If the (pipe) organ is the king of instruments, then arguably Olivier Latry is one of the emperors of its performance. Aucklanders were lucky enough to hear him last evening at the Town Hall in a free recital organized by the Auckland Town Hall Organ Trust.

Latry was last in New Zealand not even a year ago and had performed the Poulenc Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani last June.
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He had given us a hint of his wide-ranging talents then and this was a chance to hear him in full flight in a programme he had apparently chosen to maximize the range and sound of the Town Hall organ. In the introduction given by Kerry Stevens, we were told that he had set over 500 combinations for the evening’s performance and everything bar one piece would be performed from memory.

Henri Messerer’s transcription of J.S. Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita in d for solo violin commenced proceedings. The piece will be familiar to some but not to all – a few members of the audience were caught out and applauded half way through. More disturbing were a few tuning issues with the organ which became more and more apparent towards the end. These were quickly resolved in the break before Cesar Franck’s “Cantabile” and “Piece Heroique”. The former exhibits the woodwind qualities of the organ and was sufficiently reedy to think that there might be an oboe or two hidden behind the façade. The latter was exactly that – a triumphant, rhapsodic piece with a thundering climax.

I’m no fan of Wagner for many reasons but I have to admit that the Lemare transcription of the “Liebstod” from “Tristan und Isolde” was a highlight of the evening. The transcription itself captures the essence of the scene and was as powerful as the original orchestral score. Given that access to operas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was nothing like what we have today, transcriptions for organ and other instruments were one way of making that music available to the public.

Although a few people left after the first half, the majority that stayed were treated to a true exhibition of French organ music. The Finale from Alexandre Guilmant’s Sonata No. 1 was what you would have come to expect to hear – brilliant technical and tonal passages showing off both the skill of the organist but also the range of the instrument itself.

Speaking of skill, I should note that Latry’s feet were flying around the pedal board and swell pedals, at times as much as his fingers were dancing along the various levels of the console. As much as the music was fantastic to listen to, Latry’s gymnastics were as fascinating to the eye and demonstrated why he is one of the world’s best organists.

Vierne’s 24 “Pieces de fantasie” are well known and the “Feux follets” and “Claire de lune” from the second set were a well-chosen contrast to the first half of the programme. With careful voicing, Latry skillfully conveyed the impression of a choir with a simple organ in the background and conveyed the mysterious moonlight with delicacy.

Saint-Saens’ “Dance Macabre” was a fantastic way to formally end the recital and the Lemare transcription was done fantastically from the first church bells to the blistering finish. It demanded an encore and Vierne’s “Carilon de Westminster” seemed an appropriate choice at the end of an excellent display of virtuosity.

The concert was recorded for Radio NZ Concert for later broadcast – if you didn’t attend yesterday, listen out for it.


About TI

TI is based in Auckland, New Zealand. TI's somewhat eclectic interests include (but are certainly not limited to) legal humour (the law can be funny), good wine, the search for the best possible chocolate, alcoholic beverages, travel, commercial aircraft, photography, weird news stories and classical music.
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