Tuesday, July 1, 2008

North American Premiere of Bach at St. James United Church

The North American premiere of a newly discovered work by Bach (Choral fantasie BWV 1128) brings me to St. James United Church on a Tuesday afternoon. The church is surprisingly half full, considering that its a f*!*ing Bach North American premiere. I mean, this is the stuff people should be scalping tickets to on ebay for hundreds of dollars. Instead, it looks like a bingo convention. But, upon some reflection, I am the only person I know who would make a point of coming to see this and there was no one I could have asked to join me. I don't have friends who dig classical music that much.

At any rate, here's the dealio on this little work. This piece was just discovered in March 2008 by two German researchers examining new acquisitions of the library of Halle University. The 85 baar piece was found among the papers of Wilhelm Rust, a 19th century successor to Bach as Kantor at the Thomas Kirche in Leipzig, Germany. The piece was pubished only three weeks prior to this.

The piece is played second and was indeed the gem of the entire recital. I'm not an expert or even an amateur on what makes classical music good or bad, but I find it to be... very... um... Bach-ish. I mean that in the best way, as Bach is one of my all time favourites. It sounds like Bach. It moves at a good clip, takes some minor turns off the main theme, has a nice little flourish at the end before reaching a harmonic resolution. It is certainly moving, perhaps precisely because it is a new discovery and I feel honored to be alive and hear it performed. Had I died a month ago, I would never get to hear this piece.

The organist giving the recital today is Kurt Ludwig Forg, a German organist and academic. He has a tremendous personality, and he introduces all the songs -- not just the Bach piece -- with his own little thoughts on their importance. It makes the whole recital rather delightful. One thing I can say, though, is that the organ is not my instrument of choice. At least, not the organ at this cathedral. During the recital, Forg plays on two different organs and I found the sound sort of muffled and not crisp. I guess "crisp" isn't quite the word one uses to describe an organ, but it didn't have that haunting precision I associate with organ playing. Perhaps that is why the entire concert is in part a fund-raiser to pay for an organ face-lift.

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