BBC Proms: Organ recital 2

BBC Proms: Organ recital 2
Peter Holder, organ
Royal Albert Hall, 4 September 2021

Meyerbeer: Le prophète Coronation March, transcr. W. T. Best
Bach: Fantasia & Fugue in C minor, BWV 537
Widor: Symphony No. 5 – Allegro vivace (1st movt)
Saint-Saens: Fantaisie No. 1 in E flat major
Liszt: Fantasy & Fugue on ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam

The second of this year’s BBC Proms organ recitals was given by Peter Holder, sub-organist of Westminster Abbey, replacing Thomas Trotter. As part of the joint anniversaries of the Royal Albert Hall and centenary composer Saint-Saëns, the programme recreated elements of Saint-Saëns’ legendary performances on the Royal Albert Hall organ in the opening season of 1871 and in 1880.

W T Best gave the opening recital of the Royal Albert Hall organ in 1871, and his transcription of the Coronation March from Meyerbeer’s 1849 opera Le prophète opened the programme. This was an ideal piece to demonstrate the cast array of orchestral sounds of the Albert Hall organ. The opening of Bach’s Fantasia & Fugue in C minor (BWV 537) was given a suitably reflective (and beautifully articulated) interpretation by Peter Holder, although the rather booming pedal notes were rather overpowering in the BBC Radio 3 live broadcast – and probably in the hall itself, a common problem with playing Bach on this monumental orchestral instrument.

The C minor Fantasia & Fugue is one of the few Bach Something & Fugue pieces that can definitely be seen as a pair (most such pairings were made well after his death). Apart from the Fantasy finishing on the dominant, the last bar includes the secondary subject of the Fugue, a rising chromatic theme that heralds the contrast in mood between the two movements. Holder’s almost imperceptible increase in volume during the Fugue, although not exactly ‘authentic’, was a reminder of the romantic Bach performance style common, in England at least, until the period revival of the 1970/80s.

The opening movement from the best-known of Widor’s ten symphonies for organ (generally known for its concluding ‘wedding march’ Toccata) is a set of variations. Holder’s crisp articulation gave clarity to this most symphonic of pieces on this most symphonic of organs.

Saint-Saens’ Fantaisie No. 1 in E flat major was his first published organ piece. Its delicate opening to-and-fro opening passages were well controlled by Peter Holder, as the ‘fro’ sections can appear to be coming from somewhere outside the building, given the vast depth of the Albert Hall organ. The second part is on the full organ and is definitely not coming from outside the building.

Liszt’s Fantasy & Fugue on ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’ is his largest organ work. It is based on a chorale from Act I of Meyerbeer’s Le prophète -a nice balance with the opening piece in the recital. The work is dedicated to Meyerbeer, and was premiered in 1855 on the newly completed Ladegast organ in Merseburg Cathedral – an organ that still exists. Peter Holder’s playing was exemplary, notably in recitativo passages and the extended central Adagio, as was his choice of registrations throughout.

This was reviewed from the BBC Radio 3 live broadcast. The first of this year’s organ Proms was reviewed here as heard from the Royal Albert Hall.