Franz In Concert
The virtuoso performer and Wersi demonstrator Franz Lambert toured the U.K. some weeks ago and I was among a party from E&MM that attended his first concert here - at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon.
Programmes were not available so I surmise that Franz changes his programme according to location and as the mood suits him. After the show at Croydon he was to perform at eight other centres and, as the Franz Lambert Fan Club tends to follow him in his travels, he may well like to leave his choice of programme wide open. Certainly, he gave his Croydon audience a very wide range of music - possibly with the accent on serious music. The audience in the Fairfield Halls appeared to be a mixture of his fans and organ lovers generally, not forgetting representatives of the Press!
The tour had been organised by Aura Sounds of Purley and the concert we attended was - with one minor criticism - a well-staged, interesting and exciting occasion. Sitting ready on stage were the Galaxy and Helios organs with the new Pianostar electric piano between them. On each side of the stage were percussion kits: timpani, gong, bells, bongos, glock and other traps occupied one side, the other having a full rhythmic kit including synth drums.
Rather unusually, the two Wersi organs were back-on to the auditorium but a large, angled mirror behind the instruments allowed the concert-goers a back view of the organist. Additionally, a remote-controlled colour TV camera was directed on the keyboard and its signal shown on eight monitors at the sides of the stage. These viewing aids gave the audience the opportunity to see the rapid changes in registration continuously taking place.
Six 100W speaker cabinets were ranged along the back of the stage and this gave more than ample volume on the louder passages and appeared to be set to accentuate the lower frequencies. It certainly did justice to the Galaxy, though the Helios lacked the same level of reverberation. I appreciate that each hall has its own acoustic characteristic, which alters with an audience in place: this was, of course, the first of a series of concerts and subsequent performances may well have seen alterations to the PA arrangements.
Franz Lambert and his percussionist, Kurt Bong, arrived on stage and the Galaxy was used to open the show with a Fanfare - of Trumpet Voluntary flavour, with timpani. It was not possible, because of the oblique view afforded by the CCTV, to be precise about the registrations used: in any case, Wersidata was no doubt in constant use (a random access preset system fitted to these organs). Thus I can only give a general indication of the tones the organist used.
An ABBA number in rock tempo followed, mainly using third harmonic percussion, after which the tempo slowed for a 'cascading strings' melody. The Galaxy is a three-manual instrument with just about all the facilities one could wish for and, from the moment the concert began, the organist was demonstrating not only his own prowess but also the capabilities of the organ itself.
After the applause for the first session had died down, a German compere addressed the audience - and here I must make a criticism. Broken English through a rather bassy, reverberated amplification system is extremely difficult to follow. He also addressed Franz Lambert in German across the stage and even a smattering of that language was no help at all. Bearing in mind that Franz plays in the USA, I would respectfully suggest that this brilliant organist speaks at least one English phrase - and possibly changes his compere when away from home! I was reminded of the occasion when I first tried out an early Wersi organ and was completely at sea because every control was labelled in German.
Returning to the performance itself, Dvorak's 'Ninth Symphony' began with synthesised strings and the well-known theme became a cor anglais solo (well-known, that is, to lovers of Hovis!). The reprise was in polyphonic brass with string accompaniment. Today's organ having become orchestral rather than solely imitative of its pipe counterpart, instruments like the Gaiaxy offer great scope to the more seriously-inclined musician in re-arranging the classics. This appears to be Franz Lambert's strong point, the Ninth Symphony being executed with exquisite expression.
'Japanese Lantern' was evocative of Geisha Girls and cherry blossom. Phased strings with 5⅓' tone added set the theme in rubato tempo, changing into heavy swing in organ tone for the final choruses. The location was then changed by Tchaikowsky's 'Capriccio Italien', heralded by a mournful trumpet with strings as backing against a slow bolero rhythm.
To prove to the many organists in the hall just how it should be played, 'Tico Tico' was the next offering. Franz chose to register in straight 'electronic organ tone', no doubt because from the era of Ethel Smith this is how we have always been used to hearing this famous samba. Kurt Bong also capitalised on this number with a very lively solo in the percussion department. I guess that 'Tico Tico' elated the non-players in the audience, but left the practical musicians somewhat downhearted! Despite a raging tempo, the organist's keyboard technique was faultless and breathtaking.
Cat Stevens' 'Morning Has Broken' began with chimes, which appeared to be a percussed flute mixture with odd harmonics, the tune being played by a most realistic oboe. The theme was repeated by the 'string orchestra' in a grand and expressive manner. 'Elizabethan Serenade' was registered in woody flute harmony with white noise for the accompaniment, the melody in synthesised strings.
Moving over to the Helios organ, a selection from the European Hit Parade was played with rock backing by Kurt who had also moved over to his rhythmic kit. This medley allowed liberal use of the synth drums but for the most part Franz kept his registration in organ tone.
'Flight of the Bumble Bee' was another of the organists special arrangements, combining a brilliant demonstration of the man and his instrument. Franz managed to register his organ so that an incisive and insistent bee gyrated round the hall.
A swing medley, mainly based on 'C Jam Blues' was to follow and was much in the style of Jimmy Smith - with percussed third harmonic prominent. This part of the performance modulated into 'Sweet Georgia Brown' with the solo taken on a very windy jazz flute: although there was probably too much white noise added, the effect was interesting nevertheless.
Returning to the Galaxy, Franz and his percussionist prepared to play 'If I Could Be a King', making great play of the fact that they were turning to sheet music-to the amusement of the audience. This arrangement employed brass, horn, string and harp arpeggios: the latter, and indeed many of the solo voices, are a great credit to Wersi's engineers.
"Germutlichkeit" was how the compere introduced Franz Lambert's 'Nutties Selection' (I translate this as giving a feeling of satisfaction or wellbeing). This part of the programme was a rock and roll romp for both performers - mostly Country & Western numbers that are well-worn but allowed the use of banjo, train whistles and plenty of corn!
Lennon and McCartney compositions, surely among the best to emerge in the last couple of decades of popular music, were used in the penultimate medley. A boisterous version of 'She Loves You' gave way to a plaintive oboe solo of 'Yesterday': that particular sound, which must be synthesiser based, is total realism on the Wersi organ. 'Michelle' was also in haunting vein, the solo being taken by trombone with a string backing. A rollicking version of 'Yellow Submarine' was followed by the breathy flute being used again for 'Hey Jude'. This selection ended as it began with 'She Loves You' - but not before Kurt had taken a drum solo lasting several minutes, lambasting everything within reach including the synth drums!
The final part of the show was another of the organist's special arrangements - 'Sabre Dance' by Khachaturian, expertly played on the Galaxy. This began with a lament played on rolling strings, then turned to Baroque organ style in counterpoint. The theme was prestissimo in organ tone with a fair amount of dissonant harmonics: the full dynamic range of the organ was brought into play and the performance can only be described as scintillating.
The audience would not let the artists leave the stage until two encores had been heard - a fast gallop, followed by a slow number on the electric piano. No doubt Franz finds it advisable to wind his audience down before it emerges into the world of reality again.
This concert was highly enjoyable, combining first class musicianship and instruments. It was also proof of the change in character of the entertainment organ in recent years into an orchestra at the fingertips.
Few organists ever achieve the expertise shown at this concert, but anyone interested in electronic music can build a Wersi organ.
Some readers may not be aware of the existence of a club that consists of organ builders, working both to their own designs and on kits. The Electronic Organ Constructor's Society is a non profit-making organisation which was founded twenty years ago. The Society holds regular meetings in London, Manchester and elsewhere and publishes The Electronic Organ Magazine which it circulates to a world-wide membership.
Details of membership may be obtained by sending a stamped, addressed envelope to Ralph Purdy (Membership Secretary), (Contact Details).
Feature by Ken Lenton-smith
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