Rebuild it and they will come. That was the hopeful mantra of Toledo Museum of Art officials during the multiyear $780,000 restoration of the Peristyle's 1926 E.M. Skinner organ. The rebuilt instrument was first heard last spring in a weekend of concerts with the Toledo Symphony. Last night the organ made its solo recital debut when former Toledoan Todd Wilson gave a wide-ranging performance of music across three centuries.
Wilson, now organist with the Cleveland Orchestra, is a superbly graceful and confident musician. Last night he took great care to show who the real star of the program was: Skinner's organ.
There is a Greek myth that says Apollo gave Midas the ears of an ass when the latter preferred the sound of the flute to the god's lyre. No doubt part of Apollo's anger stemmed from professional jealousy, but also behind the myth was the notion that strings are more perfect vibrators than winds.
Well maybe, but I suspect that last night's concert would have shaken even Apollo. This instrument is knock-dead gorgeous: smooth and gentle, massively powerful, but never shrill.
Wilson took great care to show the organ's broad range of colors. The program, which opened with Bach's majestic Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and closed with "Danny Boy," could hardly have been more diverse.
Wilson reached even further with invariably colorful timbre choices. The playing was always thoughtful and nuance rich.
A voluntary by John Stanley demonstrated the organ's gentle expressiveness; C.S. Lang's "Tuba Tune" had a rich orchestral flair that would have fit nicely in an Errol Flynn swashbuckler. Both Marcel Dupre's "Cortege et Litanie" and Charles-Marie Widor's "Andante" from "Symphonie Gothetique" were hauntingly beautiful.
Twice Wilson was joined by members of the Toledo Symphony. Three sonatas by Mozart featured a small and nicely disciplined string section; Dupre's "Poeme Heroique" featured texture-rich brass and percussion. In both cases, Wilson found ways to create a perfect blend of musical forces.
The hall was not sold out, but it should have been. The return of this instrument was a major event in Toledo's cultural life. And never, in my memory at least, has the acoustically dry Peristyle sounded so lovely.
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