Once again, the Kimmel Center's Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ emerged from its splendid semi-isolation with revelations at many turns Sunday with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. Organ recitals have their audience, but recent collaborations have uncovered important but neglected repertoire and perhaps have expanded the organ audience. In Sunday's program of Handel, Josef Rheinberger, and Joseph Jongen (with four different soloists), the big discovery was Stephen Paulus' 1992 Concerto for Solo Organ, Timpani, and Percussion.
It's a terrific piece that would have to rank among the best American organ concertos of the last century, with four hefty movements that strike out in many directions, from elegiac to comic, with equal conviction. The organ made a crazy, explosive first-movement entrance in a piece that found several places of harmonic stability, only to leap away from them in compulsive sorties to everywhere and nowhere. Most entrancing was the second movement, with the organ creating a liturgical atmosphere joined by a sensuously pagan violin solo playing in an intriguingly alien key.