Organist Fishell puts Franck’s majesty, beauty on full display


By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer

It took Janette Fishell 21 concerts spread over a period of three-plus years to display for us her mastery of and love for the organ music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. It will take just two programs for organist Fishell to share her commitment to Cesar Franck.

One half of this latest commitment was presented Monday evening in Auer Hall. The rest will follow Jan. 10. Take note.

True it is that composer/organist/pianist/teacher Franck was far less productive as composer than his far more famous predecessor. But this Belgian-born, then turned French musician did impressively whatever he chose to do, and that certainly includes what he created for his dearly beloved instrument, the organ. The combination of Franck and Fishell and that marvelous organ of endless capacity in Auer Hall proved illuminating and exciting.

The repertoire Fishell chose for her program 1 were Franck’s Three Pieces, written in 1878, and his Three Chorales, composed during the last year of his life, 1890. Fishell says she was drawn early to Franck’s music and that the magnetism has grown ever since. She seems to need authority over his output, stating that in the organ works of Franck and Bach, there exists “the very epicenter of an organist’s artistic formation.”

Since Fishell is chair of the organ department in IU’s Jacobs School, she apparently feels a double need, meaning not just for herself but also for the department’s organ majors. They need, she explains, to understand Franck’s chromatic language and to “work diligently to stretch the hand, in order to span veritable cathedrals of chords, while also reveling in the majesty of Franck’s Maestosos and the sumptuous beauty of his pliable melodies.”

“Maestoso” refers to music the dictionary defines as “majestic, dignified, a style characterized by lofty breadth.” Fishell made sure to prove the dictionary right. What one heard was about 80 minutes of uninterrupted majesty, dignity and lofty breadth. She took commanding charge as she made page after page after page come to life.

One wondered how many notes could be compressed into that period of time: notes from the keyboards, from the pedals, from chords, from runs and trills. Well, Fishell compressed and made magnificent music to hear out of them, of composer Franck’s pieces and chorales as he must have wanted them to be played. Adding to the inspired scores that Franck left, Fishell read the music with a depth of understanding and, one supposes, profound reverence.

While acknowledging applause and cheers at program’s end, she raised one hand in salute to the organ and, one can assume, to Cesar Franck. A trio: score, organ, and organist. Together, they deserve high praise.

© Herald Times Online 2016

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