Organist Swann Delivers an Inspired Farewell Recital


What suits a musical icon best? Doing his job with all his celebrated skills intact.

Frederick Swann, for 40 years a role model for organists entering a most demanding profession--one requiring deep integration of musical, technical, mechanical, artistic and spiritual elements--lived up to that ideal Friday night in his farewell recital at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove.

It was the happiest of occasions: Swann, 67, will move next month to a new musical challenge, the post of organist-in-residence at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. He will preside over that church’s suite of organs as he has dominated and helped evolve the combination instrument in Garden Grove for 16 years.


His playing was splendid, probing, brilliant and entertaining--as usual--and it involved some painless education, as he spoke before most items on the brief program (“I want to finish before the fireworks at Disneyland start,” he quipped, self-deprecatingly) and described his history with the Hazel Wright instrument. He also introduced the three curators of the organ, thanking them for maintaining and improving it over the years.

The performance, which ended shortly after 9:30 (when the nearby fireworks began), was highlighted by the pristine but virtuosic flutes and reeds--"They can sound like an educated duck,” Swann said--in the “Noel: Grand Jeu et Duo” by Louis-Claude Daquin, then by Franck’s thundering “Fantaisie” in A and by the urban crunches in Robert Hebble’s “Heralding,” a piece commissioned for the inauguration of the Crystal Cathedral’s imposing, resourceful and now-integrated Wright organ.

The post-intermission portion became a suite of Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s volatile and emotional Symphonic Chorale on “Abide, O Dearest Jesus”; the ubiquitous Adagio--originally for strings--by Samuel Barber (in a transcription the composer gave to Swann three decades ago); and the famously popular Toccata from Widor’s Symphony V.

By way of encore, Swann entertained himself by accompanying his audience in a favorite hymn, “The Day You Gave Us, God, Is Ended,” by John Ellerton, complete with fancy introductions, transitions and upward transpositions. As always, Swann is an inspiration.