By Libby Price
The magnificent sonorities possible when a major organist has access to a remarkable instrument such as Oklahoma City University’s 70-rank Holtkamp in the campus chapel were plumbed when new university organist Melissa Plamann gave the seventh in the OCU Distinguished Artist Series inaugurated this year on Sunday afternoon.
In a well-planned program that went from Bach to Max Reger, Dr. Plamann started with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes, showing the British composer’s verve in embellishing the tunes Bryn Calfaria, Rhosymedre and Hyfrydol, familiar to many because of the hymns associated with the tunes.
Then she turned to Mendelssohn, using his Sonata in D minor to make use of all the organ’s possibilities. These ranged from a set of variations on Luther’s “Our Father, Thou in Heaven Above” to a masterful fugue with many patterns of melody and finally a simple “song without words” as the composer moved into a major mode.
One of the most interesting pieces on the program was by Petr Eben, a work written in 1986 by one of the premier Czech composers of the 20th century, commissioned for the reopening of the Chichester (England) Cathedral organ.
Eben used the familiar Christmas carol tune, “Good King Wenceslas” to celebrate the association of the Czech Republic and Great Britain. It is a sprightly work with many innovative turns on rhythm and melody, some of them rather “tongue in cheek.”
The Bach work did not come until after intermission, when the organist played his “St.Anne” Fugue in E-flat, BWV 552, with its strikingly contrasting sections that seem — because of many uses of three-part fugues and patterns that seem to reflect the three discrete persons of the Trinity.
The work made use of all of the possibilities of this organ, with its variety of musical voices.
With marked contrast in mood, Dr. Plamann inserted the lovely “le Jardin suspendu” from Jehan Alain’s Trois Pieces for organ, its “hanging garden” theme exploring varied sound combinations and a “meandering” melodic line to perfection. Finally, the organist went all out with Reger’s Chorale Fantasia on “EinFeste Burg ist unser Gott” Opus 2. This is a colossal work that a taxes all the organist’s strengths of interpretation.