On this last day of the AGO convention, we spent the morning in Wellesley, some 17 miles away from Boston, and went right to Houghton Chapel on the Wellesley College campus.
On the Wellesley College website, you can read that: The organ built by the late Charles Brenton Fisk (1925-1983) for Houghton Chapel at Wellesley College is one of the most extraordinary instruments in America. This is an organ designed specifically for the performance of north German organ music of the 17th century – a huge repertory of remarkable artistic quality.
You might recall that this is not my first visit here — I came with the Boston Early Music Festival in 2011, (“Six concerts in one day!”) but that time I was not so struck by the instrument and its mean-tone temperament. Now that I am “older” (wink!) I can really appreciate these nonstandard tunings, especially when played so sensitively and musically by Kimberly Marshall, who played a concert of Scheidemann, Schlick, Fischer, Buxtehude, Frescobaldi and Bach. I absolutely loved the sound of this instrument! After the concert we were allowed to go upstairs to examine the case and console more closely. Also remarkable was the fact that the bellows were pumped by hand for the concert.
You might recall that the keyboard has split keys (separate keys for D# and E-flat, for example). Kimberly Marshall ended her program with a remarkable performance of Sweelinck’s Chromatic Fantasy, and it sounded so colorful yet was without the “wolf-tones” when we heard it last in Halle, Germany at Handel’s organ.
The next concert was at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, also in Wellesley, for a program of mostly French music played by Renée Anne Louprette. I have to confess that I did not like this organ at all, because I think it was too much organ for the space. We had our fingers in our ears for much of the concert because it was just too loud, and the mixtures just screamed at you!
However, she ended the program with César Franck’s Final, which always reminds me of my time as a student of Marcel Dupré. That is because another organ student from America, William McCoy, with whom I became fast friends, was studying that piece with Dupré and I remember hearing him practice it numerous times. Too bad this performance didn’t sound very French on this particular organ.