Gillian Weir On Stage at the Royal Festival Hall, London

If there was ever a home base for Dame Gillian Weir it would undoubtedly be the Royal Festival Hall in London. She has appeared at the South Bank in concert over 50 times during her career, performing in the smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall a number of times but most often at the Royal Festival Hall. She played her concert debut there in 1965, at the time being the youngest organist to have performed there... at the Hall's 25th Jubilee she premiered a concerto by Peter Racine Fricker, which had been comissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society (yes, the same people who comissioned Beethoven to write his 9th Symphony)... in 1978 Gillian played the celebratory recital for Messiaen's 70th birthday and later in the '80s did his complete organ works for the European Messiaen Festival celebrating his 80th... in 2004 she played the Guilmant D minor Symphony with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the sold-out Gala Concert celebrating the organ's 50th birthday... well, you get the idea.

Her teacher, Ralph Downes, was the mastermind behind the instrument and was its curator for many years, so her involvement with this instrument is many faceted and personal. The organ has now been removed from the hall as the facility is going through a substantial upgrade program and will not open again until late 2007, so this recording, made just before alterations began, provides a snapshot of the organ at a pivotal point in its history.

On Stage! includes a variety of Gillian Weir's popular concert staples. It opens with the clever Variations on America by Charles Ives, then moves on to the French baroque with three Dandrieu Noëls, then to Bach's 9/8 Prelude and Fugue in C, a Toccata by Jules Grison, Max Reger's magnificent Fantasie and Fuge in D minor, Dupré's colorful Noël variations, Bovet's Salamanca and Sarasota and concludes with his Hamburger Totentanz, an intoxicating riot of texture and rhythm.

Reviews

“Priory Records have produced this recording showing off the organ at its most magnificent prior to the [forthcoming] refurbishment. To have Gillian Weir playining only ensures that the results will be as grand as the organ itself. The recording features some of the works that highlighted one of the instrument's last recitals before close down. Of course, Weir is in total command of whatever she cares to play and here she flexes her stylistic muscle with a programme that simply astounds: Ives' Variations on 'America'; Dandrieu's Three Noels; Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C BWV 547; Jules Grison's Toccata; Reger's Fantasy and Fugue in D minor, Op 135b; Dupré's Variations sur un Noël; Guy Bovet's Trois Préludes Hambourgeois. The instrument has never sounded finer and Priory has made a recording that is a fitting tribute to an organ that, for many, will always capture the imagination.

There two outstanding recordings from Priory, which come with extensive and detailed notes on the instuments, should be on every organist's shelf- and more than often in the CD player- as they are indispensable tales of what musical performance is all about.” The Organ, 2006

“This CD will forever remind us all what the RFH sounded like for half a century. Even the rests toward the end of the BWV 547 Prelude and Fugue seem imbued with history. It is worth buying for the booklet alone. The honour of enshrining such immortality goes, suitably enough, to Gillian Weir. It is temping to feel that the RFH organ never sounded so warm. Impeccable, persuasive, often enough witty playing of warhorse and novelty alike entertain and delight throughout. Why, you might even get the feeling that Dupré had written his Variations for this very organ (fifty years too soon!). Grison's Toccata, with its echoes - surely conscious - of Bach's famous fugue may seem a little too long, but Reger, often susceptible to the same charge, comes off brilliantly here; a colossal centrepiece for sure. The Bovet ‘encores’ round it off with tongue seriously in cheek.” Michael Bell, Organists' Review, August 2006

July 2006 Gramophone Editor's Choice: “An instant classic recording... at last! The magnificent Festival Hall organ was frequently recorded during the LP era but this is the first CD dedicated to this landmark instrument. Gillian Weir shows how musical and convincing the organ is in a wide variety of repertoire. The much criticised dry acoustics actually prove to be an assent in clarifying the complexity of Reger's emotionally charged Fantasia and Fugue. They also highlight the fact that Weir is the most rhythmic of organists and one can share her enjoyment of the Spanish dance elements in Bovet's Preludes and the bell-like swing of Bach's Prelude together with its majestic Fugue. Her performances of Ive's witty variatons, Grison's dazzling Toccata and Dupré's sparking Noël Variations are characterised by imaginative colouring, wit and breathtaking virtuosity. A classic recording - a truly great CD!” Christopher Nickol, Gramophone, July 2006

“Following her wonderful disc for Priory of the newly restored organ at the Royal Albert Hall, Gillian Weir is here featured at another London concert hall, playing an organ with which she has long been associated. The organ, and the hall are now in the process of being renovated. The layout of the organ is also going to be adapted, but tonally, thankfully, no changes will be made. This recording is, therefore, a historic sound document of the instrument in its original setting. Gillian Weir played her first concert at the RFH in 1965, so she knows the organ well. She delivers here a performance of extraordinary panache, control and musicality; the organ could not wish for a better advocate. The Ives is delivered with humour and swagger, the Dupré is breathtakingly good; virtuosic, sweeping, sometimes even, despite the setting, atmospheric. The control and delivery of the Reger is staggering. This is a really top-notch recording. Priory have included one of their best booklets, with extensive programme notes by the ever-eloquent Weir, and a lengthy essay on the future of the organ by its curator William McVicker. But once again it is the sheer brilliance of Gillian Weir which, above all, makes this an essential purchase.” Chris Bragg, MusicWeb, July 2006

“Another winner from Dame Gillian Weir following on from the resounding success of her Priory recording in the Royal Albert Hall (PRCD 859) This recording was made days before the organ was removed prior to the Halls refurbishment. It is estimated that if it returns it will not be until 2010. So here is the wonderful combination of artist and organ - an association which is such that she has appeared here and at the Queen Elizabeth Hall some 50 times during her career. This organ has only appeared rarely on LP and CD and is therefore a real collectors disc.” Presto Classical

Track Listing

Priory Records(external link) PRCD 866

TrackMusicComposer
1 Variations on “America” Charles Ives (1874 - 1954)
2 Three Noels Or Nous dites Marie Jean-François Dandrieu (1682-1738)
3 Puer nobis
4 Ou s'en vont
5 Praeludium et Fuga in C, BWV 547 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
6 Toccata Jules Grison (1842 - 1896)
7 Fantasie und Fuge in D moll Opus 135b Max Reger (1873 - 1916)
8 Variations sur un Noël Marcel Dupré (1886 - 1971)
9 Trois Préludes Hambourgeois Salamanca Guy Bovet (b. 1942)
10 Sarasota
11 Hamburg