Organist Nathan Laube Brilliant at Church of the Incarnation
The Dallas Morning News
By Scott Cantrell
Anyone thinking of organists as second-class musicians would have had another thing coming Tuesday night at Church of the Incarnation. In a recital ranging from the 17th century to the 20th, playing entirely from memory, organist Nathan Laube displayed apparently effortless virtuosity, great flair and a fine ear for sonority.
Still in his mid-20s, already on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., Laube is widely considered one of the most brilliant younger American organists. Closing the church’s 2013-14 Music at Incarnation series, he certainly vindicated that reputation.
On the organ, as opposed to the piano, striking a key harder or more gently makes no difference in volume. So rhythm becomes the most important expressive device, and Laube played it to the hilt. Opening with one of the organ’s great showpieces, the Allegro from Charles-Marie Widor’s Sixth Symphony, he knew just when a strategic hesitation or lingering could make the overall propulsion all the more powerful.
At the other end of the program was the Suite of Maurice Duruflé, its dazzling final Toccata a work of legendary difficulty. Laube seemed hardly to break a sweat while tossing off its chattering chords and scurrying runs with the greatest panache; the final section was electric. Parts of the Prélude and Sicilienne, though, needed more forward motion.
A real surprise on the program was Laube’s transcription of Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses, a staple at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Repeated-chord figurations weren’t exactly idiomatic for the organ, but Laube made the whole piece surprisingly effective, with sensitive shapings and aptly imaginative registrations: purring foundations, burbling flutes, buzzy reeds.
The Incarnation organ, a 1994 Noack rebuild of a 1952 Aeolian-Skinner, is better at romantic and modern music than baroque. Its trumpet stops were a little too brassy for the German baroque composer Nicolaus Bruhns’ Praeludium in E minor, and not quite brassy enough for a Corrente by the Spaniard Juan Cabanilles. Nor did the principal chorus have ideal heft for the former. But Laube deployed quite a variety of effective registrations in both works, again playing with real flair. He did what he could with Mozart’s trivial F minor Adagio and Fugue (K. 594). Why do organists play it?
Aided by a warmly ringing acoustic too rare in Dallas churches, the Incarnation organ can sound remarkably lush and colorful. But lingering mechanical and tonal issues are to be addressed in a renovation, also by Noack, in the coming year.
An articulate speaker, Laube gave spoken program notes that went on rather too long, and were inadequately amplified.