Singapore Various composers: VCH Organ Series 2014/15, Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen (organ), Singapore Bible College Chorale, Joel Navarro (conductor), Victoria Concert Hall, 23.03.2015 (RP)
Langgaard: Prelude in E Major for Organ
Matthison-Hansen: “Fantasy on a Danish Folk Tune for Organ”
Bach: Fantasia in G Major, BWV 572
Bach: Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227
Møller: “Transfiguration” – Three Meditations for Organ
A minute of silence was held prior to this concert in honor of Singapore’s founding father and former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who had died earlier that morning. The lunchtime concert in the refurbished Victoria Concert Hall (VCH) was a small but telling example of the modern Singapore that Mr. Lee did so much to create. Singapore today is a hotbed of musical activity of all sorts, the realization of Mr. Lee’s goal of making it the cultural hub of Southeast Asia. This concert happened to be an organ recital with a choral offering. It could have just as easily been songs and dances celebrating Holi, an ancient Hindu spring festival, as was the case earlier this month at the nearby Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. By the way, both were open to the public and free, as are many other music, dance and theater performances here.
The concert was one in a series celebrating the reopening of the VCH in late 2014 and showcasing the hall’s organ, built by the German firm Klais in 1987. The organ, which has two divisions, 28 stops and 2,012 pipes, was removed piece by piece, repaired and stored in a climate-controlled warehouse at Changi Airport during the four-year refurbishment of the hall. The featured artist was Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen, organist and music director at the castle of Frederiksborg in Hillerod, Denmark.
The concert began with a brief organ prelude by Rued Langgaard (1893-1952), a Danish late-Romantic composer and organist. He was a true original, unappreciated in his own time, composing under the influence of Wagner and Strauss. None of that was evident in this rather traditional, very brief lyrical prelude that ended with an amen of sorts and was over before one knew it. It was followed by Hans Matthison-Hansen’s “Fantasy on a Danish Folk Tune for Organ.” Matthison-Hansen (1807-1890) was the embodiment of mainstream Danish Romanticism and served as organist of the Cathedral of Roskilde. The folk song that inspired the work must be rather sad as this was a dark piece of music.
Bach formed the core of the one-hour concert. The Fantasia in G Major gave Mikkelsen the opportunity to display his considerable skills as an organist. His choice of registrations also showed off the organ to its best advantage, from the brilliant passage work of the opening section, through the five-part counterpart in the middle, to the descending chromatic pedal scale that leads to its climax. This was fine organ playing.
The Singapore Bible College Chorale dedicated Bach’s motet Jesu, meine Freude to Mr. Lee’s memory. The Chorale is chiefly comprised of students at the college from across Asia, and it seeks to expose them to choral masterworks and train future choral conductors. It too is part of the mosaic that makes up the vibrant Singapore cultural scene. The opening chorale was well balanced and showed off the VCH’s acoustics to their best advantage. The singers did their finest work in the chorales “Gute Nacht, O Wesen” and the concluding “Weicht, ihr Trauergeister.” A portative organ and cello served as the continuo, which grounded the singers pitch-wise. Bach’s complex counterpoint posed some challenges, as it does to many a choir, but the balance was quite good, save for a soprano or two with strident high notes. All in all, this was a solid performance by a young mixed choir.
Mikkelsen concluded with a work by the 20th-century Danish composer and organist, Peter Møller (1947-1999). The composer looked for inspiration to three Biblical texts from 1 Corinthians, appropriate for both the approaching Christian observance of Easter and used in its funeral rites. The second of the meditations caught one’s attention by the solo passages played on the manuals and the subsequent staccato figures in the pedal. The third had some Widor-like riffs and included quotations from the third section of Handel’s Messiah, which also employs some of the same Biblical passages as texts. The meditations were an appropriate ending to this short concert that provided the space to ponder the passing of one of the 20th century’s great men.