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- Organist Stephen Tharp's concert 'as good as it gets'

Greensboro News & Record, October 18, 2015 By Nicholas Rich Special to News & Record Concert season is in full swing here in the Triad, and we can choose from some great institutions. The Greensboro Symphony, Greensboro Opera, and Bel Canto do a fine job with the large ensemble repertoire. For chamber music and soloists, the premier series is Music for a Great Space. Celebrating its 25th season, MGS was founded by Lucy and Henry Ingram, both professional musicians, philanthropists and members of Greensboro’s Christ United Methodist Church. The idea behind the concert series is to call attention to the church’s stunning acoustics and its masterpiece of an organ, the C.B. Fisk Opus 82.

On Friday night MGS brought us Stephen Tharp. Called “the best organist in America" by “The Diapason," Tharp’s performance resume includes the finest venues and organs in the world. What a treat to hear him on one of the finest in North Carolina. Tharp’s program was meaty and thorough, covering four centuries of music. Like the Fisk organ itself, Tharp is eclectic but not messy; he is stunningly good at bringing out the particular idiosyncrasies of each genre. Tharp began his concert with Louis Marchand’s “Grande Dialogue." Immediately he showcased one of the Fisk organ’s exceptional traits: its French-style reed stops, which give the organ its characteristic fire and formidable volume. Tharp wove these potentially overwhelming sounds together with supreme grace and elegance....][..... the sound image was dazzling. Moving to Baroque Germany, Tharp paced through some of the preludes, fugues, and chorales that form such an important part of the organ repertoire.

A highlight was Dietrich Buxtehude’s “Praeludium" in E Minor. Alternating between free virtuosic material and strict polyphony, this piece explored the organ’s sparkling mixture stops, which provide brilliance and complexity to the sound. Again, like the organ, Tharp sounded just as comfortable with the counterpoint of Germany as he did with the ornamentation of France. After intermission, Tharp moved directly from the Baroque to the 20th century, tackling Marcel Dupre’s “Prelude and Fugue in F minor." Dupré is best known for his astonishing technique and the difficulty of his music. This prelude and fugue, while difficult, represents Dupré’s more introspective side. For the first time the audience was treated to the lush and alluring sounds of the Fisk’s string stops; truly beautiful. Tharp ended his concert with what he called “a fun little romp," the “Variations on Two Themes" by Naji Hakim. The “Variations" subjected two hymn tunes, “Hope of the World" and the “Old 100th" to a raucous kaleidescope of irreverent settings. Despite the piece’s breakneck speed and jarring changes of mood and tempo, Tharp never lost his focus or intensity. A great space, a great instrument, and a great performer: Stephen Tharp’s concert was as good as it gets.


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