It was a wide-ranging program Robert Noehren served up Saturday on the Tabernacle organ, encompassing everything from the piquant antiquities of Antonio de Cabezon (1510-1566) to the ecstatic shimmer of Olivier Messiaen, at 81 still very much with us.
So for that matter is Noehren himself, at 79 among the most distinguished of American organists.As a composer, he was here represented by his own Sonata, very Hindemithian in both its themes and their harmonic development. And if, as a performer, his playing was more notable for mature reflection than excitement per se, at times he proved he is still capable of that too.
Whatever the mood, he consistently pulled a fine sound from the instrument, from the imaginative reed voicings of Cabezon's "Diferencias (or variations) on the Song of a Caballero" to the grandiose religiosity of Jean Langlais' Paraphrase on the "Te Deum." Best in that regard, though, were the affectingly muted half-tints of Karg-Elert's "The Reed-Grown Waters," whose impressionistic colorings found both composer and organist at their most appealing.
Elsewhere the modest charms of Buxtehude's Fugue in C major were highlighted with restraint, as was the solemn majesty of the Bach Chorale Prelude "Christ lag in Todesbanden," remarkable for its depth of sound.
Against that came the more virtuosic manner of the same composer's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, its inherent drama marred only by some overly deliberate transitions. At the same time one savored both the boldly proclamatory opening, with its growling pedals, and the overall strength of the conception.
Franck's valedictory Chorale in A minor was likewise grandly unfurled at the edges, if a bit stolid toward the center. Before that came Brahms' fragrant meditation on "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen," afterwards Schumann's Sketch in D flat major, originally for pedal-piano, which again only came alive in the bigger pages.
If that suggests a pattern, happily it was broken in both the Messiaen - "The Angels" from "La Nativite" - whose celestial babble was marked by some crystaline passagework at all levels, and Max Reger's Toccata and Fugue in A minor, here projected with extraordinary urgency and a sense of power in reserve.
That's ironic, as Reger is generally thought of as being among the more stolid of late-19th-century composers. But not in this performance, with its controlled washes of sound and big, semi-brawling finish. Suggesting that the dull-looking German had a few surprises up his sleeve, as on this occasion did his interpreter.