There is life while the Kotzschmar Organ undergoes repairs, for example the concert series at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, which began Thursday evening with a brilliant and powerful recital by Czech-born organist Karel Paukert.
Paukert can make an organ sing, growl or ascend into heaven, and the acoustics of the Basilica reinforce the sound without undue reverberation. I like to feel the paper of the program vibrate against my fingers when the long pipes sound.
I don’t know how much leeway a composer gives an organist in the choice of stops – judging from the popularity of improvisation, I would say quite a bit – but Paukert’s use of voice combinations was a delight to hear.
There was one section in the Toccata and Fugue in F Minor by Czech composer Bedrich Antonin Wiederman (1883-1951) that consisted of a rapid, light-hearted duet between the oboe and the flute that worked perfectly as a respite from the heavier and more authoritative voices.
The first half of the program consisted of works by little-known (in this country at least) Czech composers, including two strongly written and atmospheric fantasies that gave the impression of improvisations on themes by Smetana. I’m exaggerating, but a river like the Moldau, and its changing aspects, ran through them.
The first half ended with a strongly flavored and dramatic performance of the Postludium from Leos Janacek’s well-known Glagolitic Mass,
Paukert is known at his home base in Cleveland as a champion of new music, and “Albion II,” by his student Greg D’Alessio (b. 1963), effectively combines electronically generated sounds with the organ. The taped sounds were gathered from church organs in the region and modified to sound like an organ with a thousand strange voices. The combination of the real and fanciful was thoroughly enjoyable, even to those who are not great fans of organ music.
An organ recital would be incomplete without a work by Cesar Franck. His Chorale No. 3 in A minor filled the bill perfectly, with its example of how to build a satisfying progression on an instrument without a means to create a real crescendo.
The tour de force of the evening was the concluding work by Olivier Messiaen, “Apparition de l’Eglise eternelle,” consisting of three parts: Les Enfants de Dieu, Les Anges, and Dieu parmi nous.
Technically and spiritually demanding, the score was given a definitive reading. Particularly impressive was the ascent of the angels passage, in which there were references to Messiaen’s “Catalogue d’Oiseaux,” in which he refers to birds as angels and the world’s most consummate musicians.
The organ concert series runs from July 3 through Sept. 27. Friends of the Kotzschmar and other afficianados should check it out.
Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: