As Matthew Glandorf approached the organ console at Verizon Hall, he slipped off his Danskos and hitched his legs over the bench as if it were a saddle.
You could argue about his abilities as a showman, but Saturday afternoon you couldn't quibble over whether he's got the goods. Glandorf's "A Series of Improvised Portraits," including a praeludium in the style of Dietrich Buxtehude and a sonata in the style of Edward Elgar, were the most compellingly performed and imaginatively assembled of the lineup at the Kimmel Center's second annual organ marathon. The parquet of Verizon Hall was nearly full for the four-hour event. Enthusiasm ran high for the largest concert-hall organ in the United States, with its 32 tons and 6,938 pipes.
Here were the recitalists:
Sean Jackson, the music director at St. John's Episcopal Church in Stamford, Conn., described himself as "bursting" to play the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ. He had selected seven shorts, ranging from J.S. Bach to William Walton.
His gifts include delicacy of registration that showcases the woodwinds registers, a particularly expressive Bach allegro and a moody piece by John Ireland, but the organist needed more cohesive programming. He gave the scampering scherzo from Widor's "Organ Symphony No. 4" an attractive litheness.
Shelly Moorman Stahlman, a professor at Lebanon Valley College, Annville, Pa., brought works made in the United States. Expressivity was stiff during Charles Ives' "Variations on 'America,' " and William Albright's "Sweet Sixteenths," a lovely rag, had more caution than flow.
She hit her stride with Calvin Hampton's remarkable set of "Dances," during which passion matched technique. Scott Eggert's "Mycenae: Graveshaft," a local premiere, is contemporary Gothic. The performance was a knockout. Dan Locklair's "Rubrics" was as mellow and sparingly registered as "Mycenae'" had been full-out.
Glandorf's improvised program was best of show. A prelude on Bach's idol, Buxtehude, was in character, baroque-buoyant with registrations unmuddied when they doubled and a delight as they danced along the bass line. A sonata in the style of Elgar was ripe without the wallowing. For the hymn, "Veni Creator Spiritus," Glandorf brought in singers from the Choral Arts Society, which he directs.
His trio of pieces alternated eloquence with whimsy, some wild grandstanding, and more beauty.
Wesley Parrott of Philadelphia has a grasp of the instrument's thunder and terrific technique. He registers with clarity and aplomb. But his menu of Bach, Widor, Hindemith was so traditional as to be stuffy. Durufle's best-known "Prelude and Fugue" came off best: relaxed.