Preview: Dame Gillian Weir Organ Recital, Royal Albert Hall, London

A night to pull out all the stops
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The Independent Culture

There could be no more fitting person to launch the restored organ at the Royal Albert Hall today. Weir began her career as an organ virtuoso by being induced to enter the St Albans organ competition in 1964 (she won), and her love-affair with a box of pipes first blossomed on a trip to Holland, where she discovered the beauty of 18th-century instruments. "When you played a fugue, the subject seemed to march up the aisle carrying a triumphant banner," she says. "The clarity was amazing."

With its 10,000 pipes, the RAH organ is a very different matter. Does its sheer size it harder to love? "No, I like large organs too - but not with a bathroom acoustic, a general mush; I want to hear the music I'm playing, even when you're using the harmonics and acoustics of the building. You want a sound like a halo."

The Albert Hall instrument, she adds, is all about power and colour, reflecting the impulse behind its creation. As she rightly points out, a fashion for big organs often goes hand in hand with imperial might: as in Conquistador Spain, France under the Sun King and Britain under Queen Victoria.

"And this instrument is the heart of this unique building, which has appropriately been nicknamed the parish hall of England." She's chosen the right repertoire to go with it: "It's all about context. We had to begin with Elgar, with that feeling of confidence which the era itself embodied. The Liszt I've chosen is an enormous symphonic work. The Ives is extremely colourful and full of wit - life in a small American town, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I hope people will laugh."

Tonight, 7.45pm (020-7589 8212)

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