Biggers’ concert bountiful and beautiful

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

A couple of dozen lucky people sat in Binghamton’s United Presbyterian Church at dusk yesterday (Sept. 11) to hear a reprise of Jonathan Biggers’ July 11 concert at Atlanta’s Peachtree Road United Methodist Church.
Hailed as “one of the most outstanding concert organists in the United States,” Biggers once again demonstrated his mastery of the “king of instruments,” on one of the finest organs in the Southern Tier.
Biggers, a faculty member at Binghamton University, never does anything on a small scale. His larger-than-life personality shines through his performances and can make him seem formidable, but on Tuesday, he was anything but. He was casual, folksy, humble and humorous in his descriptions of the pieces.
A bonus was the setting – the vaulting 1862 Victorian church with its magnificent Tiffany “cloud glass” windows, Tiffany mosaics and Tiffany chandelier (which soon will be on loan to the Museum of Modern Art – but that’s another story). When Biggers hit those below-the-basement notes, the whole room and its inhabitants vibrated like a gargantuan cell phone or coin-operated massage bed.
Hats off, too, to Jean Henssler, for her efficient and self-effacing page turning. Anyone who has served in that role knows it’s the most nerve-wracking job ever. Biggers described Henssler, a superb organist/pianist in her own right, as “the best page turner ever.”
Biggers opened the program with three pieces by contemporary composer Craig Phillips. They’re sonorous, serene and very beautiful.
Next came “one of the biggies,” the Toccata and Fugue in F Major by J.S. Bach, written in a period “where Bach was hell-bent on impressing people.” With the organist’s limbs going in four separate directions, it’s a a game of Twister for feet and fingers, a mighty tour de force that Biggers pulled off with aplomb.
We were advised to close our eyes during Virgil Fox’s arrangement of Bach’s Come, Sweet Death, Come, Blessed Rest. Written for the biggest organ in the world (the 38,000-pipe Wanamaker’s — now Macy’s– organ in Philadelphia), it felt like wallowing in a deep vat of dark chocolate pudding.
In the grand finale to a program that was full of grand finales, Biggers performed Louis Verne’s Finale from Symphony VI. The “fun romp through French territory,” concluded with a huge flourish of very difficult E-major scales. And unlike Vierne, who died at the keyboard with one leg firmly playing a low C note, Biggers survived to treat Southern Tier audiences to more music at — we can only hope — many future occasions.

COMING UP: Biggers’ next performance, a holiday concert with the Ithaca Brass, will be at 4 p.m. Dec. 1 at United Presbyterian Church, 42 Chenango St., Binghamton . Tickets are $9 ($6 for BU faculty/staff and seniors, $3 for students). Call 777-ARTS, or buy tickets at the door. The concert is being billed as a celebration of Biggers’ 20th anniversary at BU.

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