Thursday, April 15, 2010

Glorious organ sounds

Last night we went to a recital at Oberlin's Fairchild Chapel, where Italian organist Francesco Cera played gorgeous early Italian music. Entering this chapel is already like going back in centuries -- stone, austere shapes, a rounded apse in front, a sense that the electronic "media" world has been completely shut out.

For a little over an hour, we heard the music you might have heard in a (probably more ornate) church in Mantua or Bologna from about 1540 to, say, 1620. The music had a grandeur and precision that seemed to sharpen my senses.

Even the names of the pieces engaged me, because they kept me coming back to the process of creating : "toccata" -- that which is made by touching; "ricercar" -- that which asks you to seek, and seek again; "fantasia" -- that which asks you to use your imagination; and "canzon" -- that which calls on you to sing. And finally, amazingly at the end of a profound and spiritual Organ Mass by Frescobaldi, a "bergamasca" -- a boisterous dance from Bergamo, which in those times was an Italian Hicksville. Like putting country music at the end of a concert of Beethoven! Nothing seemed fixed, nailed down. It was being created at that moment, four hundred years after first being conceived.

I love it when concerts take us past what we are used to. The regularities of Mozart are pretty engrained in my ears at this point. But these were different. Was it the tuning of this organ, which I gather is in a different temperament than I'm used to? or the skill of the organist, who combined steadiness with flexibility? or the writing, frankly different from what we mostly hear today? Certainly VERY different from a standard diet of Bach, great as his music is!

What I especially heard were suspensions and runs. Suspensions -- the held notes that suddenly become lucious dissonances when another close note sneaks in from somewhere. And runs -- the fast sliding intricacies of scales, up and down, underneath a held chord, like the curlicues of a Baroque church made alive and given color and movement.

Here's Cera on a different organ: I hope you enjoy as I did last night!