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The series of concerts at the Germanic Museum continues next Monday evening with a concert of harp and organ music, played by the eminent French harpist, Marcel Grandjany, E. Power Biggs at the organ, and the Fiedler Sinfonietta conducted by Arthur Fiedler. The program is an extraordinarily interesting one, including a Handel harp concerto, a new Poulenc organ concerto, and some harp and organ music by Grandjany himself.
No one who has not heard the harp in recital can imagine the amazing volume of tone it produces. To look at it, with its aesthetically-shaped frame, and its rows of fragile strings, one would think the best it could manage were a few inspired, but hardly audible tinkles, whereas in reality, when skillfully played, it can compete with the organ in fullness and richness of tone. The combination of the harp and organ, which I have never heard, should certainly be an unusual one, if not downright peculiar. It is hard to imagine the sustained, bellows quality of the organ blending with the string-like impact of a harp, but both of Mr. Grandjany's compositions utilize the two together; and hearing it should be a novel experience. Another bizarre combination of instruments is found in the Poulenc Concerto, where the organ and string-orchestra are supplemented by a set of Kettle Drums. It is impossible to say just why or how, but the union of these two, the organ and Kettle Drums, is a striking and dynamic piece of scoring, the quality of which is spectacular and unique and well-nigh indescribable.
As to the music itself: The program opens with organ music by Bach, the Prelude and St. Anne Fugue in E-flat, (so-called because of its similarity to a well-known hymn-tune of the same name), and two chorale preludes. The Grandjany Aria for organ, harp and orchestra, and the Fantasic for harp and organ unaccompanied, are dedicated to Mrs. Coolidge, the sponsor of the concert, and while not dazzlingly modern, are typically French in their balance and delicacy of line. The Handel Harp Concerto is number six of Handel's organ concertos. It was written specifically for harp or organ, so that it is not merely a transcription, but a work composed by Handel with the harp actually in mind. How Handel treats the harp in this concerto, and how the harp compares with the organ as a virtuoso instrument for concerto, are interesting questions which should be answered Monday night.
This concert will mark also the first American performance of Francis Poulenc's Organ Concerto, which had its world premiere in Paris last year. Luckily I know someone who was at that premiere, and what I say now about the concerto is all from him. Evidently it is not only one of Poulenc's best works, getting away to a certain extent from the narrowness of Les Six and the ragtime of the twenties, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of music as well. It starts out with a pompous Handelian little theme, which is quickly broken down, so my informant says, into a vein of jocosity, busy chattering strings, and short reiterated little figures, (a trick used very successfully by Strawinsky in his recent symphony), And throughout the work there is a good deal of musical wisecracking--banal tunes, whizzing themes, sound effects, changes in mood and tempo, all contributing to a decidedly comic effect. It, and the Handel, Bach and Grandjany concertos; the organ, harp, string orchestra, and tympani, all point to one of the best concerts of the season.
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