My experience on Saturday, December 9, 2017, during the continuation of the St. Dunstans Organ Series was a superbly satisfying one. The organist, Angela Kraft Cross, has an MD in Opthamaolgy as well as an MA in piano performance. She is also utterly gracious and connects with her audience, giving brief, thorough, yet charming, introductions before each set of pieces she played so we can better understand her selections.
Sometimes classical organ repertoire can seem challenging, but not in her hands, for she is always clear, both verbally and musically, in everything she conveys. She began with three Bach compositions. The first was Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, more commonly known as “Sleepers Wake,” a German hymn from 1559, about waking to greet the bridegroom (Jesus} It is often heard at Christmas time, and it was the best rendition of this familiar chorale I have heard. Dr. Cross took it at a lively pace and brilliantly, but always kept the main melodies in the forefront. She plays so well and accurately, with registrations that are always appropriate to the music.
Her second Bach piece was In Dulci Jubilo and sweetly jubilant it was. Her tempo was fast and joyful. This too is a holiday favorite and created smiling faces in the audience.The organ began moderately softly and ended with really full volume that was entirely suited to this is upbeat piece. In her next piece, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major, Cross flew through this complex work with acuity and musical verve. Her pedal work in the fugue was dance-like and superb.
The next three pieces were a combination of styles.She performed her own version of the Christmas hymn “Fantasie on Personent Hodie,” beautifully written and performed. In her Bach Gigue she employed wonderful echo effects between the manuals, which was a musical delight. Her Brahms pieces showed the quieter power of the instrument, especially in “Lo how a rose Ere Blooming.”
Her next set included Greensleeves in a setting by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Again the power of a subdued instrument was incredibly beautiful.This carol is so familiar, but in her hands it seemed utterly new. Also included was a setting of an old English carol by Dr Cross, which ended with a very complex and exciting melodic tour de force. Her final three pieces were French. She played Noel X by Louis Claude Daquin, which began with rapid finger passages, all handled with aplomb — growing increasingly complex with each new iteration of the theme (this is also a popular a Christmas selection). The second piece was by Cross called Les Berger (1999), and of her three compositions, this was my favorite. It was so complex and beautifully constructed, yet still accessible to the first time listener.
Her final offering was based on two movements of a symphony by a Louis Vierne. These are works in which she demonstrated both her skills and the capacity of the instrument in the finest of forms. The selection ends with huge pedal demands and full organ, all of which was done with ease.
She gave us an encore at the end, also by Vierne, called the Carillons de Westminster.It has really rapid left handed passages and then finally ends in a rapid virtuosic display of pedal technique. What a joyful Christmas gift this was.The St. Dunstans organ series is an amazing series and a great value at $20 per ticket!