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The fourth and final concert in Chapel Hill's University United Methodist Church's Summer Serenade series was an organ recital by the parish's assistant organist, W. Sands Hobgood, given on the evening of August 15. He played a diversified program that put on display not only his skill and talents but also many of the capabilities of the Moller instrument itself, details of which were given in a note on the reverse of the program. It would have been good if they had been provided in the programs of the earlier recitals as well.
The program opened with Felix Mendelssohn's Praeludium and Fuga No. II, in G. Like Saint-Saëns, Mendelssohn can always be counted on for a lovely melody and this work started out with it. There was, alas, some inappropriate applause between the two halves that broke the spell cast by the music and the excellent playing. Indeed, throughout the recital, there was confusion amongst the listeners about when and when not to applaud. Hobgood gave a hint for the succeeding set of three shorter works by Czech "Masters" by saying that he would play them as a group, but he could work on using body language to signal when applause is appropriate. Both Baker and Race, who preceded him at the manuals on this series, were better at this.
The aforementioned set of Czech pieces was interesting. It began with an upbeat and melodic Toccata in C by Baroque composer Bohuslav Matej Cernohorsky that utilized a pedal point extensively, continued with an Andante in a Minor by Romantic Jan Krtitel Kuchar that used no pedal at all, and ended with a Preludium et fughetta in D by late Romantic Antonin Dvorák that served as a comparison and contrast with the opening Mendelssohn. The Kuchar struck this listener as the least interesting of the three, but the set was nicely varied. Hobgood has a particular interest in Czech organ music and plans to head to the Czech Republic next summer to take this program "on the road."
Next up was J.S. Bach's chorale prelude "Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele," S.654, which utilized the pipes in the gallery division of the organ exclusively, whereas the previous works had called for pipes in both that and the chancel division. In mood, it was slow and quiet for the most part, thus making a good contrast with the work it followed. Further contrast was in store with a leap into the 20th century for Gian Carlo Menotti's Ricercare. This is a rather eclectic piece, as Hobgood indicated when he announced that the church's sexton had quipped, after hearing him practice it one day, that it sounded like a lot of unrelated things strung together. Indeed it did, one section evoking to this listener's mind the sound of a carousel organ; it struck me as interesting but not memorable, and while I might like to enjoy another hearing before passing final judgment, I won't rush out to purchase a recording to be able to do so.
Hobgood concluded the intermission-less recital, played to a good-sized audience if far from a full house, with an arrangement by Jean Langlais of "Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound," apparently made after he heard Joan Baez sing the hymn, already familiar to him from his visits to the USA, in his own church, Notre-Dame de Paris. It contains an interesting variety of melodic treatments and uses of different ranks of pipes. As an encore, the artist offered Emma Lou Diemer's arrangement of the hymn "Jesus Calls Us" that showed far less variety but made for an appropriately peaceful conclusion. There were no printed program notes, but Hobgood made comments orally to introduce each work beginning after the Mendelssohn.
Organ recitals of this type were once extremely popular, drawing crowds in the way that rock groups do today in such venues as Walnut Creek. Well-known organists like Jean Langlais made extensive concert tours, playing on major instruments in churches and commercial venues such as movie theaters and even department stores around the Western world. Many major urban parishes offered weekly organ recitals by their titular organists and occasional guests that were well attended if not drawing crowds. While it would be unrealistic to hope for a return to that era, because there are far more things that attract our attention and eat up our time than was the case then, it would be nice to have an increase in such opportunities. UUMC is to be praised for its effort in this direction with this series. Donations made by listeners attending concerts in the series will go toward the purchase of an additional rank of pipes in the gallery division of the organ in celebration of its 25th anniversary next year. Hopefully, this series, new this year, will be continued next year as well, for it was of very high quality and most welcome in the August classical musical drought. A bit more thorough effort with publicity aimed at the general public might attract more listeners from outside the parish, which appeared to be the primary source of the attendees, with the performances of its titular organists drawing the largest crowds.