The second of University United Methodist Church’s “Summer Serenade” series, given on the evening of August 1 featured guest organist Mary Catherine Race. She lives in Los Angeles where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in English at the University of Southern California, after having earned several degrees in Music at Vanderbilt and Oxford and a degree in Religion at the latter as well. Her parents now reside in Chapel Hill.

She opened with four exquisite pieces from Louis Marchand’s (1669-1732) Premier Livre d’Orgue – a Plein Jeu, a Trio, a Basse de trompette, and a Dialogue. The composer was a prodigy, having been named to his first organist position at the age of 14, and eventually becoming the organist of Louis XIV. He published several books of more or less short pieces whose titles are descriptive of the ranks used or dominating rather than evocative, but much of his output has been lost. Although they were likely composed for smaller organs than the Moller, the four selections sounded very nice on it.

These were followed by Johann Caspar Vogler’s (1696-1763) Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod (Jesus’ Suffering, Pain and Death). Vogler was a student of J.S. Bach, and this work is a chorale prelude, that is, a piece based on a hymn tune, much in the style of the master. It is appropriately rather somber. Race played the tune for us and challenged us to pick it out in the elaborate ornamentation. She followed the work with one of the master’s most famous, the Toccata and Fugue in d, S.565, to conclude the first half.

“Everyone Dance,” the fifth of American (PA born, Oberlin Conservatory grad) composer Calvin Hampton’s (1938-84) Five Dances for Organ, opened the second half. It is a pleasant, effective, if light piece that did not appear to be much easier to play than the Bach. This reviewer would like to hear the other four. An arrangement for solo organ by her teacher of Ennio Morricone’s (b.1928) “Gabriel’s Oboe,” from the film score to The Mission , followed. Originally scored for oboe and chamber-size orchestra, the haunting melody was hypnotically enchanting on the reedy pipes.

The “Impromptu,” number 2 of Louis Vierne’s (1870-1937) Troisième Suite, Op. 54/2 (in turn, part of his Pièces de Fantaisie ), was up next. Each suite (Opp. 51, 53, 54, 55) is a set of 6 pieces, each in a different major or minor key, for a total of 24; i.e., this one is No. 14 of the whole. Race described it as very “pianistic,” and promised not to repeat Vierne’s famous final performance of expiring in mid-recital at the keyboards of Notre-Dame’s Cavaillé-Coll organ. She followed this with Jehan Alain’s (1911-40) Litanies that features an incessantly repeated theme with variations in style, timbre, and texture. The composer died tragically at the outset of World War II, and his sister, Marie-Claire Alain (whom this reviewer had the pleasure of hearing in Duke Chapel a couple of decades or so ago), has promoted his compositions in much the same way as conductor Nadia Boulanger did those of her sister Lili, who also died very young, albeit not in warfare.

Next up was the slow movement, a quiet and lovely Andante sostenuto, from Charles-Marie Widor’s (1844-1937) Symphonie IX, in c, Op. 70 (“Gothique”). The concluding work was Jean Langlais’ (1907-91, whom I once heard give a recital in Notre-Dame) joyous, lively, loud, and ebullient Fête , Op. 51, composed in 1946 to commemorate the Liberation of Paris in August 1944 near the end of World War II. It was a fitting conclusion, and Race chose to end there, not offering an encore in response to the audience’s enthusiastic applause.

It was good to hear this music from the great – both in quantity and in quality – French organ repertoire, that is not played nearly as frequently as it deserves to be, in such a well-built, cohesive, and illustrative program. The other works off the beaten path were interesting as well, and the lovers of the favorites had one of the all-timers to satisfy them. Race provided excellent verbal commentary on the composers and the music as she introduced each of the works. Her playing was well nigh impeccable. She varied the resources of the instrument used for each piece appropriately so that they all sounded close to the way they would on the instruments for which they were designed. It was a pity that only approximately 40 people braved the shower to hear this real winner.