American organist Nathan Laube took us on a 90-minute tour-de-force of the Royal Albert Hall’s mighty 9,999-pipe organ, known affectionately as “The Voice of Jupiter”, in a programme of early romantic pieces designed to demonstrate the instrument’s power and versatility, as a solo concert.
The programme’s main piece was in fact not written for organ at all: Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor (1853). Laube’s self-penned transcription for organ is mesmerising: making the most of the dozens and dozens of organ stops (including low zimbelstern that sound more like vibraphone bars), he captures an entire world of sound, changing with every phrase. He also has the entire 35-minute work memorised, and played every infamously fiendish run flawlessly.
The second main piece was Franck’s 25-minute organ work Grande pièce symphonique (1862). Franck was insistent that he regarded the instrument as his own “full orchestra”, and this is exactly the effect Laube achieved, with phrased melodic lines that really sang.
One surprise moment of technical difficulty, a stuck key, was dealt with swiftly, and received a round of applause, although it slightly spoiled the very end of the Franck. Although we also had a couple of shorter pieces from Wagner and Charles-Valentin Alkan, it might have been nice to vary the programme with some pieces from different eras; “The Voice of Jupiter” can play Bach and Messiaen just as well. Maybe next year.
Tickets for all 72 Proms are available from just £7.12 on the BBC Proms 2022 website.