We are blessed in our little corner of paradise by Carmel Bay. We have many iconic places people come from all over the world to see. We get to enjoy them frequently. Our experience can be very personal. I always feel the history when I visit Carmel Mission Basilica, especially when the organ is heard. I have a very special place in my heart for Opus 3612 built by Casavant Frères and installed in 1986. As part of the Carmel Bach Festival, Andrew Arthur plays All Bach Organ Recitals. I attended the brief concert just before Noon on Monday, July 22, 2019.
To open the concert, Fantasia & Fugue in C minor, BWV 537 was chosen. Bach must have had a special place for the key of C minor in his heart. This piece is an excellent example of his iconic harmonies and his use of the Sefzer motive (sighing motive). When I heard the bass soloist at the beginning of Part IV of the Christmas Oratorio last week, I thought of this Fantasy. It starts with the pedal holding that long note over many phrases. Again, a signature motive Bach used in many pieces.
In keeping with this year’s Festival focus of the Christmas Oratorio, Andrew Arthur gave us five Chorale Preludes from the season of Advent. The first three are composed using the Chorale Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. These chorales were written during Bach’s Leipzig era, a decade or so after he composed the Christmas Oratorio. They are excellent examples of the compositional style we have come to love in Bach’s music. Mr. Arthur chose a pleasing variety of stops available on the Casavant. Next he gave us two settings of the Chorale Meine Seele ergebt den Herren. These are part of Luther’s paraphrase of Mary’s Magnificat. Full of joy and celebration, these pieces proclaim and affirm. Accordingly, bold stops were chosen that filled the air with full throttle sound.
Every young organist should explore the next piece Mr. Arthur played. The Pastorella in F BWV 590 is deceptively simple. The four movements are quite accessible to a beginning organist, but they allow a master to really show Bach’s genius and an organ’s sound. We were treated to this old friend with dancing rhythms and new stop combinations. I found myself smiling in joy. To finish the concert, another old friend was chosen: Toccata & Fugue in D minor “Dorian” BWV 538. This organist frequently plays tricks on unsuspecting friends by playing a bit of this toccata when requested to play “that scary piece.” We heard the Casavant put through its paces with the commanding music exquisitely played by Andrew Arthur. Too often, organists wanting to prove something to an audience speed through this piece in an unrelenting tempo. We heard a dignified, respectful playing on traditional registrations.
I admit as an organist, this is my favorite concert to attend at the Carmel Bach Festival. There is something about the organ in the Basilica and the harmonies of the music that give me rest and peace in my day. Thank you to the Mission for opening the doors and console for our listening pleasure. Thank you to Andrew Arthur for playing the music of J. S. Bach in such a masterful way. I look forward to supporting the Mission as they work to renovate the instrument.