heard amazing music played amazingly well, starting with a tripping-the-light-fantastic Duetto in G Major from “Clavierubung III,” a work meant for “ubung,” practice, but that releases an aura of calm and peace appropriate for church service.
The relatively brief Duetto was followed by a Partita of extended length consisting of variations built on the chorale, “Sei gegrusset, Jesu gutig” (“Hail to Thee, Kind Jesus”). For Fishell, that meant invading an ever-shifting soundscape of inventions Bach’s fertile imagination shaped on an affecting choral setting.
The Fugue in G Major (“a la Gigue”), BWV 577, gave the organist some lively dance music. Higher drama suffused “Christ lag in Todesbanden” (“Christ Lay in Death’s Bonds”). And to conclude, Fishell turned to the mighty Toccata and Fugue in F Major, BWV 540, a work of glorious sounds and intricate enough to make it virtually unplayable, save by the best of organists. Fishell assuredly is one of them.