in: Reviews

July 3, 2009

Darkness: Organist Diane Meredith Belcher at First Church of Christ Scientist

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Diane Meredith Belcher played the Aeolian-Skinner organ at First Church of Christ Scientist Thursday evening July 2. Darkness prevailed. On this murky instrument, her performance of Mendelssohn, Hoiby, Rheinberger, and Duruflé in a perfectly symmetrical, carefully unadorned circular space often left me in the dark.

Programming three of Mendelssohn’s preludes and fugues, two of them in the dark tonality of the minor mode, and Introduction and Passacaglia from Josef Rheinberger’s eighth sonata, also in the minor, cast a deep pall over the evening.

After intermission, Belcher played Suite by Maurice Duruflé. Suddenly there was light! The third and final movement, a toccata, raged from the very start with insistent, piercing chords. A sense of relief followed, the kind of which resembles the lull before a storm. Her playing perfectly matched this and the rest of the piece, first, by inducing-through deftness and power-a hallucinatory state not often experienced, and next, by ratcheting up the toccata’s feverish pace into a state of dizziness that felt all too real. After overcoming obstacle, detour and bypass posed by the searching and striving movement, Belcher, in an extraordinary approach, reached the music’s majestic end: a full and complete harmony that for centuries has come to symbolize glory, if not the arrival of the ultimate destination.

Along with the Duruflé, Lee Hoiby’s Rocky Valley Narrative provided Belcher openings for exposing the solo reeds and flutes and numerous other organ stops. Abundant machinations populating Rocky Valley Narrative made at times for an interesting show of imaginative composition. The whole, though, did not come out greater than the sum of its rambling parts.

Serendipitously, just before the concert, I happened on the phrase, “harmonies of contrarieties” from Mary Baker Eddy’s writings. Throughout much of the concert I would find myself seeking to understand how this might shed some light on what I perceived to be a lack of blending of the different sounds, among other anomalies, emitted by the church’s grand organ. Combinations of flues with and without reeds faintly suggested stops being out of tune with one another. Whether this be fact or perception, these particular and oft chosen combinations were not pleasing.

Likewise, the organ itself snarled instead of bellowing, riveted like a drill rather than vibrating like nature, more somber than joyful. Throughout the program, rare moments of brightness, lightness or buoyancy surfaced. Belcher’s transparent and altogether attractive registration, summoned in an encore, brought much light to her own airy transcription of the slow second movement of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto. A few nifty turns-of-phrases brought smiles. Her performance enchanted.

Diane Meredith Belcher’s acumen for accuracy and apparent adulation of what is artistic could not attenuate such dark expression and color in this, the week’s second public concert presented by the American Guild of Organists.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and Chairman of the Department at U. Mass Boston for the past 15 years, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. Also a composer, he lives in Watertown.

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