Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
Craig Phillips is a distinguished organist and composer of organ and choral music. If anyone had any doubt about that, they weren’t after his concert Sunday afternoon (April 19) at Binghamton’s United Presbyterian Church, where he played to a select, but appreciative audience.
Philips, who hails from Hollywood, Calif., was joined in the organ loft by violinist Uli Speth, concertmaster of the Binghamton Philharmonic, and flautist Georgetta Maiolo, recently retired from the BPO, to perform his Scenes from a Gallery (2009). The suite is a series of delightful, impressionistic movements inspired by contemporary works of art. Speth and Maiolo (who celebrated her birthday Sunday) played with spirit and verve and sweet tones that mingled and complemented each other.
Unlike so much of the organ repertoire, which is characterized by huge sound and phenomenally difficult finger and footwork, Phillip’s pieces are quiet, quirky, modest and easily accessible to listeners. His Prelude on Nettleton (1991) and Prelude on Caithness (2014) swirled around simple and sweet English folk melodies. In a word, they were charming.
From the more standard repertoire, Phillips played Cesar Franck’s Choral III in A minor and Choral-Improvisation by Charles Tournemire sur le “Victimae paschali.” Both are formidably difficult pieces – they thrilled with a huge sound that vibrated the whole sanctuary.
It’s a shame a concert of this quality had to go head-to-head with the TCO performance of Faust. But then again, there always are too many cultural offerings in Binghamton and not enough weekends in the year to accommodate them all.
The concert was sponsored by the Binghamton University Music Department and the Binghamton Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, which provided a dessert reception afterward.