RICHARD WAGNER - Wagner at the Organ

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RICHARD WAGNER - Wagner at the Organ - Transcriptions of Edwin Lemare - Jonathan Vaughn (Organ) - Organ of St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol - 802561039426 - Released: May 2013 - Regent REGCD394

1} Overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
2} Pilgrims' Chorus from Tannhäuser
3} Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
4} Prelude to Act I from Lohengrin
5} Prelude to Act III and Bridal Music from Lohengrin
6} Siefried's Funeral March from Götterdämmerung
7} Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre
8} The Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre

Wow! ... Incredible!

And what's even more incredible, is that I almost passed on this recording simply based on preconceived notions. I must admit that when this new recording landed on my desk, I immediately recoiled at the idea of organ transcriptions of some of the great passages from Richard Wagner's operas. My initial knee-jerk opinion was that any organist would most likely overdo the dramatic aspects of the music and therefore deliver an over-the-top and highly exaggerated account or, even worse, perform an "organ" version of these pieces but completely overlook their musical weight. Well I guess that Jonathan Vaughn is not just "any" organist. One of my golden rules is that I never reject a recording until I've given it at least one spin in the CD player, otherwise it would be unfair. And during that first sampling, I was instantly transfixed by Jonathan Vaughn's profound, almost symbiotic understanding of Wagner's music. And of course the great transcriptions by concert organist Edwin Lemare certainly stick to the authenticity of the score note for note. Near the end of the 19th century he mounted performances of Wagner operas, which he accompanied on the organ playing all the orchestral parts from the full score.

For example, Vaughn's take on the Tristan und Isolde is quite simply riveting. The "great swell" (pun intended) of emotion that he builds on throughout is as steady and solid as any orchestral version I've heard, matched by an equally impressive climax with perfectly judged weight and volume. And wait 'til you hear the way he delivers the final blissful chord. And the piece that I thought I would have been the most disappointed by turns out to be the most thrilling to listen to. I'm sure everyone will agree that the Ride of the Valkyries is an orchestral firework and perennial crowd pleaser. I was convinced that it wouldn't sound right on the organ. Boy was I ever wrong. Vaughn's account is so musical, so true to the score, that you temporarily lose track of the fact that you are listening to an organ, and feel your jaw drop once you realize that you are. The sheer complexity of the transcription truly transforms the pipe organ into a one man band, and you can't help but marvel at Jonathan Vaughn's tour de force performance. It also helps that the great Organ of St Mary Redcliffe is no slouch of an instrument, with a sound perfectly suited to this highly charged music.

If you like Wagner. If you like the sound of the pipe organ. Heck, if you have a beating heart, you have to hear this.

Jean-Yves Duperron - June 2013