Prom 2: Jonathan Scott at the Royal Albert Hall – Symphonic Organ


Overture to The Thieving Magpie


Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice symphonic scherzo after Goethe


Symphony No. 3 in C minor, ‘Organ’ Op. 78

Jonathan Scott (Organ)

Reviewed by: David Truslove

Reviewed: 30 August, 2020
Venue: Royal Albert Hall

Concert organists are mostly used to playing with their backs to an audience. But unable to see a hall of keen-eared listeners and sensing their presence are two different experiences. The absence of a live public in this second audience-free promenade series did not appear to disconcert Jonathan Scott as he traversed a popular programme of French and Italian orchestral music transcribed by his own fair hand and serving to remind us of W.T Best, one of the most distinguished concert organists of the 19th century who became known as the ‘father of the organ transcription’.

Scott’s rousing performance of Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to The Thieving Magpie would surely have prompted an enthusiastic live response for its assured execution and vivid transcription, grandeur splendidly realised with a myriad of orchestral colours. No matter that the 147 stops of the Royal Albert Hall’s Henry Willis organ (restored by Mander) does not include a snare drum, nor that the opening flourish was more ominous than arresting, this transcription was remarkably faithful to the composer’s original conception and showcased the instrument to magnificent effect.

I was less convinced with thedelicateshimmering string effect in Pietro Mascagni’sIntermezzo, although there was no shortage of hymn-like lyricism, even if not conjuring a church wreathed in incense on Easter Sunday. Perhaps I just missed the visceral intensity of fifty or so string players carving out its serene theme and sitting amongst a spell-bound audience.

From religious devotion to impish mischief-making, Scott conjured an atmospheric Sorcerer, the score’s colourful palette expanding gloriously from a tension-filled opening to expose a perky bassoon stop and a host of gleefully conceived colours, all conveyed with admirable poise and dexterity. So too was Scott’s rendition of Camille Saint‐Saëns misleadingly titled ‘Organ’ Symphony, first performed at St James’s Hall, Piccadilly in 1886, albeit with the solo part played by a modest instrument. (The composer had sanctioned a harmonium if an organ was not available.) This performance was a fitting tribute to the composer who was among the first to play the Royal Albert Hall’s organ when it was completed in 1871.

After asking myself how one differentiates organ part from orchestral score within an organ transcription, not least the explosive organ chord that launches the Finale, I decided the question was irrelevant and just enjoyed this performance for its sheer virtuosity. Scott’s multi-tasking was something to behold – all the component parts, including filigree textures, were scrupulously balanced, and the articulation of its rapid string writing, notably at the beginning of the third movement, was fearlessly achieved.  There was plenty of maestoso in the rumbustious Finale, bringing to a close an uplifting performance that integrated the work’s structural logic and more than fulfilled its dramatic vistas.

In response to a public vote to decide an encore, Scott produced ‘Nimrod’ (Variation IX) from Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme (Opus 36). Chiming with the country’s prevailing mood, was this an elegy for a lost audience?  Something more upbeat might have helped us forget, if only briefly, the artistic repercussions of the continuing global crisis.  

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