Nathan J. Laube Portrait

Organ Historical Society's Cleveland Convention Features Six Brilliant Concerts

ClevelandClassical.com

By Daniel Hathaway

07/13/09


http://clevelandclassical.com

First Methodist: Nathan Laube

 

On Wednesday evening, we were back in Cleveland

for Nathan Laube’s program at First United Meth-

odist on a 1943 Casavant whose installation under

wartime conditions was something of a miracle. The

OHS’s opulently illustrated and painstakingly docu-

mented ‘Organ Atlas of Cleveland’ produced for this

convention chronicles a long tale of bureaucratic

meandering between the US and Canadian govern-

ments having to do with wartime restrictions on

metals.

 

Laube was having a big evening of it. Not only was

he making his OHS convention debut, but it was

his 21st birthday as well, and he was appropriately

serenaded at halftime.

 

A recent Curtis Institute graduate, the charming

and fearless recitalist launched into his own virtuo-

sic transcription of the ‘Fledermaus Overture’ as an

opening gambit and then moved on to the Sym-

phonic Chorale on ‘Jesu, meine Freude’ by Siegfrid

Karg-Elert.

 

We confess to a weakness for Karg-Elert and for

this piece in particular. Though the composer’s

overcolored harmonies can cross the line into dubi-

ous taste, his grasp of large forms, penchant for

seductive melodies and contrapuntal rigor are im-

portant redeeming features.

 

Laube brought amazing clarity to Karg-Elert’s inten-

tionally chaotic depiction of the Inferno in the first

movement. He shaped the long, sensuous melody

of the Canzone skillfully and negotiated the stops

and starts of the fugue with an clear eye to its over-

all structure and direction.

 

He played the entire recital from memory, which

was impressive, but this feat denied the audience

one piece of visual fun. Karg-Elert assigns two pedal

notes to the page-turner/registrant in the huge

last chord, so there should be a total of five notes

played by four feet on the pedals!

 

After the interval, and jokes about ‘Puer natus

est’, the fourth movement of Widor’s Symphonie

Gothique, the birthday boy plunged into a brilliantly

lyrical performance of the Widor itself. Another

movement was later offered as an encore.

 

The program concluded with Julius Reubke’s prob-

ably overlong ‘Sonata on the 94th Psalm’, a famous

showpiece by a composer who died at the age of

24. The convention poltergeist had by now set up

shop in the Casavant, causing Laube to take a long

pause to re-set combinations midway through the

piece. Apparently unflappable, the recitalist just

started again where he had left off, bringing the

work to a predictably stunning conclusion.

 

For its era (roughly the same as St. John’s Ca-

thedral), the Casavant sounds remarkably like a

theater organ, and at least from our seats in the

balcony, lacked a room-filling power and pres-

ence. Strange, because of its deployment across

the whole front of the sanctuary. Still, the terraced,

César Franck-like console was an impressive piece

of furniture, and its location dead-center made it

fun to watch the recitalist at work.

 

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