One of the attractions of The Portland Conservatory of Music’s free, weekly Noonday Concerts is that for the most part, the roster changes from year to year, so that you never know exactly what to expect. But the series also has a few reliable pillars, among them an annual recital by Harold Stover, an organist and composer whose thoughtful programs have been consistently satisfying, whether he is playing his own music or works from the standard canon.

For this year’s installment, on Thursday afternoon on the organ of First Parish Universalist Unitarian Church, Stover did both, offering Bach and Mendelssohn scores, as well as his own “The Garden Hymn” (1981) and a new work, “Feria” (2017).

His Bach selection, the four-movement “Pastorale” (BWV 590), is something of a mystery among Bach’s organ pieces. Because it was published late in the 19th century, and because no score in Bach’s handwriting is known to exist, there was a period when some Bach scholars doubted its authenticity. These days, it is generally accepted as legitimate, but it poses a few unsolved riddles.

The biggest one is that a pastorale is generally a single-movement Christmas work, meant to evoke the shepherds in the fields on Christmas Eve by alluding to the sound of shepherds’ pipes, and no one has offered a plausible reason why this one should have four movements. Some musicologists have proposed that the four short pieces were not meant to be parts of the same work.

Stover left that debate unsolved, but for anyone inclined to hear the four movements as a single work, his performance provided a reasonable argument, mainly because he brought out the gentle qualities, typical of the form, in the first three movements and gave the fourth a reedy, shepherds’ pipe sound.

He was remarkably consistent in his coloration within each of the short movements. If he began with a transparent flute sound, for example, he maintained it straight through. Not so in his account of Mendelssohn’s Sonata No. 2 in C minor (Op. 65, No. 2), a more overtly colorful piece that speaks in the harmonic language of the early 19th century while also glancing back to Bach, particularly in its closing fugue. Here, Stover used the organ’s registration more fluidly as he moved between bright, outgoing passages and gauzy, introspective ones.

Just as Mendelssohn kept Bach in view when he composed his sonata, Stover looked back to a late 18th-, early 19th-century New England composer Jeremiah Ingalls in “The Garden Hymn.”

The hymn tune, included in Ingalls’ 1805 collection, “The Christian Harmony,” is simple, direct and rhythmically square, as hymns tend to be, and Stover gradually and gracefully unwound it in a series of variations.

His expansions are deferential: The hymn is never altered so much as to become unrecognizable, and Stover’s reconfiguration of the harmony, though moving toward a modern sensibility, keeps clear of wild-eyed dissonance. There is, however, a hint of Minimalism here: Toward the end of the piece, Stover breaks the hymn into short phrases, repeating them several times before returning to the full melody.

“Feria” is a more extroverted work, full of fanfare-like figures, brash chords and involved figuration, all of which create an appealingly festive spirit. It is a short, beautifully self-contained piece, although you can easily imagine it as the opening blast of a more expansive work.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: kozinn


CORRECTION: This story was updated at 4:14 p.m. on Nov. 6, 2017, to correct the location of the next Noonday Concert.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.