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Russian Fireworks by Daniel Zaretsky

by Richard Parsons

November 4, 2008, Greenville, NC: The East Carolina Musical Arts and Education Foundation, St. Paul's Church, the East Carolina University School of Music, and the East Carolina Chapter of the American Guild of Organists presented Daniel Zaretsky, Organist of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Hall, in a powerful recital of well-known and also some little-known organ works. Zaretsky played the remarkable C. B. Fisk instrument in St. Paul's Church.

Zaretsky began with J.S. Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C, S.545, not the most famous of Bach's "big" preludes and fugues, but definitely one offering much opportunity for Zaretsky's showmanship, especially at the quite brisk tempo chosen. The chairs in the nave of the church had been reversed so they faced the organ, giving the audience a clear view of Zaretsky's incredible footwork. Even at his lightning pace, it was clear that every note was precisely sounded and just as precisely released.

The next section of the program was "Vor deinen Thron" and "Komm heiliger Geist" (S.668 and 651) from the Leipzig or Eighteen Great chorale preludes. "Vor deinen Thron" was taken at a fast tempo with an excellently balanced registration contrasting foundation stops with the Sesquialtera. Zaretsky's performance of "Komm, heiliger Geist" was also fast and not altogether distinct.

After the Bach, it was obvious that the Chorale Variations of Sergey Taneev [also seen as Tanejev] (1856-1915) were still firmly grounded in traditional harmony. The final variation had a bravura toccata ending.

The Passacaglia of Christophor Kushnarev (1890-1960) was very much modeled on Bach's work by the same name, although it is much more phantasmagoric. The piece built to a gigantic climax, but that may be as much Zaretsky and St. Paul's Fisk as it is Kushnarev.

Ernst Koehler's Variations on the Old Russian National Anthem were taken by Zaretsky as another opportunity to make thorough and very precise use of the organ's extensive combination action. With 44 voices disposed on three manuals and pedal, including both French and German reeds, there are great possibilities for changes of color. Zaretsky exploited many of these, using the combination action, which had clearly been carefully set beforehand; Zaretsky, a fiery and bombastic player, seldom pulled a stop knob but chose to effect his registrations using the combination pistons.

From Eugene Gigout's 10 pièces pour orgue, Zaretsky played the Menuett and then, subito, the Toccata. St. Paul's has a reverberation period of five or six seconds. Zaretsky clearly enjoyed this lushness and incorporated the acoustic into his performance, pausing long enough to let the room clear before beginning a new phrase.

From Widor's Fifth Symphony, Op. 42, came the seldom-heard Adagio and the ever-so-frequently heard Toccata. The St. Paul's Fisk, almost entirely pure Cavaille-Coll, right down to Steve Kowalyshyn's improvement on the Barker levers, offers a rare opportunity to hear Widor approximately as intended. Zaretsky's facile fingers and deft feet, along with his masterful sense of rhythm, did the piece complete justice.

Just as fireworks impresarios finish off with the biggest, loudest display they can manage, Zaretsky finished the evening by bringing to bear the full resources of the Fisk for a thunderous, deafening, Carillon de Westminster by Louis Vierne.

I don't know that I have ever been to such a powerful, non-stop recital in my life. Zaretsky's talent was unremitting; his program was demanding; his skills unarguable. With every new piece I wondered how much more intensity could be brought out in one concert. Zaretsky put on a rare display of rhythm and power.

   
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