Organist Kenneth Corneille Plays Fascinating Baroque Rarities and a 20th Century Showstopper
Earlier today organist Kenneth Corneille played an individualistic program of baroque rarities and a 20th century gem on the magnificently versatile organ at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. First on the bill was Bach’s Fantasia & Fugue in A Minor, BWV 561, which he delivered very uptempo with unusually bright registrations, lightning-fast righthand clusters and practically a sprint in places. It was impressive to hear him play it at this velocity and build a cyclotron of cascades. Adrenalizing, to say the least, and the small crowd who’d come out for the recital loved it. What might have been lost in the stampede is open to interpretation.
Next on the bill were five transcriptions of songs by eighteenth century composer and Notre Dame organist Médéric Corneille (a relation, maybe?). A beefy, striding folk ballad, Brillantes fleurs (Shining Flowers) was next. Dure loi du péché (unpoetic translation: The Penalty For Sin Is Harsh) came across as a steady hymn with flourishes as Sweelinck might have given it, bolstered by extra power on the low end. Number three, titled Grand Dieu (Great God) was a processional with the occasional trilling ornament.
The younger Corneille played Si vous avez beaucoup (If you have a lot) over a stern, catchy pedal figure: it was the most Bach-inflected of the songs. He then switched to more subdued colors for Une éternelle inquiétude (Eternal worry), the most sophisticated of the bunch. subtly building to a flicker of a fugue. And then it was over.
Corneille closed with legendary improviser McNeil Robinson’s 1980 composition, Dismas Variations, opening it like a bulkier, less overtly macabre take on what Jehan Alain did with his Trois Danses. A fiery, portentous rise decayed to airy textures that grew more Messiaenic, Corneille establishing a calm, conversational ambience before another attack-and-lull.
His lickety-split, occasionally dissonant exchanges descended once again into hazy resonance. The conclusion was classic, counteriutuitive Robinson, chuffing rhythmic bursts intermingled within an increasingly enveloping, all-stops-out atmosphere that gave way unexpectedly into tremoloing phantasmagoria and ended completely unresolved.
The next organ concert at St. Patrick’s is on April 23 at 3:15 PM with British organist Simon Leach playing works by his wife Helen Leach as well as Bach, Franck and Dupre. Admission is free: these performances start precisely on time and usually don’t go far beyond the half-hour mark.