The Paul Manz Organ Series
Concert features Christmas pieces by Helmut Walcha
The great, blind organ virtuoso Helmut Walcha revolutionized the performance of Bach's organ works through recitals, teaching, and especially recordings. Paul Manz studied with Walcha in Frankfurt. On the December program of the Paul Manz Organ Series, Artistic Director Thomas Wikman will open with two of Walcha's chorale preludes.
Gelobet seist du is sung, in the Lutheran tradition, on Christmas Day. Walcha gives it a very brilliant, fanfare-like setting, with the melody resounding in the pedal. Zu Bethlehem geboren is more of a carol than a true hymn, and Walcha's beautiful setting reflects this.
The December 4 program will proceed with two well-known works of Bach. The first is the incredibly heartfelt Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. Over a walking bass and polyphonic accompaniment the chorale melody is presented, with languorous filigree. Pervading the piece is a great sense of longing.
Bach's Pièce d'Orgue is in three sections, the outer ones brilliantly virtuosic. The grand middle section bears a strong resemblance, thematically and harmonically, to the chorus Ehre, sei Gott from Part II of the Christmas Oratorio, making this organ piece very appropriate for the season.
Ernest Chausson died at the age of 44, just as his career was beginning to blossom. His truncated output for the organ is represented by two beautiful pieces on this program. Prudentes Virgines -- a meditation on the Advent parable of the wise and foolish virgins -- is like a slow, swaying march in its rhythm. The Phrygian mode gives it an exotic, almost Oriental flavor. Although the 12/8 rhythm flows relentlessly through the piece without a break, there really are three sections. The first features a stream of sixteenth-note arabesques. The middle section is more tranquil. The third section begins softly and builds to a stupendous climax with a very quick three-measure diminuendo at the end.
The lovely Veni sponsa Christi is in the Mixolydian mode and a constant 7/8 meter. The composer asks for a soft, luscious registration. The pedal enters only on a single low note in the last two bars of the piece, giving a feeling of infinite repose.
Like his exact contemporary Helmut Walcha, the great French organist and composer Jean Langlais was blind. While some of his music is rather acerbic, Wikman has selected two pieces representing the more impressionistic side of Langlais' art. The Prélude Modal could almost be a lullaby for the infant Jesus, with harmonies reminiscent of Debussy. Chant de Joie is more like Ravel in its exuberant brilliance; sections with the melody in the pedal and double trills in the manuals are evocative of Daphnis and Chloe.