The First Lutheran Church of Boston presented its Seventh Annual Labor Day Concert on September 3rd, featuring its renowned Minister of Music, Bálint Karosi, organ, and Paul Perfetti, trumpet. Karosi’s many honors include first prize at the 16th International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Leipzig, Germany, and first prize and audience prize at the Dublin International Organ Competition. The Boston-based Perfetti, equally accomplished on Baroque and modern trumpets, performs across the United States and abroad, and has a number of esteemed recordings to his credit. Unfortunately, this reviewer regrettably mistook the time of the concert and heard only the latter half — two world premieres of works by Karosi.
The first of these was Tromba Lontana (Distant Trumpet), written in early 2011 for a competition in the United Kingdom. The outer sections were perhaps a modern version of Impressionism, featuring slowly shifting chords in the organ with occasional utterances from the muted trumpet from behind the organ; Perfetti was convincingly atmospheric. The faster middle section, employing astringent harmonies, had chordal dance-like organ figures punctuated by the trumpet. There was also a recitative-like passage displaying the organ’s range of solo and accompanying colors. On first hearing, I found the work more interesting than immediately likable, but it would certainly bear additional hearings.
The final and largest work on the program was Karosi’s Symphony No. 1 for Solo Organ on a Chorale by Béla Bartók. The chorale is taken from the second movement of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra (a piece commissioned for and premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra) and can be heard in part or complete in all five of the symphony’s movements. Despite numerous permutations the chorale was nearly always easy to discern.
The first movement, Prelude, opened with a bracing fortissimo evocation of organum before proceeding into a minimalist moto perpetuo somewhat in the Philip Glass mode but with much more tonal variety. The second movement consisted of a statement of the full chorale and eight variations on it. Particularly appealing were the third — virtuoso arpeggios over a quasi-pizzicato bass — and the sixth — the chorale in canon at the interval of a major second on high-pitched flutes. (The latter was slightly reminiscent of one of Maurice Duruflé’s variations on Veni Creator.) The third movement, Lento-Berceuse, paying homage to Olivier Messiaen, was characterized in its outer sections by sweetly dissonant chords on string stops punctuated by widely spaced flute chords. The central lullaby featured serene chords on foundation stops and sardonic, “quint-y” interjections which try but fail to disturb the prevailing calm. Throughout we heard various birdcalls such as those widespread in Messiaen’s works of all genres. The Intermezzo fourth movement was minimalism charged with nervous energy with a handful of chords heard in randomly changing orders and the accompaniment woven around the melody in an intricate texture.
The finale was a Toccata, a work of formidable technical difficulty though not in the typical French style of fast manual passagework over a sustained theme in the pedals. The composer “used a variety of Hungarian scales” as well as minimalism, but also included enjoyable passages of unpredictably shifting syncopations. At its climax the chorale thundered forth on pedal reed stops under frenzied manual chords. The symphony concluded spectacularly with what the composer quite accurately described as an “apocalyptic coda.” After awarding Karosi — and Perfetti — a well-deserved standing ovation, the audience repaired to the church’s courtyard for a reception complete with ice cream floats.
The two premieres were fine displays of Karosi’s prowess as both composer and executant. I hope there will be more local premieres from him as well as collaborations with Perfetti.