The Chenault Duo: Elizabeth and Raymond Chenault.

Review: Recital of engaging organ duets closes Atlanta Summer Organ Festival

Mark Gresham | 3 JUL 2019

ATLANTA, GA— On Wednesday night of last week, June 26, organists Elizabeth and Raymond Chenault performed eight works for organ duet — two players at a single console — at Peachtree Road United United Methodist Church as the final concert of the Atlanta Summer Organ Festival. Two of the works were given their world premieres that night, while the balance of the program drawn from repertoire the Chenaults have premiered and championed over the years, the earliest of them composed in 1987. All eight were commissioned by the Chenault Duo.

The instrument on which they were played was the church’s Great Organ, installed in 2002 by Mander Organs of London, England. It is the largest mechanical action organ ever built by a British organ builder. (Download the stoplist)

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All are valuable contributions to the repertoire for organ duo at a single console, but for purpose of review I will focus on three of the works that are most relevant to this concert in Atlanta, the two world premieres and a work by the late Stephen Paulus, (1949 – 2014) who had been a composer-in-residence with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for four years beginning in 1988. There are still many fans of Paulus’ music in Atlanta, particularly the sacred music and community. During his lifetime, Paulus wrote eight works for organ solo, three for organ duet, four concertos for organ, and an unfinished double concerto for piano, organ and orchestra.

As the third work on the program, the Chenaults performed “St. Anthony in Meditation,” the second movement from Paulus’ The Triumph of the Saint (1994), inspired by the fantastical triptych, “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” by 15th-16th century Dutch painter Heironymous Bosch. The character of “St. Anthony in Meditation” is calm and ethereal. The notion of “meditation” is centered upon a D above middle C that is sustained throughout. Around that drone are built chromatically altered harmonies, in the secundo part, while the primo plays a diaphanous, wide ranging melody above.

Twin 40-foot cases of the Mander organ towering over the high altar and chancel of Peachtree Road UMC. (photo: Mark Gresham)

Twin 40-foot cases of the Mander organ towering over the high altar and chancel.of Peachtree Road UMC. (photo: Mark Gresham)

In great contrast were the two world premieres. The first, A Spiritual Romp for Two by Nicholas White, was a work of relentless momentum that featured melodic elements drawn from three African-American spirituals: “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” “Steal Away” and “Deep River” – with an emphasis on the first of those, which acts somewhat like an anchoring refrain, helping to unify the piece. White achieves some variety through use of changing textures more that by changes in registration, making the piece a candidate for effective performance on smaller, less colorful instruments. Incorporation of jazz,and blues elements, and the enthusiasm of gospel, add more populist interest to the piece, even as White briefly quotes from J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor toward the end.

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Mr. White, was present in he audience, is director of chapel music and organist at St. Paul’s School, Concord, New Hampshire. As a composer, White is largely represented by his sacred choral music, though his oeuvre includes a good body of secular choral works and well as songs for solo voice and instrumental works.

The second world premiere closed the concert: Fantaisie à Deux by Canadian composer and organist Rachel Laurin. It’s at once a showpiece for the organ’s solo reeds while giving due attention to the wider range of the instrument’s contrasting colors over the course of its varied section. Per the commission, the work was originally intended to be a Fanfare-Toccata o open of close a concert, but evolved into a Fantasie that incorporated both of those ideas I to a work of more and more varied section – fanfare, toccata, scherzando, moto perpetuo, and aria – as described by the composer’s program notes. That compositional choice allows for a more flexible moods and expression, while the composer’s effective interlinking of a handful of motives assists in maintaining the work’s sense of structural unity.

Kudos to the Chenault Duo for bringing another two excellent works into the repertoire, as part of a well-played, attention-holding program  ■

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