Two musicians making their Manchester debuts with the Hallé brought a programme with a French theme. From the gentility of Fauré to the robust grandeur of Saint–Saëns, Corinna Niemeyer and Anna Lapwood gave a remarkable concert placing the organ at its heart. Briefly addressing the audience, Niemeyer spoke warmly saying “French programmes are all about colour... how to colour, how to blend instruments”. Niemeyer clearly knew how to balance an orchestra with this philosophy from the opening work to the last. 

Anna Lapwood
© Alex Burns, The Hallé

Fauré’s Pavane began the concert. It had a perfect momentum in Niemeyer’s hands and there was a beautiful balance between the gentle pizzicato strings and the woodwinds in the opening. The phrasing was subtle and delicate, befitting of Fauré’s gently shaped phrases. Vibrato was kept light, just sufficiently to tint the sound in what was a simple, uncomplicated and highly effectively performance. 

Poulenc’s Organ Concerto in G minor followed. Lapwood choosing to play from the console on the platform of Bridgewater Hall, rather than from the more distanced one under the pipes. It made the performance feel connected and more intimate. Lapwood’s choice of registers gave a predominantly strong French organ sound, imitative of the king of French instruments in Notre Dame Cathedral. Despite the large body of strings, the organ was just a little restrained throughout, which balanced perfectly. 

Corinna Niemeyer conducts the Hallé
© Alex Burns, The Hallé

Lapwood’s judicious choice of stops highlighted the rich wealth of colours in the hall’s organ, which was mirrored by Niemeyer’s handling of the strings and timpani. Lapwood was able to bring drama in the central Allegro molto agitato contrasting with the lyricism and magic in the slower sections preceding and following it. The choices of tempos were just a little slower than many exponents of this work, but what was lost in momentum was compensated for in instrumental shading and the time to savour the beautiful sounds.

Beginning the second half, Lapwood gave some insight into Dobrinka Tabakova’s Sanctus from Orbis Factor, for solo organ, in its world premiere performance. This is from a collection of 12 pieces by different female composers called Gregoriana commissioned by Lapwood herself. Speaking enthusiastically, Lapwood explained how these pieces are designed to be accessible to younger musicians. This short modal piece was pleasing, showcasing the flutes and trumpets of the organ, building up each musical episode explored in a different register until the final one explores what Lapwood described as “full organ”. 

Corinna Niemeyer
© Alex Burns, The Hallé

Saint-Saëns’ famous “Organ” Symphony needs no introduction. In the Adagio to Part 1, Niemeyer ensured it was solemn and stately keeping the orchestral hues dark and sinister especially in the strings and brass. Each time the music modulated from minor to major in the quicker Allegro moderato, Niemeyer ensured the tonal range changed too, bringing brighter primary colours to contrast with more intense tenebrious episodes. The emotional heart of the work was the sublimely executed Poco adagio which was touching and incredibly gentle with sensitive playing from Lapwood, which Niemeyer mirrored in the orchestra

Part 2 gave everyone the opportunity to breath after such an intense slow moment. The Scherzo movement was vividly bright and the repeat of the Allegro moderato was more surefooted than its initial statement. The final section was brisk, but not rushed or hurried in any way. Niemeyer proved very skilled in using rubato to aid the excitement and expression in a conclusion that was majestically glorious, peaking just at the right moment.