Ronald Arnatt was both the featured composer and performer at this year's Kindler Memorial Concert presented last night at the Washington Cathedral. These concerts, held annually in memory of the founder of the National Symphony, regularly present a newly commissioned work and traditionally have taken place at the Textile Museum. This year's departure from custom was because Arnatt's piece is an organ sonata, and the cathedral has one of the finest large instruments in the city.
The sonata is in three nicely contrasting movements. The first, a sort of rondo with a recurring hearty rhythmic theme, ends abruptly, leading eerily to a dark and contemplative "threnody" whose lines have a clean and lyrical clarity. The finale, a dance in a five-beat rhythm, gathers energy and develops demonic power as it climaxes.
Arnatt has found a nice balance between exploitation of the myriad possibilities the organ offers and musical taste and proportion. His registrations used all sorts of marvelous sounds and took full advantage of the spatial dimensions of the instrument, but his techniques and ideas never sounded gimicky.
The piece ended a nicely balanced program that opened with a Bach E-Flat Major Prelude and Fugue, and included "Suite du Second Ton" by Guilain, a prelude by Stanford and Sowerby's "Whimsical Variations." The Bach, with its blurred outlines, made one wish for a baroque organ and a small space to match, but the rest, with their very personal styles, were delightful. Arnatt tends to be a lyrical, rather than a forceful, performer, and he treated all this music gently.