The organ is a relatively rare guest in orchestral concerts, if only because it is itself a kind of one-man orchestra with its powerful sound and the colours produced by its numerous stops. In addition, the religious sphere it historically represents stands in a certain contrast to the bourgeois-worldly concert life that developed with its orchestras and music halls from the 18th century onwards.
For the fourth episode of the Berlin Phil Series, the organ is heard together with brass instruments; a delightful pairing, since trumpet, horn, trombone and tuba can compete with the “queen of instruments” in terms of sound volume, radiance and brilliance. Brass players of the Berliner Philharmoniker appear in this concert together with organist Sebastian Heindl, who has enjoyed an extraordinary career ever since he was young. Heindl is joined by horn player Sarah Willis, who also hosts the evening, trombonist Thomas Leyendecker, trumpeter Andre Schoch, tuba player Alexander von Putkamer and principal trombonist Olaf Ott. It begins with the striking fanfare to Paul Dukas’ ballet music La Péri; a long-forgotten work which Kirill Petrenko performed with the Philharmoniker with great success in 2018. Heindl arranged several pieces of the programme for solo organ, including Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. The programme, in which the brass instruments perform both as soloists and in ensembles, includes the famous First March from Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, an evergreen of classical music, plus delightful rarities. The latter includes an original composition for trombone and organ by the Hungarian composer Frigyes Hidas, in which late Romantic harmonies are combined with chorale-like passages. The great tradition of French organists is strongly represented by Eugène Gigout, who was a student of Saint-Saëns and a teacher of Fauré, and the Romantic Alexandre Guilmant. Among the leading contemporary organists is Thierry Escaich, who is also a successful composer, and this concert includes his Tanz-Fantasie for trumpet and organ, created as a piece for a competition, and in which a virtuoso final section follows a meditative introduction conceived as a dialogue between the instruments.
Thierry Escaich is also the soloist in a performance of Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Organ Symphony” under the baton of Zubin Mehta from 2015. The finale of this strikingly exhilarating work concludes the concert. The “Organ Symphony”, which Saint-Saëns himself considered one of his most successful creations, follows the traditional four movement scheme of the genre in two sections. The work achieves thematic density through its consistent reference to the medieval Dies Irae motif. And the powerful appearance of the organ lends the symphony – similar to Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony or Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra – a sacred and majestic expressiveness.