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Proms 2008


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Sorry guys, but I think that there's a lot of unnecessary carping going on here. Wayne Marshal is a brilliant player who has a highly individual but utterly gripping performance style. Rather than compare his interpretation with that of other organ virtuosi, maybe we should be drawing more general comparisons with the playing of, for argument's sake, Nigel Kennedy or the late Sura Cherkassky.

 

Also, WM was playing to the Proms audience - knowledgeable, sophisticated music lovers - not organ anoraks (of whom, let it be said, I am the chief). I watched the concert with my wife (an accomplished musician with little interest in the organ as a solo instrument). Her comment was,

'If you could play Messiaen like that, I wouldn't mind if you played his stuff every day.' - - - I wish!!

 

BTW, was anyone else out there completely blown away by the performance of the Four Last Songs?

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I think WM has always has a reputation as a speedy gonzales. I recall hearing him play Vierne 3 at a pre Sunday Evensong at St John's Cambridge and at the end CR was wandering around the ante-chapel muttering 'far too fast'.

 

I think we are in awe of the RAH instrument for its size and being one of a kind. I'd be surprised if it was anyone's favourite instrument. You had to laugh when the commentator said that WM had made the RAH instrument sound French. Can't imagine that anyone would ever confuse it with St Etienne Caen

 

Two whinges about the Proms. Can we please return to the tradition of the opening night being focussed on a major choral work? Richard Morrison is spot on in today's Times about last night's concert being less than the sum of its parts. I also deplore the studio format that has been adopted by the BBC. This destroys the continuity of the concert for viewers; far better when the presenter is perched high in the hall itself and we could soak in the amosphere between pieces and at the interval.

 

And then there is the ghastly last night when the momentum of the concert is disturbed by having to cut to Glasgow, Belfast and wherever.

 

Apart from that it was excellent.

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Sorry guys, but I think that there's a lot of unnecessary carping going on here. Wayne Marshal is a brilliant player who has a highly individual but utterly gripping performance style. Rather than compare his interpretation with that of other organ virtuosi, maybe we should be drawing more general comparisons with the playing of, for argument's sake, Nigel Kennedy or the late Sura Cherkassky.

 

Also, WM was playing to the Proms audience - knowledgeable, sophisticated music lovers - not organ anoraks (of whom, let it be said, I am the chief). I watched the concert with my wife (an accomplished musician with little interest in the organ as a solo instrument). Her comment was,

'If you could play Messiaen like that, I wouldn't mind if you played his stuff every day.' - - - I wish!!

 

I don't think removing Dieu Parmi Nous from the context of the 9 Méditations and treating it as a "play it as fast as you can" show-piece/toccata does Messiaen any favours.

 

Stephen Barber

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I don't think removing Dieu Parmi Nous from the context of the 9 Méditations and treating it as a "play it as fast as you can" show-piece/toccata does Messiaen any favours.

Do you consider it to have no connection with the French toccata tradition, Stephen?

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Do you consider it to have no connection with the French toccata tradition, Stephen?

 

Of course it's a French toccata, but it's also a meditation. It was played so fast it was just a showpiece that, to my ears, didn't come off anyway. Would any members of the audience who were unfamiliar with Messiaen's organ music have got any idea of what it's all about?

 

By the way, I loved the playing of the Beethoven Rondo but, on glancing at the BBC Messageboards (too many to read properly), I see that I seem to be in a minority of one.

 

Stephen Barber

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I endorse many of the earlier comments, Wayne Marshall played all the notes but his performance did nothing for me. I agree the last chord was absurdly long. It was good to see the organ featured in a mainstream concert with a full audience even if it wasn't a work that is likely to attract many new followers.

JC

 

I wholeheartedly agree with you. Whilst it was great to hear the organ in the opening piece of the opening Prom, I thought Wayne Marshall's performance did an injustice to Messian's composition. As usual, too fast and in some passages, too laboriously slow. I don't think it did anything to endear potential converts to organ music. I wonder if Marshall is trying to emulate Virgil Fox? If so, he has much still to learn.

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I agree with this. And I think those who are criticising the performance of Wayne Marshall are really missing the point (or several points) of the performance.

 

Firstly, the acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall is virtually dead, almost muffled in its overall effect. I think you can get away with fast passages and alternative emphases and still enjoy (and understand) the music.

 

Secondly, how many times have artists in the past deviated from the markings on the score (any score for that matter) and stamped their own authority on interpretation and the performance overall? I don't think creative musicians such as Messiaen would expect future artists and performers to be straight-jacketed by his own wishes (just in the same way that Dupre would never have constrained Cochereau in his performances of Dupre's work - indeed there is verifyable evidence that he encouraged Cochereau's ultra-symphonic style on the NDdeP organ).

 

And lastly, I wonder how much envy may be interpreted in some of the criticisms levelled here on WM's performance? I agree that some passages were too slow (or over-emphasised), and the last chord certainly was way too long, but the overall level of virtuosity, skill and musicianship displayed by WM (and in his career to date) would be beyond the wildest imaginings for some of our criticising contributors to this Forum. This, I think, is the rub here, and of course rubbing salt into the wounds of the significantly less gifted will always hurt.

 

I am significantly less gifted (to put it mildly) than Wayne Marshall, but am moved and thrilled by fine performances by organists. If you are suggesting that I (and anyone else criticising the performance) is guilty purely of envy then I find that a bit insulting, frankly.

 

I'm sorry that I missed the point (or several points) of the performance.

 

Stephen Barber

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Rats. I was out last night. Clearly I am going to have to listen to the repeat on R3 on Monday.

 

I thought it was rather good. Fast certainly, but it is meant to be a toccata, isn't it?

Well, Messiaen described the final, E major section as "a kind of joyful and vigorous toccata", which rather implies that he did not think of the preceding sections in quite the same way. Personally I prefer to play the central section (the "toujours vif" based on the communion theme) with a touch of restraint so as not to destroy its lyricism, though it has to be said that Messiaen himself played it quite briskly.

 

When it comes to bizarre performances of Dieu parmi nous, it would be hard to beat Messiaen's own. For all its authority, I have yet to come across anyone who aspires to emulate it. One of the most perplexing things about the way Messiaen plays his own music is that, having gone to the trouble of notating his time values so meticulously, he then proceeds to treat them with extreme flexibility. The elasticity of his playing in the final section of Dieu parmi nous is far from the rhythmic drive that most of us would look for in a French toccata. Fortunately Messiaen was perfectly willing to endorse performances that were not slavish copies of his own. Incidentally, his own final chord is fairly long (16 seconds from the last pedal E).

 

As for virtuosity, I think that Dieu parmi nous is one of those pieces where, if you can play it at all, you can play it at any speed. The truth is that, while the notes do take quite a lot of learning, it is very far from being the most difficult piece around. I do not think it is even the most difficult movement in La Nativité.

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And lastly, I wonder how much envy may be interpreted in some of the criticisms levelled here on WM's performance? I agree that some passages were too slow (or over-emphasised), and the last chord certainly was way too long, but the overall level of virtuosity, skill and musicianship displayed by WM (and in his career to date) would be beyond the wildest imaginings of some of our criticising contributors to this Forum.

Ermmm.... aren't you saying here what others have observed??? I re-ran the Sky+ recording just now and the final chord was held for about thirty seconds. Whilst I wish that I could play 100th as well as WM - it just seemed a little odd to me that the final chord was so lengthy. :unsure:

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I agree with this. And I think those who are criticising the performance of Wayne Marshall are really missing the point (or several points) of the performance.

 

Firstly, the acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall is virtually dead, almost muffled in its overall effect. I think you can get away with fast passages and alternative emphases and still enjoy (and understand) the music.

 

Secondly, how many times have artists in the past deviated from the markings on the score (any score for that matter) and stamped their own authority on interpretation and the performance overall? I don't think creative musicians such as Messiaen would expect future artists and performers to be straight-jacketed by his own wishes (just in the same way that Dupre would never have constrained Cochereau in his performances of Dupre's work - indeed there is verifyable evidence that he encouraged Cochereau's ultra-symphonic style on the NDdeP organ).

 

And lastly, I wonder how much envy may be interpreted in some of the criticisms levelled here on WM's performance? I agree that some passages were too slow (or over-emphasised), and the last chord certainly was way too long, but the overall level of virtuosity, skill and musicianship displayed by WM (and in his career to date) would be beyond the wildest imaginings of some of our criticising contributors to this Forum.

 

In my comment, I said that the performance didn't do anything for me and I stand by that. I don't doubt Wayne Marshall's virtuosity, skill or musicianship, I wish I possessed ten percent of it; but there are some performances that send shivers down your spine and for me this wasn't one of them. If it hit the right spot for you, then I am delighted that you enjoyed it.

JC

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It is always going to be irksome to be criticised by those who could not do any better themselves, but the ability to appreciate music is quite distinct from the ability to perform or compose and even the most passive of music lovers has the perfect right to formulate and express their own tastes. Thank goodness, too. (So long as they say nice things about me, of course! :unsure:)

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I seem to recall that a few years ago Wayne Marshall did a mini-series on the radio. I think that these programmes were put on instead of "The Organist Entertains" for two or three weeks or so. I recall WM saying something about the composer of the next piece he was playing being known as a very virtuosic organist, and then saying "But I bet he couldn't play it as fast as me!".

 

I thought that said it all....

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That's like saying "If only Joni Mitchell sounded like Britney Spears I'd like Joni Mitchell".

 

Best wishes

 

J

 

...

 

Also, WM was playing to the Proms audience - knowledgeable, sophisticated music lovers - not organ anoraks (of whom, let it be said, I am the chief). I watched the concert with my wife (an accomplished musician with little interest in the organ as a solo instrument). Her comment was,

'If you could play Messiaen like that, I wouldn't mind if you played his stuff every day.' - - - I wish!!

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That's like saying "If only Joni Mitchell sounded like Britney Spears I'd like Joni Mitchell".

 

Best wishes

 

J

Not sure that I agree. I was making the point that WM's performance of Dieu Parmi Nous got through to at least one music lover who has heard a lot of Messiaen's music, but isn't that keen on it.

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Are you suggesting then Stephen that Messiaen should be strictly played absolutely exactly as the composer suggests in his score? (and without reference to the performer's own virtuosic interpretation, the instrument being played upon, and the overall environment of the performance?)

 

No, I'm suggesting that:

1) I thought (I suppose I should have done the IMHO thing) it was too fast. Not a Meditation on the miracle of God coming among us but merely an exciting showpiece.

2) I should be able to express that opinion without being accused of holding it because I am jealous of his ability. (As a matter of fact, his playing is so far out of my league that I'm not!)

 

By the way, I've just come in from an absolutely stunning recital by John Scott in Peterborough Cathedral. Fantastic use of the organ (and not everyone makes Peterborough organ sound good).

 

Stephen Barber

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Having now found the prom concert on iPlayer I find I have immediately to retract this statement.

 

Lol :unsure:

 

I don't doubt WM's virtuosity at all - I thought he had a relaxed and easy looking technique which was quite up to any challenges. Psychologically, he's got confidence in his ability so he doesn't worry so much about it, either. I think you're right - once you can play the notes of this, you can play it at any speed, as WM showed. The issue I have is with his taste and judgment - which are possibly more important features of musicianship than technique, as the soprano that evening showed - if I'm honest I thought she was having a few issues with the higher register of her voice (it was lush in the lower registers though - I thought she was a contralto at times) but as a performance, it was spectacular - her interpretation was extraordinary, backed by real depth of understanding, emotion and expression.

 

Technically, I felt the piano solo contained far more technical keyboard challenges. Having looked through Dieu Parmi Nous once or twice I know I'm perfectly capable of learning it and playing it at WM speeds but to be honest, I haven't got much call or desire to do it right now...

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Not sure that I agree. I was making the point that WM's performance of Dieu Parmi Nous got through to at least one music lover who has heard a lot of Messiaen's music, but isn't that keen on it.

I think it's debatable whether it was Messiaen's music she was hearing. Sure, the pitch frequencies were Messiaen's, but that's about all and there's a lot more to a composition - any composition - than that.

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Ermmm.... aren't you saying here what others have observed??? I re-ran the Sky+ recording just now and the final chord was held for about thirty seconds. Whilst I wish that I could play 100th as well as WM - it just seemed a little odd to me that the final chord was so lengthy. :(

 

 

 

Perhaps he was just checking to see if the wind really would run out - it always used to! :)

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Just heard the repeat on R3, and wish I'd been there!

 

OK - perhaps not a performance I'd turn to for reference (and why should I, with at least 4 'integrales' from OM specialists on my shelves), but how marvellous to hear an organist with fire in his belly!

 

After all, this was very cruel programming: the audience had just heard the world's favourite song-cycle in the venue of its first performance, sung by a much-loved diva who had replaced another much-loved diva at short notice. How on earth do you follow that? WM pulled it off triumphantly...

 

Of course an intellectually considered performance can be tremendously exciting, but in a live performance - one not destined for repeated listening - isn't context vitally important? After all, when he re-opened the RAH organ, David Briggs made a similar observation regarding his own performance of the Sinfonia from Canatata 149. :)

 

How great to have so much organ at the Proms this year, and such a variety of performers - after the 'Livre' at Westminster Cathedral last month, I can't wait to hear Jennifer Bate play 'Dieu' in quite a different context in August!

 

Could things be looking up for the organ at last?

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Guest Cynic
Just heard the repeat on R3, and wish I'd been there!

 

OK - perhaps not a performance I'd turn to for reference (and why should I, with at least 4 'integrales' from OM specialists on my shelves), but how marvellous to hear an organist with fire in his belly!

 

After all, this was very cruel programming: the audience had just heard the world's favourite song-cycle in the venue of its first performance, sung by a much-loved diva who had replaced another much-loved diva at short notice. How on earth do you follow that? WM pulled it off triumphantly...

 

snip

 

 

I entirely agree. Wayne Marshall is a stunning performer, whether you agree with every aspect of his performances or not. His playing has panache and virtuosity in spades! Armchair critics may think they can do better, but I'd love to see them try. I agree that the last chord was a touch strange by virtue of its surprising length, but in the hall this must have seemed necessary to the player himself or why else would he have done it.

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