At All Saints Lutheran Church, German Organist Thomas Dahl Built Up His Music Like “A Huge Cathedral of Tones”

Thomas Dahl, cantor of Hauptkirche St. Petri in Hamburg, Germany, and director of Hamburg Bach Cantori, just concluded a two-day visit to All Saints Lutheran Church in Worthington.

Yesterday, preparations for Greek Night prevented me from attending “Hamburg and Its Five Principal Churches – 1,000 Years of Sacred Music, Organs, Celebrities and Magnificent Buildings,” a presentation that Thomas gave at the church. When today’s Polish Night was cancelled, I was glad that I could see Thomas and his talents for myself. The organ recital that Thomas gave in the church’s sanctuary this evening was a calming, uplifting end to another frustrating day.

Thomas was born in 1964, in Tönning, Germany. After completing his secondary education, he studied church music, composition, music pedagogy, musicology and organ performance in Hamburg, Stuttgart, Paris and Chicago. Thomas has been a prize-winner or finalist in six international organ-playing and improvisation competitions.

In 1995, Thomas was chosen as Director of Music and Principal Organist at St. Peter’s, Hamburg. In 2007, he was honored by the regional bishop with the title of Kirchenmusikdirektor.

Thomas’s talents have enabled him to participate in international music festivals, teach courses and seminars, and perform in Europe, Japan, Egypt, and the United States. In fact, he told us that one of the highlights of his first visit to the United States in 1988 was bringing home $400 worth of organ music.

This evening, Thomas sat down at the organ, adjusted his glasses, and began his recital with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in F Major, BWV 540. After he finished an incredible display of pedalwork that even a stray piece of music on the pedals couldn’t overshadow, Thomas swung around on the organ bench, stood up and welcomed the audience in that wonderful Teutonic accent I love to hear.

Next, Thomas played Norwegian composer Jon Laukvik’s Suite for Organ, which Laukvik wrote on the occasion of his 60th birthday in 1984. Then, he tackled Max Reger’s Fantasy and Fugue in D minor, op. 135 b. Seeing the challenging sheet music that Thomas was using, I understood why he said that Reger built up the piece “like a huge cathedral of tones.”

After intermission, Thomas shared four selections that illustrated his love of jazz. Toccata alla Rumba (1981) and Play Piano Play Nr. 1 (1971), – works by Hamburg composers Andreas Willscher and Friedrich Gulda, respectively – came first, followed by Hans Gebhard’s Choral Prelude to Vater unser im Himmelreich (2006), which Thomas described as a “slow tango.” William Bolcom’s What a Friend We Have in Jesus, from “Three Gospel Preludes,” was one of those pieces of music that Thomas took home as a souvenir from his first visit to America.

To conclude the program, Thomas played an Improvisation on a Submitted Hymn Tune that he said was inspired by “Katie and William’s wedding last year.” Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer showcased Thomas’s exceptional talent for improvisation that should be featured on Performance Today’s “Piano Puzzler,” the feature I faithfully listen to on Classical 101 every Wednesday on my drive home from work.

Thomas’s selection turned out to be my favorite of all. This fitting conclusion to the recital left me in much better spirits, inspired to apply my own talents in more rewarding ways.

Next, Thomas travels to Washington, D.C., where he will perform on Sunday, May 6 at Washington National Cathedral. His recital tour continues to New York City’s Central Synagogue on Tuesday, May 8.  It concludes on Friday, May 11 at the First Congregational Church of Greenwich, Connecticut.

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