Nathan J. Laube Portrait

Review of Nathan Laube Recital in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

Milwaukee Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO)

By Larry Wheelock


This afternoon Nathan Laube shared a thrilling recital with a receptive audience at the new Berghaus organ (III/42 registers/53 ranks/65 stops) at St. Jerome Church in Oconomowoc, WI (An edge-city between Milwaukee and Madison).


The organ stands in the west gallery of a brand-new building built in a modern interpretation of a traditional style. (hard to describe -- you sort-of have to see it) The instrument is essentially a very complete 2-man and Ped instrument with the church’s old organ re-worked as a large antiphonal (14 rks/11 registers/11 stops) played on a third manual. This arrangement could be a challenge to many organists -- the antiphonal is a city-block away from the gallery -- but it seemed not to phase Mr. Laube in the least, and he wasn’t shy about using it alone and together with the main organ. His performance made a very convincing argument justifying this unusual arrangement.


The acoustics of the church are sympathetic to the instrument without creating any blurring of sound. Hard surfaces abound; floors, walls, ceiling, nearly everywhere (thanks to a consult from Scott Riedel Associates) although, I’m not overly fond of upholstered pews. I’m told there were some compromises necessary in the shape and details of the room, but the result rates far above the average parish church being built these days.


The Program:


Overture to "Die Fledermaus" - Strauss II (Laube’s own transcription)


Passacaglia, BWV 582 - J.S. Bach


Symphonie Gothique, Op. 70 - Andante Sostenuto - C.M. Widor


Symphonie Op. 42, No. 6 - Allegro - C.M. Widor


- Intermission -


Fantasy for Mechanical Organ K. 594 - Mozart


Sonata for Organ in C-minor ("Der 94ste Psalm") - Reubke


The program was played entirely from memory and displayed both the resources and colors of the instrument and some of the most sensitive and musical playing I have heard. Ever.


I cannot find words to tell you how much I enjoyed this well-thought-out program and the finesse with which he won-over the audience for each piece. He gave oral program-notes, and proved to be informative, well-spoken and charming. The playing was flawless (or as close to flawless as I’ve ever heard) and each piece was tailored to make the organ sound as though it had been built just for that piece. Any organbuilder would be delighted to have their instrument demonstrated by such a sensitive artist, and the Berghaus -- a fine instrument under anyone’s hands -- sounded absolutely amazing under Laube’s.


While it has become commonplace for every performance from the pre-school rhythm-band to the most mundane effort to receive a standing-ovation, one rarely sees the members of the Milwaukee AGO Chapter leaping to their feet to lead the ovation. This ovation was clearly well-deserved.


The first ovation was rewarded with an astonishing premier. Mr. Laube performed his own transcription of Chopin Etude, Op. 10, No. 4 in c-sharp minor. The artist told me after the recital that he has been working on this piece for nearly 2 years and that this was his first public performance of the work. The piece moved at a speed I hardly thought possible on a pipe-organ and the clarity with which he played each note left me breathless. He mentioned that he plans to play this piece for the AGO Convention in July, so those of you planning to go have a treat in store. This performance proved that Nathan Laube is unsurpassed in technique. There are other young artists displaying dazzling virtuosity -- even playing Chopin -- these days, but Laube takes a back-seat to none. This, of course, resulted in another well-deserved ovation.


The second ovation was rewarded with a Daquin Noël. After the program someone opined that this was rather a letdown after the Chopin to which the only possible response is that *anything* would have been a letdown after that Chopin.


The third ovation was acknowledged and then Mr. Laube flashed an infectious grin and switched-off the instrument signaling the end of this wondrous adventure.


The recital was underwritten and sponsored by Berghaus Pipe Organ Builders, Inc. with the assistance of St. Jerome Parish and the American Guild of Organists -- Milwaukee Chapter.


What an afternoon!


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