A Romantic Fragrance in Saltvik Church

By Eivor Lindström | Translated from Swedish to English by Bruce Brolsma
Published: June 25, 2009

Patrick Kabanda is a young organist, born in 1975 in Uganda, but musically educated at Brevard College in North Carolina, USA. Inviting him to the Åland Organ Festival, I believe, was a lucky stroke. Kabanda, who called his program "Organ Music with an African Touch" actually offered something extra. The half-filled church had an expectant audience.

The concert began with the Organ Sonata No. 3 in A-Major, by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.  This composer is especially being observed this year, as it is 200 years since his birth (1809). And it couldn’t have been a better start to the musical evening, with the sweet-smelling romance and nuptials in the church’s hall,  when the music came forth in the room. Mendelssohn’s music is accessible,  speaking to the senses in an intelligible and unpretentious way. Dramatic virtuosity and playfulness flowed forth through melody and harmony. The Organ Sonata No. 4 B-Major: Allegro con brio – Andante religioso – Allegretto –  Allegro maestoso e vivace were rendered by Kabanda’s sensitive fingers and feet, in my opinion, in Nordic sound and color. And Saltvik’s organ fits well with Romantic music.

Next followed Franz Liszt’s Adagio in the somewhat unusual key of D-flat Major, even for Romantic music. One could perhaps say it was a small, short musical quotation on the summer night’s white light and our blooming pastures.

After this, it was the "Father" Johann Sebastian Bach’s turn to come forth. Kabanda had chosen to play the Prelude and Fugue in C Major. Here I find myself questioning a little the decisions when the tonality felt both heavier and substantial than with Mendelssohn and Liszt. The music doesn’t work so well placed beside the two (Romantics), and what was earlier built up was brought down. But the organist also handled the Bach superbly.

Then followed modern tones with the composer Olivier Messiaen, who is one of the greats of 20th-century art music. The movement Le Verbe was played from "La Nativité du Seigneur". Le Verbe is divided into two sections,  and is a meditation on God’s goodness. Patrick Kabanda placed great focus here in his organ playing and carried sensitivity and musicality with featherlight hands. Really breathtaking music!

So then to the African touch, though perhaps it was more American, with roots in dance hall culture, both in the Hungarian Zsolt Gardonyi’s (b. 1946) "Mozart Changes" and the American Johan Weaver’s (b. 1937) musical quotations,  "Variations on Sine Nomine".

Patrick Kabanda’s own improvisation on ‘itsukino-Komori-uta,’ a Japanese lullaby,  evolved into our own lullaby when the two opening phrases of the Åland national song suddenly sprang up. And it turned to both jazz and swing in the improvisation, "Let Us Break Bread Together" (Negro Spiritual).  The public took Patrick Kabanda to their heart, and received an encore (Handel)  as thanks.

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