Yu: Preludes on Lenggang Kangkung and Singapura, O Singapura
Mendelssohn: Sonata No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 65 – Allegretto & Allegro maestoso
Franck: 3 Pièces pour grand orgue – Pièce héroïque & Cantabile
Couperin: Chaconne in G minor
Marchand: Tierce en taille
Delplace: Bach Panther
Vierne: 24 Pièces de fantaisie pour orgue, Op. 53, No. 2 – Clair de Lune & Toccata
The VCH Organ Series offers an eclectic mix of music and musicians with a repertoire that ranges from solo works to choral pieces and chamber music. The performers are also a diverse group ̶ some local, others from far away. This concert featured two young Singaporean organists who are making their mark both at home and overseas. The works they chose to play were a disparate lot, but reflected their distinct musical talents and styles.
Composer and organist Phoon Yu is a student in the program offered jointly by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in Singapore and the Peabody Conservatory in the US. He has concertized and had his compositions performed in both countries. His two preludes were commissioned by the Singapore Chapter of the American Guild of Organists in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Lenggang Kangkung is a popular Malaysian folk song. (Kangkung is a semi aquatic plant that grows in many countries in Southeast Asia with flowers similar to that of the morning glory.) I would hazard a guess that every Singaporean knows Singapura, O Singapura by heart. For those unfamiliar with the tunes, Yu prefaced each with a straightforward, four-part rendition that suited the most conservative of tastes.
The Prelude on Lenggang Kangkung explores the timbres of the organ. Structurally it is straightforward, with the melody meandering through the manuals and pedal. The interest lies primarily in Yu’s ornamentation of the tune. The Singapura prelude opened with a fanfare on the beginning notes of the song. The melody then appears in the pedal with a loud and brilliant accompaniment above it, before ending on a quiet, contemplative note. I would wager a bet that Singapura enters the repertoire here, just as Charles Ive’s Variations on America, composed when he was 16, has in the US. Unlike Ives, however, Yu won’t have to wait 58 years to have his Singapura published. That’s one real plus of being a composer in the digital age.
Alexia Tye, a much more experienced organist, has performed extensively in France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands. Her transversal of four centuries of French organ music displayed her fine technique, sophisticated taste and sense of humor. Programming Stéphane Delplace’s Bach Panther was evidence of the latter. Delplace is one of that rare breed of European composers who espouse tonal music, and Bach Panther is a fugue on Henry Mancini’s theme from The Pink Panther. Dating from his student days, this 1985 composition pays tribute to the great German master in its title and style: it’s witty, jazzy and fun.
The Couperin and Marchand pieces were deftly dispatched, but the Franck and Vierne works were the highlights of the program. They not only displayed Tye’s talents to their best advantage, but also revealed the full power of the VCH’s organ. Franck’s “Pièce Héroïque” epitomizes one extreme of the French symphonic school of composition, as does Vierne’s “Toccata” from the 24 Pièces de fantaisie ̶ the loud, heroic one. “Toccata” unfolds in dynamic ascending and descending phrases, and its rather tight structure poses challenges to many an organist. Tye, however, never let the piece get away from her, and its impact was all the stronger for her careful attention to tempi and dynamics. Her playing was just as compelling in the quieter, more atmospheric works ̶ Franck’s “Cantabile” and Vierne’s “Clair de Lune” ̶ at the other end of the spectrum of this repertoire. I never fail to be amazed by the composers who imagined such sounds and the organists who give them life. Tye did so admirably at the VCH.