Review by Michael Huebner

Organist Peter Sykes, whose keyboard expertise extends to harpsichord and historic performance practice, closed out the 2012 November Organ Recital Series with an enlightening look at the Baroque and beyond.

Sunday's program at Independent Presbyterian Church traced Johann Sebastian Bach's steps back to his admirer Dietrich Buxtehude, then forward to his rescuer, Felix Mendelssohn, before offering a hefty dose of the Bach himself.

Sykes, who teaches at Boston University and performs with early music ensembles around the globe, started with a glimpse of what would become the great German organ tradition. Buxtehude's Toccata in F, a work that Bach possibly heard when he traveled 250 miles by foot from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear Buxtehude perform, exemplifies the so-called “fantastic style,” and Sykes delivered its flourishes with insight and intelligence.

Bach would later make some of those elements his own, but Mendelssohn would elaborate on them. The florid counterpoint in the first movement of Mendelssohn's Sonata in B flat, Op. 65, No. 4 was a clear style tracer. The more romantic, lyrical Mendelssohn intervened in two movements before Sykes let loose in the finale with masterful manipulation of the Schreiber Memorial Organ's sonic palette, including some astonishingly graceful pedal work.
But Sykes made it clear that no composer before or since can inspire performers the way Bach does. The chorale prelude “Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele” (BW 654) brought out two of the organist's strengths – the intricate unfolding of ornamental details and lucid textural layering. One of Bach more famous and studied works, the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, was a menagerie of converging and receding lines, all delivered with balance and clarity, leading to an electrifying conclusion.

Three other works were diversionary respites from the German heaviness. James Woodman's “All Creatures of Our God and King” explored the blue, the moody and the plaintive, ending with a swirling, playful antiphon that employed the trumpet pipes in the rear of the sanctuary. A short anonymous passacagia from the Renaissance titled “Uppon la mi re” wafted delightfully in the sanctuary. An arrangement of Debussy's “Girl with the Flaxen Hair” was given as an encore – a palate-soother after the adrenalin-building Bach Passacaglia and Fugue.