Mighty sounds from Todd Wilson and the Meyerson Symphony Center’s Fisk organ


In the history of revolutionary musical instruments, the Lay Family organ in the Meyerson Symphony Center deserves a place. After generations of concert hall organs proved too wimpy to stand up to increasingly powerful modern orchestras, the Massachusetts firm of C.B. Fisk imagined and built a new kind of instrument.

Inaugurated in 1992, boldly scaled and winded, the Meyerson organ can actually overpower the fullest symphonic climax. The stunning impact of the instrument, in rich acoustics hardly less revolutionary, inspired a worldwide explosion of other new concert hall organs.

It remains a shame that the Dallas Symphony Orchestra so rarely programs the organ-and-orchestra works for which the Meyerson instrument was conceived. But the DSO commendably maintains its annual series of solo organ recitals, on Sunday afternoon presenting American organist Todd Wilson.

Relatively reserved registrations, starting with an unadorned but hefty 8-foot Principal stop, were welcome in a multisectional F-sharp minor Praeludium by Danish-German baroque composer Dietrich Buxtehude; other sections were treated to aptly contrasted sonorities.

The Meyerson organ nominally supplied stops specified in the E major Choral of César Franck, although they were enormously more forceful than those of the 19th-century Cavaillé-Coll organs for which Franck composed.

American composer David Conte’s 1996 Soliloquy was a welcome palate-cleanser, a Copland-esque essay in crescendo and decrescendo. Edwin Lemare’s Carmen Fantasy was a fun buffet of money tunes from Bizet’s eponymous opera, with stirring sounds from big solo reed stops.

Two of jazz pianist George Shearing’s Preludes on American Hymn Tunes — “There is a happy land” and “I love Thee, my Lord — supplied a gentle amuse bouche before the afternoon’s meaty main course, the Sonata The 94th Psalm by Liszt’s short-lived protégé Julius Reubke.

Adapting structural innovations from Liszt’s then-recent B minor Piano Sonata, Reubke’s organ sonata is a Lisztian tone poem dramatizing the psalm’s verses. Divine vengeance is summoned in sinister and turbulent music, but a gentler section suggests verse 19: “In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.”

Throughout the recital, Wilson played with the assurance and taste that have made him one of the most respected concert organists of recent decades. Although some registrations wanted a lighter hand, everything was served up with absolute assurance, with perfectly judged rhythmic freedoms that never severed structural integrity. For encores we got an easygoing version of Vincent Youmans’ “Tea for Two” and the late Gerre Hancock’s cheeky improvisation on the children’s hymn “I sing a song of the saints of God.”

Spoken program notes are especially welcome when the performer must turn his back to the audience. But Wilson must have talked almost as much as he played, which was too much.

The Lay Family Organ, by C.B. Fisk organ builders, in the Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas (Scott Cantrell)

Nearly 30 years on, the Meyerson organ’s tonal mass and aggression sometimes seems too much of a good thing. A surreptitious check of my smartphone’s sound-level app recorded a 95-decibel climax, a point at which ear protection is recommended in industrial settings. But in the right hands — and feet — the impact is nothing if not impressive, as it certainly was Sunday afternoon.

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