ISO presents an all-French program 

Hilbert Circle's theater organ featured

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click to enlarge Guest conductor Matthew Halls
  • Guest conductor Matthew Halls

The ISO's three-manual Wurlitzer pipe organ, now having been installed for several years in the Circle Theatre, doesn't see much action in the classical series for one good reason: The repertoire for organ and orchestra is severely limited. In fact there are scarcely any surviving concerted works for that combination. The one prominent exception is the Symphony in D Minor for Organ and Orchestra by Felix-Alexander Guilmant (1837-1911), which we heard in Friday's program, featuring the celebrated organist Paul Jacobs. Guest conductor Matthew Halls led from the podium.

Guilmant is better known as a provider of organ pieces used in church services as pre-sermon "anthems"; his name was familiar to me as a child attending a Methodist church. The style was always generic middle Romanticism. And so is his symphony, a product of 1874.

It is difficult to appraise Jacobs' interpretive prowess when compared with any orchestral instrument. Suffice it to say that he appeared to control the vast number of timbres with all the dynamic shading, finger and pedal work the writing called for. The low pedals always put out the deepest bass ever heard in that hall--such that the bass drum was inaudible against all that pedal-point. Halls (and Jacobs) saw to it that organ and orchestra co-dominated the sound in the tutti (all playing at once) passages with excellent balance.

click to enlarge Organist Paul Jacobs
  • Organist Paul Jacobs

Hall began the program with Olivier Messiaen's Les Offrandes Oubliées (The Forgotten Offerings), a scene painting of Christ's crucifixion, resurrection and celebration of the Eucharist (Messiaen was a devout Catholic). The three parts each contain its share of fast and slow--loud and soft. Our conductor seemed to have the measure of the work from start to finish.

Following intermission we heard Darius Milhaud's better known ballet music from La création du monde (The Creation of the Earth, 1923), using only 17 players, one of them playing an added jazz drum set. Indeed the musical depiction has a number of jazz allusions, and derives from referencing African creation myths.

Last but far from least came Ravel's suite from his ballet music to Ma Mère l'oye (Mother Goose). Though the composer wrote his ballet with children in mind, it exudes a languid sensuousness in a work dominated by softness. The one exception is "Laideronette, impératrice des pagodes" (Little Ugly Girl, Empress of the Pagodas), with high percussion given a Chinese flair, the most familiar section to the concertgoing public. However, the best excerpt is the final one: "Le jardin féerique" (The Enchanted Garden). Only Ravel could "move his harmony" in this way. A good performance, by the way. April 22

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