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A moderate-size but appreciative audience braved the elements on October 25 to hear organist Hyeon Jeong in a Music for a Great Space Series recital on the C. B. Fisk organ, Op. 82, at Greensboro's Christ United Methodist Church. This recital was the second in the acclaimed Music for a Great Space Series, celebrating its eleventh season. The recital featured a seasoned artist in a creative program on one of North Carolina's most important organs.
Dr. Jeong was born and educated in Korea (Yonsei University in Seoul), and earned advanced degrees from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and from the University of Michigan. She now lives and works in Dallas, Texas, and maintains a busy recital schedule. Her training and experience (including a lauréates medal at the prestigious Grand Prix de Chartres in 1994) equip her to perform difficult and impressive organ works. Such was the case for her recital consisting of 20th-century music.
The first half of her program consisted of movements extracted from larger works by Parisian composers, which together formed a kind of symphonic structure. The imposing first and the lyrical fourth movements from Symphony No. 3 by Louis Vierne formed a suitable opening allegro and adagio. These were followed by the capricious Thème et Variations from Jean Langlais' Hommage à Frescobaldi and concluded with the menacing and rarely-heard Final from Vierne's Symphony No. 4.
The Allegro Maestoso from Vierne's Third Symphony had plenty of guts (aided in no small measure by the robust voicing of the Fisk organ) but needed less agitation and more of the maestoso quality. Additional reverberation would have helped; this is truly music for a much greater space than Christ Church, namely Vierne's beloved Notre Dame Cathedral. Langlais' variations were sensitively rendered, and the concluding variation (once the correct registration was negotiated by her assistant) was breathtaking. The final movement from Vierne's Fourth Symphony came off cautiously but had no less the requisite energy.
The second half, as described by the artist, featured composers of different nationalities in works from more recent times. She began with another French piece, the Deuxième Fantaisie by Jehan Alain, a gifted composer whose life was cut short during World War II. The Fantaisie , typical of his unique and idiosyncratic compositional style, is one of the most demanding of his works to interpret. Jeong's treatment of the middle and concluding sections was compelling, but I wished for a more spontaneous, contemplative opening. I commend her handling of the Fisk organ in this work especially.
Following the very serious Alain work was a not-serious-at-all trifle from young American composer Mark Kurtz's Mechanical Action entitled "Wind-Up Monkey." Although it comes across as lightweight, the performer's rhythmic accuracy is decidedly on the line. Jeong rose to the challenge, much to the delight of the audience.
Swiss organist and composer Guy Bovet was represented in two movements from his Trois Préludes Hamburgeois . These preludes, as described by the artist, stemmed from the composer's travels. "Sarasota" was inspired by Bovet's visits to that Florida city as well as other southern U. S. cities like New Orleans. The playing oscillated nicely between sentimental and flippant. "Hamburg" (also entitled "Hamburger Totentanz") is based on a four-handed improvisation in which the composer took part. The music was a blending of Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre and Czech composer Petr Eben's Moto Ostinato from Sunday Music and humorously weaves in thematic fragments from Offenbach's famous Barcarole from The Tales of Hoffman , Beethoven's "Für Elise," and Wagner's Flying Dutchman. Even with the organ's wind stabilizer, the music seemed to bog down a bit toward the end, instead of taking off in a whirlwind customarily associated with the "dance of death."
Finally, the aforementioned composer Eben was heard in his Festive Voluntary: Variations on Good King Wenceslas, written for the dedication of the rebuilt organ at England's Chichester Cathedral. Here Jeong was most clearly in her element: technique, musicianship, and understanding of the organ came together in a truly mesmerizing interpretation. Members of the audience should count themselves lucky; one may not experience the same result under the same or similar circumstances - such is the mystery of musical performance. With artists like Hyeon Jeong, Christ Church should be packed for this and all presentations by MGS, which ranks right up with the best concert series anywhere in the state. CVNC readers may ... phone 336/275-7171 to get a listing of the year's offerings, which include the incomparable duo of William Bolcom and Joan Morris, the exciting ensemble Red Priest, and organists Edie Johnson and Susan Bates (the latter with Market Street Brass). Seriously consider purchasing a season ticket!