It was no surprise to see French music figure prominently at Renée Anne Louprette’s Royal Festival Hall organ debut (in place of Stephen Cleobury). Don’t be misled – she was born in New York and is currently organist at Rutgers University in New Jersey – but she has an affinity for the French school.
She opened (and, via the Chorale Prelude encore, also closed) with J. S. Bach: it’s sometimes a little difficult to escape the impression that organists feel obliged to offer a compulsory Bach opener before getting on to the repertoire they really want to play. In this case that clearly included a Suite from Marin Marais’s 1706 opera Alcyone, arranged by Louprette. It was undoubtedly striking, and – as you’d expect from French music of the period – had a distinct élan, but still it might have benefited from more chamber-style registration.
Alain’s ‘Variations sur un thème de Clément Jannequin’ (1937) is probably the least well-known of his Trois Pièces, much less played than the ethereal ‘Jardin Suspendu’ or the thundering ‘Litanies’, but the way in which it offers a new treatment of much older French music made it a clever foil to the Marais. Here the RFH instrument (essentially German in its tonal style) seemed more Gallic then before, and Louprette brought across Alain’s language effectively.
Mytò is a substantial composition from that intriguing Dutch composer and multi-faceted musician Ad Wammes, dating from 1981 and intended for his wife’s exam recital. No surprise, then, that it builds to a long virtuosic section, and could rarely be called restful – all the same, it is certainly never dull, and it shows off well Wammes’s originality with line and his inventive rhythmic sense, and Louprette carried it off with panache.
In the second half, the attractive Nadia Boulanger piece was really only a warm-up for the more substantial Duruflé Suite. Only a few years older than the Alain but closer to the grand, nineteenth-century discipline of French organ-writing, famous for the concluding ‘Toccata’, though in many ways the first movement is more musically satisfying. Louprette managed them all magisterially, undaunted by the fearsome technical demands of the 'Toccata' and coaxing some convincing sounds.