The organ which is the centrepiece of the stage of the Royal Festival Hall originally dates from the Festival of Britain, and this was its first unveiling in a full concert since it has been reassembled and restored thanks to lottery funding and a generous amount of support from concert-goers.
The Gala Launch Concert presented a mix of old faithfuls (Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue; Mendelssohn’s Scherzo and Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), new commissions (Maxwell Davies’ Wall of Music and Taverner’s Monument for Beethoven) and arrangements (Bach’s Concerto in D arranged for trumpet and organ; Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz arranged for organ), all designed to show off this beautiful instrument at its best.
The highlights for me were the Bach and Mendelssohn pieces, although the Taverner piece was characteristically provocative and the Maxwell Davies, set to a poem by Jo Shapcott, attempted to juggle organ, brass and a children’s choir and almost pulled it off.
The four organists (John Scott, Jane Parker-Smith (who arranged the Liszt), Isabelle Demers, and David Goode) had very different styles of playing and presentation which made the evening varied and enjoyable. I am not enough of an organ aficionado to comment on their phrasing but to me the organ sounded ‘a wall of music’ indeed, and as we were fairly close to proceedings we could see something of the technique involved in playing these pieces as well as the mechanics of the instrument.
The Pull Out All The Stops festival, much of which is live on Radio 3 (the station is currently ‘in residence’ in the Royal Festival Hall’s foyer), will include solo recitals as well as Cameron Carpenter’s improvision of a score to a live screening of ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ (which I will review in due course). The organ may have taken several million pounds to restore, but on the face of this concert it has certainly been worth the money.