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Music Reviews : Simon Preston Organ Recital Closes UK/LA Fest

Organ recitals are not usually hot tickets. Friday evening, however, the line for Simon Preston’s concert at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles stretched out the door and nearly to the street at times.

For those who haven’t been keeping track, the recital was the final classical music event in the UK/LA Festival, and it also closed the church’s 19th annual organ series. Much like the festival as a whole, Preston’s program was oddly unfocused and even slightly condescending.

Unlike the festival, however, it was short, at least in playing time. The first half consisted of just two big French Romantic works, Franck’s “Piece Heroique” and Guilmant’s D-minor Sonata.

The former organist at Westminster Abbey gave nicely controlled, clean and clear performances, although his Franck was much too cautious. He balanced the combined Skinner-Schlicker instruments well, in effective registrations, excepting a miscalculated dabbling with the chancel trumpets at the end of the first movement of the sonata.

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After intermission, Preston offered four British and American pops pieces. The sun has long since set on Elgar’s repetitious “Imperial” March, and the bloom is definitely off Dudley Buck’s implacably banal Variations on “The Last Rose of Summer.” Preston entered a wittier new world with Ives’ Variations on “America,” but Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes"--ponderously played--is theater-organ fare.

For his lone encore, Preston gave the large and enthusiastic audience his most substantial work of the evening: a fluent, dynamically well-developed account of Bach’s “St. Anne” Fugue, BWV 552.


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