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Organist Preller Launches 67th L.A. Bach Festival

February 26, 1996|TIMOTHY MANGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This year's Los Angeles Bach Festival, the 67th, was launched by a man of eminently appropriate position. Gottfried Preller just happens to be organist for the same church in Arnstadt, Germany, that Bach himself served beginning in 1704.

It was manifest then that Preller should devote the lion's share of his concert Friday night in the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles to the music of his predecessor, which he did, framing it with music inspired by him.

Taking advantage of the organ riches at First Congregational, Preller performed the Bach pieces in the west gallery, on an instrument well suited, in its clarity and reserve, to this music. The Six Schubler Chorales, BWV 645-650, ornate musical garlands with hymn tunes gracefully ribboned through, spoke with poised simplicity, buoyant in rhythm and elegant in registration, the filigree in wafting warmth, the stately hymns in reedy contrast.

The Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 541, and the formidable Toccata and Fugue in F, BWV 540, with its downward sliding fugue subject, were opened up considerably but still remained within Baroque boundaries of sound and taste. Preller offered propulsive, muscularly limned readings.

The German musician presented his own spoken program notes through a translator, and several other announcements were made. Too much talk.

On the more romantically inclined Chancel Organ, Preller opened with the aptly Bachian but rather uninspired Sonata, Opus 65, No. 4, by Mendelssohn. He closed big though, with Liszt's Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H, a thundershower of chromaticism out of which a major-keyed harmonization of the Baroque master's name rises heroically. High camp, perhaps, but Preller roared it compellingly.

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