Times Staff Writer

A longtime proponent of neglected organ literature from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Thomas Murray again raided that shelf for his latest Southland recital, Tuesday night at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove.

Yet, in this Bach year, the focal point of his program became two groups of pieces by Johann Sebastian, groups which included, all told, six of the 38 chorale preludes discovered last fall at Yale University, where Murray remains on the faculty of the school of music.

The juxtapositions and contrasts in these two elements enlivened an already fascinating agenda.

Murray opened and closed his program with works from his specialization, the Brahmsian Sonata No. 13 by Joseph Rheinberger--who, the youngish organist reminded us in spoken program notes, is the most famous of composers produced by Liechtenstein--and the finale, "Tu Es Petra," from Henri Mulet's "Esquisses Byzantines."

In both, and in miniatures by Alfred Hollins and Niels Gade, as well as in two transcriptions from piano pieces by Edward MacDowell and Debussy, Murray produced affectionate, impassioned and admirably clarified performances--readings which probed the worth and virtues in music undeserving of the scorn it has sometimes received.

Comparable probing and clarification also marked Murray's imaginative but stylish, even pristine, approach to the Bach pieces--in addition to the six chorale preludes, the Sinfonia from Cantata 29; "Sheep May Safely Graze," and the Fugue in G.

In these Baroque works, as in the more exotic repertory, Murray used many of the resources of the monumental Hazel Wright organ in the cathedral without resort to gimmickry, over-registration or questionable taste. Even when he chose to utilize the rear organ in combination with trumpets in the East and West alcoves, Murray kept Bach's musical profile within appropriate limits of taste and color.

His first encore was a Gavote by Rameau, as arranged by Edwin Lemare.

The 1985 summer organ series at the cathedral concludes with recitals by Thomas Richner (on both piano and organ, Tuesday) and Keith Chapman (July 2).

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