RFH International Organ Series: Renée Anne Louprette

Renée Anne Louprette, organ
Royal Festival Hall, 19 September 2018

JS Bach: Prelude and Fugue in G
Marin Marais: Suite from Alcyone (arr. Louprette)
Jehan Alain: Variations sur un thème de Clément Jannequin
Ad Wammes: Mytò
Nadia Boulanger: Improvisation from 3 Pièces
Duruflé: Suite, Op.5

The Royal Festival Hall’s ‘International Organ Series‘, most of which is made up of UK, rather than international organists, made up for that fact by replacing an indisposed UK performer with Renée Anne Louprette, an American organist who spent some of her student days in London. She has held posts in several important New York churches, alongside academic posts, and is now University Organist and Coordinator of the Organ Department at the Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Jersey.

Her largely French programme opened with Bach’s flamboyant Prelude and Fugue in G (BWV 541), a distinctly non-French piece. From the very first few notes, it was clear that Renée Anne Louprette is an outstanding Bach interpreter. Her sense of touch, rhetoric and the way she sensitively articulated the opening flourish and the repeated notes in both Prelude and Fugue showed a real (and sadly rather rare) understanding of Baroque concepts such as the hierarchy of the bar. Her choice of registration was spot-on.

The following sequence was Louprette’s own arrangement of instrumental pieces from Marin Marais’ 1706 tragédie en musique, Alcyone, taken mostly from the first Suite Airs pour les Drades & les Berger, concluding with two pieces from the fourth Suite Airs pour les Matelots & les Tritons. Marais was a renowned viola da gamba player, the sensitivity of his music reflecting the aural sensitivity of his instrument. Following Bach is always a tricky moment in recital programmes, and this arrangement came as rather a shock after the perfect sound of a correct Bach plenum. The arrangement was clearly for a large modern instrument and was of enormous power and volume. As had been discussed in the pre-concert talk, the versatility of the Royal Festival Hall organ is primarily a product of its sheer size, with sounds from many different organ worlds, including the classical French Baroque. I would have much prefered to have heard Marais interpreted in a French Baroque manner, using the distinctive, and often sparse, registrations of the period, most of which are available on the RFH organ. Apart from being closer to the world of Marin Marais, it would also have been a more appropriate way of following Bach.

Some of the sounds of the French Baroque organ – or, at least, the 20th-century French neo-Baroque organ, were evident in Jehan Alain’s sensuous Variations sur un thème de Clément Jannequin. His colourful interpretation of a simple Renaissance song played with modality and tonal colour. The final piece of the first half was Mytò, an early composition by the Dutch musician Ad Wammes. It was composed in 1981 for his wife’s final organ exam at the Utrecht Conservatory, and was clearly intended to demonstrate her virtuosity. Acknowledging influences from Stravinsky, Bartok and a 1970s English prog-rock group, the opening flourishes led to a percussive sequence of repeated pedal notes, balanced by occasional moments of repose.

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The second part consisted of two pieces,  Nadia Boulanger’s gentle Improvisation being an ideal introduction to Maurice Durufle’s Op. 5 Suite. Durufle struggled with composition and published very few pieces, often changing his mind about a piece after publication. The best-known movement of the Suite is the virtuosic, and rather rhapsodic final Toccata, although Durufle soon grew tired of it. Although Louprette’s performance of the Toccata was stunning, on this occasion, it was the opening Prélude that impressed me most, notably with her well-chosen registrations and the way she engineered the change of mood from the dark opening for the more melodious response. She finished, appropriately, with a beautiful little Bach chorale prelude.

The Royal Festival Hall organ was a pioneer when it opened in 1954, its recent restoration making its sound more present. IIn many respects it is some way from the currently accepted standards of concert hall organs, but it is an important monument in the development of the late 20th century British organ, and is still capable of thrilling and inspiring in the right hands. It is not in a style that Renée Anne Louprette has become used to, but she gave an extremely professional and musical performance that, despite being limited to very late-night rehearsals, showed a real understanding of the instrument and the music in her programme. I will be reviewing two of her most recent CDs in due course.