Saturday afternoon, June 4, was sheer delight at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Carmel Valley. The church introduced its new organ with a recital featuring James Welch, University Organist at Santa Clara University, and his 17-year old son, Nicholas. First, about the organ: this new instrument built by Dobson Pipe Builders in Iowa replaces the old electric organ. The new organ has 1,008 pipes with an under-structure of American white oak — it is a long way from the pump organ in your great grandmother’s parlor. Its positioning in the church creates diagonal and vertical lines that intrigue the eye much as a painting does. One also sees a keyboard pattern on the wood, both horizontally and vertically. Since this organ was designed specifically for St. Dunstan’s, it blends perfectly with the existing church structure.
The recital included 15 short pieces performed in about 75 minutes. The opening was “Agincourt Hymn” by John Dunstable, while the concluding work was Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Since Welch is known for his creative programming, it was no surprise that this recital ran the gamut from medieval to 21st century music. Two toccatas invited an interesting comparison: Bach’s Toccata in C major described by Welch as “the ultimate show-off piece for pedaling” and 19th century Toccata from Suite Gothique by Leon Boellmann.
Midway through the recital we heard the second movement from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 played by father and son. Son Nicholas played on the piano the well-known melody, while his father played the orchestra reduction on the organ. We also heard the world premier of Fète by Franklin Ashdown, a robust and happy work that was only recently published. A welcome addition to the program was the much beloved “Greensleeves” in an arrangement by Richard Purvis. Incidentally, James Welch is the author of a new biography “Richard Purvis, Organist of Grace.” Purvis was affiliated with Grace Cathedral in San Francisco for many years (he died in 1994).
The church was was packed — it was standing room only — and it was filled with people who were delighted and thrilled with the performance.