Royal Albert Hall 15/5/18
The wonderful RAH Willis/Harrison organ is not played nearly enough and so it was a particular thrill to be part of the audience for this well supported concert – the culmination of a day of music-making, celebrating this instrument and exploring the world of organ music in general.
Three first class organists shared the bill and it was Wayne Marshall who opened the proceedings with a thrilling, if somewhat idiosyncratic rendition of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV565.
He remained at the console to demonstrate a selection of stops as we were treated to a rare glimpse inside the organ. A guided tour from the genial and energetic Michael Broadway, custodian of the organ, as he climbed around inside with a cameraman – was relayed to the two large screens either side of the pipework and in dialogue with Tom Daggett, Organ Outreach Fellow at St Paul’s Cathedral, who proved to be an excellent MC throughout the evening.
The screens continued to enhance the music as we were treated to a superb performance of Liszt’s Fantasia & Fugue on B-A-C-H. Olivier Latry, was then introduced as the second organist. His first piece, Mozart’s Fantasia in F minor, K608, allowed for more variety of colours to be demonstrated. The audience appreciated his witty conversation and his enthusiasm (as he drew comparisons with organists wishing to play the works of Widor at St Sulpice) for being able to pay homage to former organist of the RAH, George Thalben-Ball. He then gave a dazzling performance of Thalben-Ball’s Variations on a theme of Paganini, the experience again enhanced by the screens making clear exactly what the organist’s feet have to do in order to play this piece!
The third organist, David Briggs, was introduced. After the interval he went on to play one of his celebrated transcriptions of an orchestral work, this time, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. This brought further contrast to the proceedings and highlighted the versatility and variety of effects possible through careful use of pistons and expression pedals and the ability to use the organ as a truly orchestral instrument.
Prior to this all three organists gave a fun and well co-ordinated performance of Widor’s Toccata in F.
The evening ended with another performance by all three, simply entitled, Concerto-Improvised, which I would have loved to have witnessed as all three performers are well-known for their improvisatory skill. Sadly, due to the limitations of the rail network, I had to leave before this. I was able, though, to enjoy the delightful rendition of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with David Briggs playing the orchestral parts on the organ and Wayne Marshall in his other guise as solo pianist.
This was undeniably an evening of popular music but still with much of interest and variety. As a showcase for this marvellous instrument and for the organ in general it was superb. Entertaining and educational with much attention given to presentation and programming it drew a large, diverse and appreciative audience, I hope we shall see more of these events and that the organ may be recognised once more as a vital part of the general musical scene. Congratulations to all involved.