2009 MONA FOMA: Ansgar Wallenhorst at St. David's Cathedral

One of the major treats of the 2009 MONA FOMA Festival of Music and Art in Hobart was the Ansgar Wallenhorst concert at St. David’s Cathedral. You have never truly heard that magnificent organ until played by virtuoso Wallenhorst.

Lucid Culture reviewed a similar 2007 concert at St. Thomas Church, NYC — a better review than we could write, so here’s the introduction discussing the performance of the same Franz Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue performed in Hobart.

Wallenhorst is a German organist and a devotee of improvisation, tonight proving himself in the same league as Olivier Latry or Pierre Cochereau. He gave the beautiful old Skinner organ here a workout it probably hasn’t had in years, using seemingly every pipe and every registration, no matter how obscure. Perhaps the glockenspiel felt neglected, but otherwise the venerable old instrument proved it can still whip up a storm for the ears. In almost 45 minutes, Wallenhorst played just two pieces, the first being Franz Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on the chorale Ad Nos, Ad Salutarem Undam. Liszt is famous for being the Pedro Martinez of the organ, i.e. having big hands and long fingers which helped facilitate the long jumps and massive chords which are his trademark. But melody is all too frequently an afterthought in his music: flights of dexterity and dazzling musicianship very often take precedence over content. Not so with this piece. It’s a flood warning, echoing back to Buxtehude and his contemporaries with its warm, major-key passages playing against eerie minor key melodies, macabre chromatics and tritones. By the time Wallenhorst wrapped it up with a scorching, fortissimo conclusion, he’d aired out the trumpet in the church’s ceiling as well as every rank in the flutes, reeds and the lowest, rumbling, subterranean pedal pipes. The intensity of the performance matched the knotty demands of the piece itself.

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