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Ahreum Han Leaves the Audience Spellbound

One of the best series of organ concerts in New York City in recent memory – John Scott’s performances of the complete works of Buxtehude last year and Gail Archer’s Messiaen-a-thon earlier this year included – came to a crescendo last Thursday at Trinity Church with Korean organist Ahreum Han. Trinity titled their series Pedals and Pumps: a Festival of Organ Divas, and almost without exception, the women organists in the summer series were anywhere from excellent to extraordinary. Put Ahreum Han in the latter category.

With equal amounts of virtuosity, verve and venom, Han attacked the keys, playing entirely from memory. Throughout the performance, there was a devious originality and a completely unselfconscious passion in her playing. In the past several months, Lucid Culture has reviewed recitals by both Gail Archer and Joyce Jones, and if Ahreum Han isn’t in their league already, she will be soon. Bookending the show with blasts of raw power, she swung Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Minor (BWV 564) with a metronomic pulse, matter-of-factly tackled Mendelssohn’s big, good-naturedly boisterous Fourth Sonata, tickled the keys with Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s uncharacteristically playful Valse Mignonne, went all dark and eerie with the terrifyingly strange, haunting Adagio from Vierne’s Third Symphony (a terrific choice: most organists opt for the symphony’s rousing opening section) and closed her scheduled program with Jeanne Demessieux’ rousing, swirling Te Deum. Han had opened with a stately, powerful take of Charles Stanford’s Fantasia and Toccata in D Minor and encored with a truly extraordinary piece, Swiss composer Guy Bovet’s Haumburger Totentanz (Hamburg Dance of Death). Its ominousness and tunefulness remind a lot of Rachmaninoff’s G Minor Prelude, and Han’s mediumship brought out all its ghosts in their relentless wrath, a real showstopper. Currently working on her masters of music degree at Yale, let’s hope she remembers how close New York is and makes a return trip soon.

 

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