Not Your Typical Methuen Organ Recital


A performance by organist Luca Massaglia and saxophonist Isabella Stabio, both from Turin, Italy, concluded the summer series of weekly organ recitals at Methuen Memorial Music Hall on Wednesday, August 31. For those unfamiliar with this venerable institution, it houses the first concert organ in the United States, originally built in 1862 by the German firm of E. F. Walcker for the Boston Music Hall and inaugurated there in 1863. The organ was removed from the Music Hall in 1884 to make more stage space for the recently founded Boston Symphony Orchestra. Ultimately, it came to Methuen where Edward Francis Searles built an architecturally and acoustically resplendent hall specifically to house it.

The program was a mix of pieces with saxophone and organ, solo organ works, and orchestral transcriptions utilizing both instruments. The four transcriptions of the first half were done by Massaglia expressly for this recital.

The one solo organ work of the first half was Maurice Duruflé, Prélude from the Suite, Op. 5. A musical "dark night of the soul" in the caliginous key of E-flat minor, it calls for careful choice of stops, to preserve the balance in several quasi-polyphonic passages and also to make a smooth and inexorable crescendo and decrescendo. Massaglia's playing and registration were exemplary. Especially praiseworthy was his expressive rubato in the doleful final section: a deeply moving interpretation.

The solo organ work after intermission was Saga No. 1 by Jean Guillou (b. 1930). Guillou has been organist at St. Eustache, Paris since 1963 and is equally renowned as pianist and pedagogue. The atonal Saga had an improvisational feel, with contrasted colors of flutes and reeds alternating and combining contrapuntally. It was another good choice to highlight Massaglia's coloristic prowess.

This was certainly not the typical Methuen organ recital. One hopes the audience was edified by hearing the subtler glories of this organ, most notably, its great range of orchestral colors and ability to collaborate. We are indebted to Luca Massaglia (...).

Geoffrey Wieting
'The Boston Musical Intelligencer', 2 Settembre 2011