Robert Parkins’ March 11 organ recital, given in conjunction with the Southeastern Historical Keyboard Society Conference, was a double treat for all music lovers because the use of two of the four organs in Duke Chapel allowed for a broad survey of styles. Starting in the intimate Memorial Chapel, the warm and mellow Brombaugh organ (1997) provided appetizers ranging from the Italian Renaissance to the “Golden Age” of Spanish keyboard music. This organ is one of a “handful of modern meantone organs at American colleges and universities.” In contrast to the more homogeneous sound resulting from modern tuning, dissonances are emphasized.

Excellent anonymous program notes, probably by Parkins, gave background about each piece and drew attention to special features. He spoke briefly and demonstrated some of these before beginning the program. The curious may examine the specifications of both instruments and read about their qualities at [inactive 6/08]. My quotes about the organ come from Parkins’ commentary at the website while, without a trace of shame, I have raided the program notes for all descriptions of the music.

The Italian Renaissance was represented by two works by Girolamo Frescobaldi. From his only collection of exclusively liturgical music, Fiori musicali , came a musical interlude to be “performed after the recitation of the Creed,” the “Ricercar dopo il Credo.” More than once during this portion of the recital I thought of the blended sound of a consort with sackbuts. The overall sound was luscious but very distinctive and with dissonances in high relief. Intended for the Elevation of the Host in the Mass, Toccata IV from Il secondo libro di toccata 1627 has a slow and stately tempo. In view of the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson’s movie, this was timely, since Parkins’ notes speculate that “the Lombardic rhythmic motive near the end.suggest(s) lashes with the whip or other physical torments.”

The rest of the Brombaugh portion of the program drew upon two Spanish composers for colorful works with bright trebles and dark raspy basses. Pablo Bruna’s “Tiento de 2° tono” on the Litany of the Virgin has a moderately slow tempo dominated by darker color. “Tiento (12) de falsas (4° tono)” by Juan Cabailles is simple and elegant with trills, while in “Tiento (23) por alamire,” Parkins drew upon a wide range of pipes to create a panoply of color, setting bright trebles against “sackbut-like” basses.

Everyone moved to the nave of the Chapel for the rest of the program, which used the full resources of the Flentrop organ (1976). Spectacular horizontal trumpets as well as subtle echo effects were featured in “Entrada de clarines (antes de tocar canciones),” an anonymous work from manuscripts compiled around 1700 by the Spanish priest and musician Antonio Martín y Coll. The seven short movements of the Suite on the Second Tone (“for the Magnificat,” 1706) by Jean-Adam Guilain provided a full kaleidoscope in sound with characteristic features of the Spanish school, many of which are very striking and seldom heard.

Two works by J.S. Bach represented the more familiar North German Organ School. From the “Great Eighteen” chorale collection, “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen” featured a long unembellished cantus firmus played on the pedals. Parkins drew a link between the opening Ricercar of Frescobaldi and concluding Toccata and Fugue in F: the young Bach had copied out, by hand, the older master’s Fiori musicali . Both works feature a rising minor sixth which Bach uses as the first subject of his only surviving strict double fugue. Parkins’ performances wore their scholarship lightly with apt registrations, naturally flowing lines, clear counterpoint, and a piquant sound palette.