Stunning recital from old, new organs
Monday, June 12, 2000
All the glory of the new Rosales organ at St. James Cathedral was revealed in a brilliant recital Friday night by the cathedral's chief organist, Joseph Adam.
St. James Cathedral is the rare Seattle church with two notable organs. In the West Gallery is the Hutchings-Votey organ, from 1907. In the East Apse is the new one built by Rosales Organ Builders of Los Angeles, which replaces the 1926 Cassavant organ. The Rosales and Hutchings-Votey can work in tandem or by themselves.
The Rosales had been played in a series of dedicatory concerts, but Friday night was its first full recital.
The Rosales is a splendid instrument that will enrich and enlarge the cathedral's extensive musical and spiritual life. Everything about the organ speaks to the skill of its design and construction. There is breadth and depth. Crispness and articulation are major components but so are warmth and resonance. Colors, at once distinctive and clear, seem without end; the reeds are extraordinary.
The sound is full-bodied and voluptuous and bright. It is bold and dramatic, light and fresh as well. Low notes appear to go to the center of the earth and the high notes right to heaven. Its beauty is astonishing, but then so are its thunderous fortes.
Company President Manuel Rosales noted in the program that the instrument is based on French models, while the organ case is derived from an organ in an 18th-century abbey in Neresheim, Germany. The Rosales is not large and was not intended to overwhelm the Hutchings-Votey, but what a volume of sound it can produce on demand.
Organs are dependent, in part, on their environments for their acoustical success. Certainly, St. James provides a good home for this instrument, allowing it to bloom and prosper. Indeed, the cathedral, with the early summer light softly pouring through the stained-glass windows, never looked more serene or beautiful. It seemed as if this spectacularly beautiful church has banned darkness itself.
The recital was designed, not surprisingly, to demonstrate the many facets of this extraordinary organ. Without someone as talented and illuminating as Adam, the instrument would have still made an impression. But with Adam, the effect was breathtaking. For once, a standing ovation was deserved. Rosales also took a bow and received his own standing ovation from the full house.
The music fell into three categories: the Baroque era from Germany, Italy and France; the Romantic era from France; today, also from France.
Nicolaus Bruhns' Prelude in G opened the recital. The organ's clarity was obvious at the outset, as was its ravishing sound. That exploration of transparent sound continued -- sometimes limpid, sometimes sweet, sometimes otherworldly but always handsome.
Naji Hakim's "The Last Judgment," in a world premiere, changed that. It opens with huge dissonances that echoed through the church. Nothing pretty about them, but awe-inspiring they were.
From there, Hakim asked for sweeping gestures, which Adam provided, as he galloped up and down the organ. At times the Earth seemed as if it were torn asunder. Then, the music ascended into heavenly reaches.
Bach was represented on the program twice, and what a revelation, in particular, his Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (BWV 543) was on the Rosales. Every voice, even in the most massive sections, could be heard. Once more, astounding playing from Adam. Louis-Nicolas Clérambault made a decisive contribution, as did Maurice Duruflé and Charles-Marie Widor. With the Allegro Vivace from Widor's Fifth Symphony, Adam used the Rosales and Hutchings-Votey in antiphonal style. It was a perfect way to conclude the recital.