Organist Scott does wonders with Bach’s Clavier-Übung III

  • Jul 13, 2012
By James Bash From Oregon Music News July 12, 2012  Over the past week, a minor-league heat wave has stayed in Portland long enough to cause even large spaces like Trinity Episcopal Cathedral to become uncomfortably warm. But the sweltering conditions did not deter John Scott, organist and director of music at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City, from delivering, on Monday (July 9), a superb two-hour performance of Bach’s Clavier-Übung III in a concert presented by the Oregon Bach Festival. The third volume of the Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice) contains a monumental praeludium, 21 chorale preludes, and a closing fugue.  Together, they comprise some of Bach’s most complex and technically difficult music for the organ, using modal forms, motet-style, and canons. They also involve a sophisticated wrapping of numerology with theology that would take an independent essay to explain.  Suffice it to say that the beauty of Bach’s music, as played by Scott on Trinity Episcopal’s Rosales Organ, overrode any intellectual consideration for how many sharps, flats, and crossing thematic material were used in any given section of the piece. The Praeludium in E-flat major “St. Anne” was stunningly sumptuous with a grand array of rich and glorious colors that seem to match the gorgeous stain-glass window behind and above the organ. The 21 one preludes that followed varied in timbre – some were reedier, some light and flute-like, others almost bell-like – and mood – some were devotional, some bold, and others playful. Number 14, Wir glauben all an einen Gott (We all believe in one God) was knotted with closely knitted chords, and the notes of Number 21, Jesus Christus, unser Heiland (Jesus Christ, our savior) seemed to jump delightfully about as if Scott’s fingers were playing leapfrog on the keyboard. The Fugue in E-flat major “St. Anne” summed up the entire work and wrapped it into a brilliant and grand statement, that was finished off with a demonstrative chord that Scott let ride for a long, long time. The audience, which included many regional organists, lapped it all up and responded with a standing ovation and a mighty volume of applause, a fitting tribute to Scott’s incredible performance.