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Organist Geoffrey Simon gave the Andover organ in Jones Chapel on the campus of Meredith College a thorough workout in this outstanding recital. Works from the late seventeenth century to the twenty-first century were performed with skill and insight.
Simon is currently Co-Director of Music and Co-Organist at Raleigh Moravian Church. He is a fellow of the College of Church Musicians at the National Cathedral. His Doctor of Musical Arts degree is from The Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University. He has played the organ, sung and conducted in 20 states and in Europe. He is one of only a handful of American organist to present a recital at Thomaskirche in Leipzig where Johann Sebastian Bach served as Cantor for twenty-seven years.
The program began with works by the Cantor of Leipzig that demonstrated Bach's astonishing skill, as well as the mastery of Simon as a Bach interpreter. First was Prelude and Fugue, S.547, one of the powerful preludes in C major that uses fanfare-like motifs which were especially apparent in the pedal lines giving the work a majestic and powerful demeanor.
The next three selections were all based on chorale melodies. "Trio super 'Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend,'" S.655, is in three voices; one in each hand and one played by the feet. The melody's influence is heard in the opening pages, but is most clearly stated in the pedal near the end. In contrast to the sparseness of the trio, "Aus tiefer Not schrei' ich zu dir" a 6, S.686, is a monumental structure in six voices, four played by the hands and two by the feet. It must take the equivalent energy of a five mile hike for an organist to perform a piece like this. Simon was active all over the two keyboards and his feet danced across the pedals, while two assistants helped reset the stops as required.
"O Lamm Gottes unschuldig," S.656, employs one of the hymns used as the Agnus Dei in the German Lutheran mass of Bach's time. It illustrated Bach's effective use of such devices as chromatic scales and dissonant cadences to underscore the meaning of the text. Simon made exceptional use of the capabilities of the Andover organ, which provided a brilliant presentation of the music of Bach.
The concert continued after an intermission with "Grande Dialogue" by the French organist and composer Louis Marchand. He was a child prodigy who became organist at Nevers Cathedral at the age of fourteen. This piece exemplifies many of the characteristics of the French Baroque in its regal grandeur, florid ornamentations and its colorful registrations. The performance was quite at home as played by Simon on the organ in Jones Chapel.
Samuel Barber wrote his "Wondrous Love / Variations on a Shape-note hymn," Op. 34, in 1958 for the dedication of a new organ in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. It is four variations on the well-known hymn, the final one reflecting Barber's lyrical style with the melody woven above a tapestry of descending-fourth harmonies.
Tom L. Lohr is a Meredith faculty member and an accomplished pianist and organist as well as a composer. His Suite on "Ein' feste Burg" includes three sections; "Brief Toccata," "Pastorale over a Basso Ostinato," and "Fanfare and Chorale." It was a most pleasing listening experience. The third variation with fanfares suggested from the hymn especially caught this reviewer's attention.
It was in June seventy-five years ago that the great French organist and composer Louis Vierne died while performing his 1,750th organ recital at Notre Dame in Paris. Before playing excerpts from the first of his six organ symphonies, Simon performed "In Memoriam" by another remarkable French organist, Jeanne Joulain. It begins on a pedal low E, the note on which Vierne's foot had come to rest when he was stricken by a heart attack at that last recital. It was a moving and meaningful tribute to Vierne.
The program closed with the fourth and sixth movements of Vierne's Symphony No. 1 for Organ, Op.14. The fourth movement, allegro vivace was lively and lyrical. The sixth movement was a quintessential organ toccata for which the French are famous. A rich pedal melody is overlaid with brilliant keyboard flourishes. A coda brings the work to a brilliant conclusion. Usually performed on a much larger instrument, Simon, figuratively if not actually, pulled out all the stops and filled the chapel with the glorious sounds of Vierne's music.
Note: The reviewer is greatly indebted for much of the information above to the excellent program notes provided for the recital.