Monday, October 16, 2017
By Christine Facciolo
Organist/composer David Schelat explored the Baroque and beyond Saturday, October 14, kicking off a brand new season of Market Street Music at First & Central Presbyterian Church on Rodney Square in Wilmington.
Schelat’s program traced J.S. Bach’s steps back to his admirer Dietrich Buxtehude then forward to his “rescuer” Felix Mendelssohn as well as offering a sampling of Bach himself.
The first half of the program featured three Baroque “Bs”: Bruhns, Buxtehude and Bach. Their work spanned the years 1664-1750, a time when north German mercantile trade funded both composers and construction of pipe organs on increasingly grander scales.
The music of this period was largely improvisatory and known as stylus fantasticus, characterized by short contrasting episodes and free form. Bruhns’ Praeludium in E Minor exemplifies this style and Schelat delivered it with insight and intelligence, maintaining the thematic material clearly while providing auditory interest in the repeated ornamentation with a variety of colorful registrations.
Buxtehude’s O Morning Star, how fair and bright (Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern) again showed Schelat’s expertise with the articulation of Baroque musical gestures.
Bach received his due with a rendering of the Prelude and Fugue in G Major (BWV 541) that was both meaty and full of energy. Tucked between them was the melodic simplicity of the chorale prelude Blessed Jesus, we are here (Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (BWV 730).
From Spain came Juan Cabanilles’ Corrente Italiana, a mixture of Renaissance and Baroque. Schelat added a subtle touch of percussion to good effect.
There were more surprises following intermission, including an organ sonata by C.P.E. Bach, J.S. Bach’s second surviving son. Although much better known for his harpsichord works, Bach did produce six organ sonatas on commission from Princess Anna Amalia, sister of his then employer, King Frederick the Great of Prussia. The writing is for manuals only, because the Princess was — reportedly — unable to play the pedals.
Schelat offered an effervescent rendering of the Sonata No. 5 in D Major (Wq70), indulging in much hopping between the two manuals — and adding a bit of pedal — to create a sheer delight for the ear.
Another pleasant surprise came with a performance of the Andante sostenuto from Charles-Marie Widor’s Symphonie Gothique. This sweet, meditative piece allowed Schelat to reveal a whole other side to a composer better known for the pyrotechnics of his Toccata in a work we rarely get to hear.
The program concluded with a performance of Mendelssohn’s Sonata in B-Flat Major. Mendelssohn had a great love for Bach and played a major role in his revival. While this music is Romantic in its approach, it displays a certain restraint which is very appealing. Schelat obviously loves this music and that affection came through in this assured and sensitive delivery.
Schelat reached into his own catalog for an encore with a performance of Kokopelli, a whimsical piece dedicated to the flute-playing trickster deity who represents the spirit of music and who presides over childbirth and agriculture. Schelat wrote the piece for the Fred J. Cooper Organ Book, which was commissioned by the Philadelphia chapter of The American Guild of Organists to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the organ in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall.