- Stephen Tharp plays St. Bavo, Haarlem

orgelnieuws.nl, February 2010

By Arjen van Kralingen

An American in Haarlem ... Our Dutch historical cities and organs appeal to Americans. During the last decades quite many mechanical organs have been built in the US and in Canada. Something like a copy of “Haarlem" has even been standing in Duke University Chapel in Durham, North Carolina since 1976.

However, Stephen Tharp, exceptionally gifted American virtuoso, sought out the original: the most often photographed organ on earth, our ‘old Bavo.’ You simply cannot have too many recitals on this instrument. Quality label JAV now has added another one. An especially neat edition; lovely layout and fascinating texts.

Much of the diverse program is baroque. Tharp plays lively, starting with a snappy Buxtehude. Tharp delivers the Praeludium und Fuga in D (BWV 532) with exceptional virtuosity, certainly not slowly and by no means arduously, but with the youthful vigor that we can imagine for the, according to his contemporaries, virtuous Bach. He even manages to include adornments in the meantime. In the fugue, a Sesquialtera lets the plenum shine with a silver glint. A quiet Ave Maria by Liszt gives calm. Tharp can play poetically as well!

Piet Kee once said that to play Franck in the old Bavo was like drinking Beaujolais from a Dutch jenever glass. Tharp however dares Vierne on the versatile Müller organ. Not every piece by Vierne comes into its own, but here Feux follets sounds great. I have heard more French music from the 20th century in the old Bavo: Langlais for example recorded there in 1971 (Intersound 2001). De Klerk played a double album for EMI Bovema Messiaens Apparition de l’Église éternelle (O, where did those recordings end up again?) Alain is recorded subtly by Tharp. The disc comes to an end with Peeters’ virtuosic Toccata, Fugue et Hymne sur Ave Maris Stella, composed by the composer on the train. One should have given the man a frequent rider pass as a gift...