SCHENECTADY — Organist Carlo Curley revels in the sounds of the organ. On Sunday afternoon in the final concert of the First United Methodist Church’s concert series, Curley was like a kid in a candy store as he showed what an organist can do if he has an imagination.
Curley is one of the handful of organists who has an international performing career without the benefit of a church or teaching position. And he makes the most of it.
On Sunday, he treated the huge crowd like visitors to his home. He talked at length with humor and warmth about the music, gave personal anecdotes, and provided tidbits about the composers and other organists. Although the crowd responded to his informative approach, the talking lengthened the concert considerably and taxed the concentration limits of many.
The ears tired of the words but not of Curley’s playing. If Curley never said a word to the audience, his playing said it all: colorful, vibrant, vigorous, virtuosic and wonderfully present.
He balanced his program between gently undulating and familiar tunes like “All Through the Night” and the Largo from Handel’s opera “Xerxes,” to Zeus-like thunderbolts in Langlais’ “Chant Heroique” and the splashy Toccata on a theme from Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” His ability to shift gears was impressive.
Whenever Curley had a chance, he’d change a stop on the organ to alter the color. It was almost like Organ 101. Before many pieces, he’d wipe his hands together like someone anticipating what button he could push to get that next delicious sound. When his hands weren’t playing and his feet were, he’d conduct. Curley is a bear of a man whose rounded shoulders suggest his intense concentration as he crouches over the keyboard. Because in every piece, Curley was totally committed, totally involved.
Bach’s Sinfonia in D from his Cantata No. 29 and his Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major had technical electricity. Stanley’s Concerto in A with the automaton of singing birds was charming as was Curley’s bouncey arrangement of Beethoven’s “Turkish March.”
Davis’ Interlude in C was sweet and showed off a wide selection of colors as did Charles Dawes’ Melody in A, which was a cameo piece written for theater organ, Curley said.
John Bull’s Rondeau in G was a festive Maypole dance and Dussek’s Andante in F was light and sweet and gave Curley another chance to play with the sounds.
An arrangement of “Londonderry Air” was oddly off center but Dupre’s Prelude and Fugue No. 3, which Curley said was a warhorse in the romantic literature, went from subdued colors to brazen edges.
His encore was MacDowell’s sweet “To a Wild Rose.”