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Reflections on a Recital

Isaac Lee
13 June 2007

It was a truly spectacular and riveting recital. Dr Freese commanded the attention of her audience right from the start. As she began with Guilmant’s Sonata No. 1, the ambitious Romantic war-horse, we knew we were in for a treat. Originally written for organ and orchestra, this solo organ version transcribed by the composer was in no sense inferior. Her two capable assistants were called upon to provide assistance in pulling stops as the Klais organ at the Victoria Concert Hall lacked the luxury of electronic piston settings.

Dr Freese exhausted the resources of such a modest organ and pushed it to its limits as she dived into the Allegro section prominently marked by the assertive solo pedal opening. She breezed through the technical demands and attempted to recreate authentic French sounds as closely as possible.

The second movement was perfectly poised and wonderfully nuanced as she brought out the dialogue of the lilting Pastorale theme with two colourful reeds. The voix humaine had its turn to shine in the hymn-like section.

The final movement exploded into a flourish with the cascading sixteenth-note “moto perpetuo” theme, putting the organist’s dexterity to test. The audience were kept at the edge of their seats as Dr Freese tackled the relentless toccata section with aplomb. The second subject was interrupted by whimsical sixteenth-note injections in the pedal. The audience were bowled over when the piece concluded with the triumphant return of the hymn-like tune prominently announced in brilliant D major, juxtaposed with the toccata figuration and accompanied by double and sometimes triple pedal parts. Although Wilhelm Middelsuhulte’s cadenza was harmonically more adventurous than Guilmant’s, Dr Freese delivered it with such conviction that one was left craving for more.

J. S. Bach’s chorale Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter involved delicate violinistic figurations for the manuals, while its cantus firmus was conveyed through the pedals. Embellished with musical ornaments, the spirited chorale tune was no doubt soothing to all.

Buxtehude’s Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor once again demonstrated Dr Freese’s agility at the organ. The virtuosic pedal passages and rapid manual changes indeed showed us a glimpse of why Bach himself was so transfixed with the music of this Danish master.

Misconceptions about the organ as an arcane instrument were surely cleared after Dr Freese’s beautiful rendition of George Shearing’s Amazing Grace. The jazz idiom suited the organ perfectly, and the colourful and innovative registrations proved to the audience how organ music could be relevant even in today’s context.

The closing piece—Sowerby’s Pageant—was unabashedly virtuosic. True to Dr Freese’s promise, it was a visual treat as the audience were breath-taken by her flawless pedalling. Dr Freese demonstrated how playing with the feet, indeed, was in no way disadvantageous as compared to playing with the hands. The feet were certainly on equal “footing”—pun intended—with the hands!

The exuberance of Dr Freese’s personality shone through her playing. She truly lived and breathed music, refuting Stravinsky’s claim that the organ is the monster that never breathes. Dr Freese’s sincere musicality definitely left a lasting impression on those who attended the recital.

 

Pre-concert talk
Pre-concert talk

Dr Freese in action
Dr Freese in action

Group photo with Dr Freese
Group photo with Dr Freese