THUNDER BAY, ON ---- March 5, 2011 ---- The last Sunday of February was “Symphony Sunday” at St, Paul’s United Church. For me it was a special occasion because the concert featured the marvellous sanctuary organ of that church in concert with the TBSO. The all baroque programme was led by the TBSO resident conductor Stéphan Potvin. The featured soloist was Montreal based organist Jonathon Oldengarm.
I like Sunday afternoon concerts. The chance to spend a few moments with live professional music is always a treat. The programs tend to feature lighter music, or at least heavier music in light doses. One of the treats of this concert is the use of music from Monteverdi’s Orfeo. The excerpts served as a grand symphonic introduction to what would follow next. In this case usually an announcement by the conductor or the soloist. Unless you went to see a live production of Orfeo, then you would never have a chance to hear this occasional music. All the more reason to attend a Symphony Sunday Concert.
The first work to use the organ with orchestra was the performance of Handel’s organ concerto in F major. The organ in the sanctuary has the power to bury the entire orchestra. There is a reason why the organ is called the king of instruments. Jonathon had the organ registered in such a way that the solo parts were clearly heard without obscuring the other musicians. It seems the organ was custom built to accommodate such performances by talented performers like Oldengarm.
The following piece was the Grillen-Symphonie or Cricket Symphony translated from German. This was Georg Philip Telemann’s attempt at musical character painting. It is quite possible that Telemann was the baroques most prolific composer, and he was more popular in his day than his contemporary J.S. Bach.
Next came an organ solo, J.S. Bach’s great Fantasia and Fugue in G minor BWV 542. While the fugue may have been written at a later time, the fantasia was written at a most difficult time in Bach’s life, the death of his first wife. He struggled with many issues including his faith and came up with this astounding one of a kind composition. Click on this link to hear Jonathon practicing the fugue from this piece on the organ at First-Wesley Thunder Bay. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOItkMKQaXE.
The second organ work on the programme was the famous gigue fugue by Bach. Here Jonathon chose not to play the large E. Power Biggs version, but instead used the colourful flute and quieter stops on the St. Paul’s organ. It is always nice to hear familiar music played with new insight.
Stephan is a worthy maestro and he deserves an orchestra of his own to direct. Just the same there are times like the Symphony Sunday Concerts when he does have the chance to direct in performance our professional TBSO. During his time here, Stephan has worked hard and developed not only our orchestra but his own abilities as a conductor.
The closing piece to the Sunday afternoon concert was Handel’s Water Music. The five movement piece is a great demonstration of Baroque writing for an occasion. Since it was intended to be played outside, there is prominence given to the brass and wood wind parts as well as some heavy use of timpani. Great performance, great concert.