Inside the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

Inside the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

by Michael Caruso

The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill hosted an organ recital Friday, April 10, that featured Isabelle Demers in a challenging program played by memory on the church’s splendid Mander pipe organ. In music that spanned the centuries, from the early Baroque of Michael Praetorius to music written by living composers such as Rachel Laurin, Demers’ performance validated the international acclaim the young Canadian has garnered on the concert circuit.

Although most concert pianists play solo recitals and concerto concerts by memory — the exception has always been chamber music, since it involves other players who are using the score — organists rarely do so for several seminal reasons. Most obvious of all is the use of the pedals, which require an additional level of coordination.

There’s also the organ’s second, third and sometimes fourth keyboards, called manuals. The sound elicited from each one can be quite different, and one wouldn’t want the wrong tones coming out of the instrument. Then there are the myriad registrations to produce those various colors that often change countless times from start to finish of a major work.

Finally, there’s the fact that concert organists are always playing someone else’s instrument, one that they may not have encountered until the very day of the recital, depending on their schedule. There is no such thing as a generic pipe organ. Each one is its own distinctive work of art. Take, for instance, two of the region’s major pipe organs that just so happen to reside in two churches here in Chestnut Hill: Chestnut Hill Presbyterian’s English-made Mander organ and the American Aeolian-Skinner instrument at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

The former was designed in the baroque/classical style of the 18th century whereas the latter is a classic example of the romantic/symphonic style of the early 20th century. Plus, an organist must take into account the different environments in which each organ is placed. While St. Paul’s Church offers the warmly resonant acoustics of its neo-gothic architecture, Chestnut Hill Presbyterian offers the clear, bright acoustics of its neo-classical style.

That Demers could overcome each of these challenges even with the printed page in front of her would have marked her performance a stunning triumph. That she did so by memory was miraculous. Demers’ playing was heard at its most impressive in Bach’s “Trio Sonata in C minor” Through registrations that highlighted the instrument’s textural clarity and digital dexterity, she projected all three lines — right hand, left hand, and both feet — with energetic eloquence.


Paul Goodwin made a rare and effective appearance on the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra April 10 & 11 in Verizon Hall to lead the ensemble in a program that featured music by Mozart and Beethoven but that was highlighted by the lesser light Carl Stamitz. His “Viola Concerto in D major” offered the Orchestra’s principal violist, Choong-Jin Chang, the equally rare opportunity to appear as a soloist.

Although Stamitz’ reputation pales before that of a contemporary such as Franz Joseph Haydn, his “Viola Concerto in D major” deserves to be ranked among the finest for the viola composed during the 18th century classical period. It is both well crafted and elegantly expressive. It received an exemplary interpretation from Chang, who performed it by memory, which is unusual for orchestral players who don’t regularly appear as a soloist.

The concert opened with a fine reading of Mozart’s “Symphony in D major,” after the “Posthorn” Serenade in the same key. After intermission, Goodwin and the Philadelphians wasted their talents on Beethoven’s “Consecration of the House” Overture, a score that would never again see the light day were Beethoven’s name not attached to it, and then gave a splendid performance of his magnificent “Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major.”

Principal guest conductor Stephene Deneve will lead the Orchestra and the Philadelphia Singers Chorale in a program of works by John Williams, Magnus Lindberg and Sergei Prokofiev April 23 & 25 at 8 p.m. and April 24 at 2 p.m.