Stephen Tharp

I’ve never really been a fan of the organ. There was even a time when I actually disliked it. I’ve been making an effort, though, and over the years I’ve come to appreciate it more and more, finding that I particularly like the more contemporary works composed for the instrument. Even now, however, I still generally only go to organ concerts when I have nothing else to do and really want to get out of the house. I’m glad that I made it to Stephen Tharp’s recital at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer last night because his both playing and his programming were both excellent.

The concert began with Mendelssohn’s Sonata no. 1 in F Minor. It was a pleasant piece that didn’t really engage me terribly much. I think the thing that stood out most was seeing the musical notation for the rolling glissandi toward end looking like rolling hills. This was followed by the adagio from Anthony Newman’s second symphony, which was actually dedicated to Tharp. I thought that this was a decent piece and it left me wondering about the rest of the symphony. I also enjoyed the brief and lively Toccata in D by Renaud that followed it.

The next two works were both by George C. Baker. Tiento Gregorien was an interesting adaptation of the sound of Gregorian chant, kind of haunting and played with the flute stop for the high notes and the vox humana for the pedals. It was a pleasing sound combination. The other work, Procession Royale, however, sounded much more like the soundtrack to a particularly entertaining 80’s children’s movie (in a good way).

Also sounding a lot like the soundtrack for a children’s show was Tharp’s transcription of the Fair from Stravinsky’s Petrouchka. While it was easily recognizable for what it was, I found myself occasionally stopping and trying to figure out where in the work we were. For instance, I had to think a bit to realize that we were in the bit with the tumblers or the part where the bear comes through. Whereas an orchestra playing the music clearly brings to my mind Fokine’s choreography, this made me think of a cartoon of the fair. It was a remarkable adaptation and quite a bit of fun.

After the intermission we had transcriptions of two of Liszt’s works. The first was Funérailles transcribed by Jeanne Demessieux, which was dramatic and sounded otherworldly to me. The finale for the evening was Tharp’s own transcription of Totentanz, which was quite impressive. It was a nice bit of madness wrapped around some sacredness with some delightful dance. His playing was impressive throughout the recital, but he was all over the console on this piece. The audience greatly, and rightly, approved of his playing and he rewarded their ovation with a reprise of a particularly wild dancey part of the work.

Tharp did a very good job of introducing the pieces on the program. I certainly wouldn’t know which stops were used in Baker’s work if he hadn’t explained. And I was very interested in hearing the church’s Létourneau organ: I’d seen it and was curious about it. It has 4119 pipes, with two manuals mounted on the side wall of the pulpit and a third mounted on the rear wall of the church. The other concerts that I’ve heard there have not been too echo-ey, so I figured that the manuals would have distinct directional sound and I was curious as to what that would be like. Although I could definitely tell where the sound was coming from, the tones from the front and rear merged very well and created a very full sound that could be very pleasing (if the music was to my tastes). I hope that I’ll find another program that interests me there so that I can hear it again.

Leave a Reply