Peter Hurford returned to First Congregational Church Friday to open the 58th Los Angeles Bach Festival and the 23rd annual organ series at the Wilshire District church. The British organist brought an almost overly inventive, bipartite program, which really blossomed only after intermission.
His aim on the first half seemed at least partly didactic, framing little pieces by Bach's pupil Johann Ludwig Krebs and a toccata by Bach's influential predecessor Dietrich Buxtehude with relatively minor works from the master.
Bach's Vivaldi adaptation, the Concerto in A minor, BWV 593, began things with bland geniality, eminently clear in texture, blurred in some passagework. Registration was more of a problem in two chorale settings by Krebs, with badly mismatched flutes, but Hurford found an appealing combination for Krebs' Trio in A minor.
In this context, Buxtehude's Toccata in F seemed an even more imaginative monument than it usually does, benefitting further from Hurford's bright, structurally interpreted performance.
Working almost exclusively with the Schlicker instrument in the rear gallery, Hurford developed registrations that helped define linear and architectural detail as well as provide color variety.
This was most apparent in Bach's chorale partita on "Sei gegrusset," BWV 768. There he kept the tune distinct in the most florid settings, employed the full range of sonic resources available without obtrusive fuss, and rose to articulate brilliance in the seventh variation and real majesty in the finale.
For the second half, Hurford turned to the third book of the "Clavier-ubung," with the "St. Anne" Prelude and Fugue framing three of the liturgical chorale preludes. Here all of the promise of the soft-grained first half was fulfilled in focused, articulate accounts, powerfully projected.