In a memorized program on the great Casavant organ in the Community of Christ Temple last Sunday, Gregory Hand championed music of J. S. Bach (1658-1750) Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667) and Max Reger (1873-1916) connected not only by geography, but by themes and forms. Dr. Hand is assistant professor of organ at the University of Iowa, and received the Doctor of Musical Arts from Northwestern University.
He began the program with an authentic interpretation of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in Eb Major, BWV 552, based on the tune, "St. Anne (O God, our help)." Using step dynamics, he wound through the Baroque trails of trills, counterpoint, calm and hair-raising power.
Dr. Hand's trills did not call attention to themselves, but grew so naturally as extensions of the melodies, that the listener, if he noticed them at all, might comment, "What else would you do." Throughout the program, Dr. Hand was presenting the music, displaying not just knowledge of the notes, but historical practices, the direction and realizations of the melodies and counter-melodies, and respect for the composers and the music itself, rather than presenting himself playing through some tunes.
Johann Jakob Froberger developed many of the nominal dance forms which formed the basis of Bach's suites and concerti, which further developed into movements of the sonata form used by most composers to follow, such as Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. The meter, rhythm, tempo, and, sometimes mood, were part of the definition of each of these dance forms.
Dr. Hand chose the theme and nine of Froberger's Variations on "die Mayerin," FbWV 606; which might be played by several instruments, by a solo harpsichord (perhaps with a cello realizing the bass part) or on an organ. It's perfectly legitimate to play it on a modern piano, as on the link. Dr. Hand came into town on Friday last, allowing him to take advantage of the many nuances of sound available from the Casavant's 102 ranks to add spice to the variations of mood, dynamics, meter, volume and tempo, making particularly effective use of flutes and krummhorn.
Max Reger followed the lead of J. S. Bach (and many after Bach) in using the notes B (Bb) A C and H (B natural) as the motive for his Fantasy and Fugue on the name, "B-A-C-H, Op. 46, both as homage to the scion of the Baroque and because the short melody lends itself to great possibilities.
Dr. Hand proved himself master of this virtuosic chromatic piece. The ubiquitous B-A-C-H theme regularly erupted from the continuum of motion in Reger's transitional 1900 work. Dr. Hand's regal performance was warmly received by the music-lovers who were present.
This metro is rich in world-class musical performances, many of them, as was today's are free, with donations accepted. The appreciative audience was relatively short in number, a situation the should not be repeated for Nathan Laube's organ program Thursday, May 1 at 7 p.m., at Helzberg Hall | Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Nathan's delightful program will include Widor's Symphonie pour Grand Orgue, op.42, No. 5; Mendelssohn's (transc. Laube) Variations sérieuses, op. 54; the Jongen Sonata Eroïca, op. 94; Bruhns' Praeludium in E Minor, “The Great;” and Liszt's (transc. Laube) Les préludes, Symphonic Poem No. 3. Make the effort to come out and enjoy yourself; you will never know when your attendance is the tipping point that makes future opportunities possible.