Wayne Marshall Plays Wagner

Wagner, arr. Lemare
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Prelude to Act I
Tannhäuser – Overture

Improvisation on themes from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

Wagner, arr. Lemare
Die Walküre – The Ride of the Valkyries

Wayne Marshall (organ)

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 1 August, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Wayne Marshall“Fast” and “furious” are not words normally used to describe the opening of the Prelude to Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” (pace the programme note, Wagner designated “vorspiel” – prelude – not “overture”), but as the opening chords crashed in and drowned out shouts from the Arena for the fountain to be turned off, it was such a description that came to mind and, sad to report, set the tone for this brief recital.

Edwin H. Lemare (1866-1934) must have had a phenomenal technique, as these transcriptions are incredibly challenging. Wayne Marshall undeniably rose to them, though as he said to BBC Radio 3 presenter Louise Fryer, a certain amount of “adaptation” had been made – to an extent not revealed, save at two points in the “Tannhäuser” Overture where his page-turner played the melodic line.

Royal Albert Hall organ. Photograph: Chris ChristodoulouThe playing of the ‘Meistersinger’ Prelude was typical of the whole – superb execution, marred by lapses in judgement with respect to tempo and registration. The rapidity of the playing led to some blurring of the textures, and so detail was unclear such as at the wonderful moment where the three principal themes are combined contrapuntally. One hesitates to use terms such as ‘coarse’ and ‘vulgar’, but I’m afraid that was the case, noble music that couldn’t avoid sounding like something out of a hyperactive fairground.

A curious choice of stops lent harmonium-like sound to the opening of the Tannhäuser Overture and, later, a reference to the ‘Venusberg Music’ sounded ludicrous though, once again, the dexterity of the playing could not be faulted. Marshall then improvised on themes from “Tristan und Isolde” – principally that which opens the ‘Prelude’ and also the concluding ‘Liebestod’. On its own terms, this was an impressive feat, though Marshall did not always avoid the impression of meandering. Textures were somewhat thick in places – I was reminded of Liszt or even Reger – and the climax was really distressingly loud (a fault at other points in the recital). The conclusion had an effective sense of ‘winding down’, although it was, ultimately, too protracted.

The piece which made a positive impact was that which was officially the final item – Lemare’s take on ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’. This was highly engaging and Marshall’s technical wizardry really came into its own with the whirling and trilling manuals and the theme thunderously delivered on the pedals (though the dotted rhythm was not always cleanly executed). With music and talk lasting barely 50 minutes, Marshall then returned and improvised on themes from ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’, throwing in bits of ‘Tristan’ on the way. He should have finished with Lemare’s transcription which he had played with such flair.

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