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French organist Johann Vexo, a professor of organ from Strasbourg and tenor Damien Riviere, cantor of Notre-Dame Cathedral Paris performed last evening in a well-filled St Joseph's Cathedral, in Dunedin.
Organists are musicians who do not bring their instrument to the venue, and with no two organs being the same, the various colour palettes and idiosyncrasies of an unfamiliar instrument can make things exciting.
I felt last evening's French professional was thoroughly enjoying himself, delivering well-prepared repertoire on a pipe organ, built in 1866 by George Fincham, moved into the newly built cathedral in 1886 and rebuilt and enlarged in 1976.
They began with J. S. Bach. Qui tollis peccata mundi from BWV 235, introduced Riviere's light tenor timbre, appropriately manicured, with subtle vibrato to suit this non-secular vocal style. Sinfonia from BWV 29 for organ was well-paced and joyful with clarity and careful enunciation of voicings.
The rest of the programme featured excerpts from more contemporary ecclesiastical works. Ave Maris Stella by Marcel Dupre (1886-1971) opened in deep sonorous mood, with organ passages alternating the traditional Gregorian vocal chants before culminating in a challenging agitato display.
Several works by Louis Vierne (1870-1937) included vocal Au Matin and Au Soir, both calm lyrical compositions for voice, with varied organ accompaniments. Impromptu and Toccata (both from Op.53) were showy organ works, designed to demonstrate the virtuosity and flying fingers of the keyboard player.
The last in the final bracket by Jean Langlais (1907-1991) Hymne d'action de grace Te Deum was a modern spectacular Gregorian-based display - thickly dissonant, and elaborately decorative, with cadenza approaches accorded every final cadential chord.
- Elizabeth Bouman