Music review: The Eclipse Chamber Orchestra at the National Presbyterian Church

FLUID: Organist William Neil swept over Widor's Symphony No. 6 with fleet hands and pedal work.
FLUID: Organist William Neil swept over Widor's Symphony No. 6 with fleet hands and pedal work. (Polaris Photography)
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By Cecelia Porter
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A group of National Symphony Orchestra musicians offered a winning afternoon of rarely heard music Sunday to a capacity audience at National Presbyterian Church. The first half of the concert included the Allegro from Charles-Marie Widor's Organ Symphony No. 6, a Chaconne in G Minor for Violin (wrongly credited to Tomaso Antonio Vitali) and Johann Wilhelm Hertel's Trumpet Concerto No. 1 in E-flat. Lili Boulanger's "Pie Jesu" and Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani made up the concert's second half.

William Neil, organist of the NSO and National Presbyterian, soloed on the church's magnificent Aeolian-Skinner instrument, a five-keyboard affair with a vast array of stops and 7,000 pipes, highlighting the organ's new solo division. Giving boisterous vent to the Widor's monumental scope, Neil swept over the music's finely spun counterpoint and fluidly unfolding textures, the pedal work as fleet as the hands. Thoughtfully accompanied by Neil, NSO violinist Heather LeDoux Green tackled the demonic Chaconne, a true cliffhanger, with laudable success. The NSO's principal trumpet, Steven Hendrickson, missed none of the regal exuberance of Hertel's Concerto, sailing over its unfolding surfaces with molten legatos and meticulousphrasing.

The gifted French musician Lili Boulanger was a sister of composer Nadia, fabled teacher of generations of composers. (Aaron Copland was her first American student.) Lili succumbed to chronic illness at 24, but left behind such poignant settings as the "Pie Jesu," sung Sunday with crystalline timbres by soprano Jane-Anne Tucker. Under director (and NSO hornist) Sylvia Alimena, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra intensified the music's haunting grace and undulating textures with beautifully nuanced support.

Punctuating Poulenc's eccentric dadaisms, Neil glazed its diaphanous harmonies and tuneful lucidity with deeply hued shadings and rapid-fire technique, Alimena's orchestra responding with lustrous colors.

Porter is a freelance writer.

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