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The pews of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church were respectably occupied at 4:00 p.m. on September 8 for an organ recital by Susan Moeser, and the people in them were richly rewarded for spending such a lovely afternoon indoors, the beauty of the sanctuary and its stained glass illuminated by the bright sunlight also helping to compensate for sacrificing a reveling in the first taste of welcome fall weather. Richard Townley, organist and music director of the parish, announced that the performance was dedicated to the memory of Harriet "Happy" Dubose Grey, founding member of the parish and lover of music, especially the organ.
Moeser opened with four selections from François Couperin's Messe pour les paroisses , appropriately since the work comes from the period and country that the 2,346-pipe, 47-rank, 3-manual + pedalboard Flentrop built and installed in 1978 is designed to simulate: the classic French school of the 17th and 18th centuries. The "Offertoire sur les grands jeux" was the most substantial of the four, and the most impressive, but the variety in style and mood of the selections presented made them judicious choices.
Next came a curiosity, Mozart's "Adagio-Allegro-Adagio for a Mechanical Clock Organ," K.594, that, according to Moeser's oral comments, the composer produced "strictly for money when he was destitute." The clock, which Mozart apparently hated, had a set of flute pipes on which this piece, which Moeser characterized as "a delightful gem," could be played. Indeed, it does not have much substance, but it made for a good interlude between the preceding and following more serious, substantial and substantive works. [For more information on mechanical clock organs, see http://www.home.zonnet.nl/vspickelen/Mozartfiles/Mozart.htm .]
This was followed by a set of pieces by J. S. Bach: the Prelude and Fugue in C Major, S.547, with the "Canonic Variations on 'Von Himmel Hoch, da komm ich her'," S.769a, also in C Major, cleverly inserted between the prelude and the fugue. The program notes were extensive and informative on the composition and interrelationship of these works, although there were no written notes about any of the other works played. Moeser seemed most at home and at ease playing these pieces.
A huge change of mood and pace was created again with the next piece, William Albright's "Sweet Sixteenths (A Concert Rag for Organ)." Moeser said that she believed he was "one of the few 20th century composers whose music would stand the test of time." While rags originated on a keyboard instrument, the "feel" given by this one was quite different from what we are accustomed to. The response time of a tracker organ is simply not ideal for the rapid succession of notes of a rag. This seemed, therefore, another curiosity, but a lighter work was again called for as a transition, and it was entertaining.
The final work on the recital was Mendelssohn's four-movement Sonata IV in B flat Major, which worked very well on this instrument in spite of its composition in a much later period. It made for a lovely and fitting conclusion to a fine performance that was greeted with well-deserved enthusiastic applause which required several more bows by the artist than are usually given.
On this occasion, the Chancellor, also an organist, but who has given up public performances because his life as an administrator does not allow him the luxury of time to practice and prepare for them, took the back seat, as it were, serving as stop changer and page turner - and no doubt enjoying a welcome respite from the flap over UNC's incoming freshman reading assignment where he was in the unwelcome spotlight. A reception offered by the UNC General Alumni Association followed in the parish hall, during which the Moesers graciously greeted and chatted with the members of the audience. She will play again at the Chapel of the Cross on October 2; see our calendar for details. We hope the couple will continue to grace the area with recitals like this more frequently now that they are more settled in. Fine organs are not wanting in the region.