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Recordings of Gloucester Cathedral Organ


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#1 Mark Taylor

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 04:32 PM

Yesterday I paid my first visit ever to Gloucester Cathedral. Looking in the bookshop for something about the organ, I came across The organ of Gloucester Cathedral by John Balsdon. An excellent, well produced booklet which comes with a fascinating CD. Thirteen tracks providing a history of the organ and including five tracks by Herbert Sumsion from 1949 to 1967. Wonderful stuff, here is the full listing.

Herbert Sumsion recorded in 1949
S S Wesley, Larghetto in f sharp
J S Bach, CP: Komm, suesser Tod, komm, sel'ge Ruh!, BWV 478

Herbert Sumsion recorded in 1965
Whitlock, Five Short Pieces: Folk Tune and Scherzo

Herbert Sumsion recorded in 1967
J S Bach, Prelude and Fugue in b, BWV 544

John Sanders recorded in 1980
C H Lloyd, Allegretto
Guilmant, Marche funèbre et Chant séraphique Op. 17

David Briggs recorded in 1997
Improvised Variations on Baa Baa Black sheep

David Briggs recorded in 2001
Saint-Saens, transcr. Briggs, Symphony No.3: Final

Andrew Nethsingha recorded in 2006
Vierne, Organ Symphony No.2: allegro

Adrian Partington recorded in 2010
Tomkins, A Fancy
Saint-Saens, Prelude and Fugue, Op. 99, No.3 in E flat
A Carter, Trumpet Tune

#2 MusingMuso

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 08:10 PM

Well here's a genuine treat for all lovers of English organ-music, which I stumbled across almost by accident:-

http://www.youtube.c.../48/vhK_XEdSaNQ

After God knows how many years, the penny has finally dropped about the Elgar Sonata.......I've heard a PROPER rendition of it for the first time....wonderful stuff!

It's interesting that Herbert Sumsion did the Elgar in one take.

Enjoy!

MM

#3 John Sayer

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 08:31 PM

Well here's a genuine treat for all lovers of English organ-music, which I stumbled across almost by accident:-

http://www.youtube.c.../48/vhK_XEdSaNQ

After God knows how many years, the penny has finally dropped about the Elgar Sonata.......I've heard a PROPER rendition of it for the first time....wonderful stuff!

It's interesting that Herbert Sumsion did the Elgar in one take.

Enjoy!

MM



Indeed - Sumsion's performance is surely the most idiomatic, naturally musical one could wish for - and a glorious rolling sound from the 1920 H&H with its stonking Ophicleide 16. I bought the LP when it first came out in 1965, my first organ disc. It was re-issued by EMI Classics in 1996 (CDM 5 65594 2) as a filler to an equally glorious account of Elgar choral works by the Worcester Choir under Christopher Robinson, rightly acclaimed ever since for the miraculously beautiful sound of the boy trebles. A CD to treasure.

JS

#4 MusingMuso

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 08:38 PM

Indeed - Sumsion's performance is surely the most idiomatic, naturally musical one could wish for - and a glorious rolling sound from the 1920 H&H with its stonking Ophicleide 16. I bought the LP when it first came out in 1965, my first organ disc. It was re-issued by EMI Classics in 1996 (CDM 5 65594 2) as a filler to an equally glorious account of Elgar choral works by the Worcester Choir under Christopher Robinson, rightly acclaimed ever since for the miraculously beautiful sound of the boy trebles. A CD to treasure.

JS


================

Shame on me that I've never listened to it, even though I have the original LP (probably in Mono). It was left to me by a deceased organist, so I guess I owe him an apology when I get to the Pearly Gates.

Actually, when you hear music like this played on an organ like that, the combination makes perfect sense doesn't it?

The trouble is, apart from choral music and English organ music, most other things sounded wrong IMHO.

But what a magnificent organist Sumsion was....quite a revelation!

MM

#5 Tempo Primo

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 08:48 PM

Well here's a genuine treat for all lovers of English organ-music, which I stumbled across almost by accident:-

http://www.youtube.c.../48/vhK_XEdSaNQ

After God knows how many years, the penny has finally dropped about the Elgar Sonata.......I've heard a PROPER rendition of it for the first time....wonderful stuff!

It's interesting that Herbert Sumsion did the Elgar in one take.

Enjoy!

MM


I agree with everything you said about the Herbert Sumsion Elgar Sonata. I bought it only recently, and then ordered the CD that includes him playing the SS Wesley Choral Song and Fugue. It is a delight to listen to such a lovely organ, which I understand underwent a controversial re-build not long after.
Tempo Primo.

#6 Ian Ball

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 08:13 AM

Indeed - Sumsion's performance is surely the most idiomatic, naturally musical one could wish for -

Well, apart from the Allegretto, which is surely far too slow and challenges even his legendary pianistic technique at the LH 'bassoon' solo. And indeed the last movement - Presto comodo?? The 1st and 3rd movements are splendid though, I agree, as is the glimpse of that lovely old instrument.

IFB

#7 AJJ

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 09:28 AM

Not Gloucester but my favourite recording (I think I've written about this on here before) of the Elgar Sonata is on the organ of the Immaculate Conception Church, Boston, USA (E. & G. G. Hook, 1863) - AFKA label by Thomas Murray. Fantastic playing on an amazing instrument. 'Not sure if available any more but if anyone is interested send PM.

A
"…We can’t criticize the organ for being boring. In such cases it is the organist that is boring. There is no such thing as a boring organ."

#8 pwhodges

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 11:13 AM

It is available.

Paul

#9 handsoff

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 12:03 PM

An interesting juxtaposition; Ashley Grote from Gloucester Cathedral is playing the Elgar Sonata on that most thrilling of instruments, Coventry Cathedral's organ, on Monday 4 July at 13.00.
Wanted Quantum Physicist, Dead and Alive

#10 MusingMuso

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 12:59 PM

Well, apart from the Allegretto, which is surely far too slow and challenges even his legendary pianistic technique at the LH 'bassoon' solo. And indeed the last movement - Presto comodo?? The 1st and 3rd movements are splendid though, I agree, as is the glimpse of that lovely old instrument.

IFB



===============================


This is an interesting and challenging reply, but although I don't agree with it, I have to pin my colours to the mast by saying that I don't have the music and I don't play the Sonata. However, I think I know why Herbert Sumsion's recording does it for me, and I’ll try to explain as best I can.

I'll get the first bit out of the way, because apart from a slight irregularity in the LH of the Allegretto, I didn’t particularly notice anything terribly out of place or unmusical. Did he make mistakes or something? I have no way of checking.
However, the amusing comment about“"Presto commodo" got me thinking, because my instinct is at odds with it.

I have a bit of a personal "golden-rule" when I approach a new piece of music, which is to completely ignore the tempo markings until I've had a look at what the notes suggest musically. (If only people would do the same with Reger!)
I may be a fool, but I always think of Elgar as a brass band man who eventually saw the light; probably never much of an organist. More importantly, the age in which he lived was essentially a military one....imperial expansion and might, wars, conscription, military service....that sort of thing.

I recall my grandfather, who at the age of 80+, could march in perfect step at remembrance bashes; as could all those with whom he marched to the local cenotaph. It was in his blood, as it was in the blood of those with whom he marched.

If you listen to British music of Elgar's era, (especially), it tended to be written and performed in very strict rhythm, with a certain military precision.......think Sidney Torch, Eric Coates, Billy Thorburn, Billy Meyerl etc. It’s really one of the very big differences between Bitish music and music from elsewhere.

Musical expression therefore tends to be dynamic on the one hand, and lyrical on the other.....Elgar was a great melody writer, but more importantly, those melodies would often crop up in the inner parts as repeated motifs. So in effect, lyricism is what absolutely dictates everything, and if it is lost in a welter of accompanimentally inappropriate stumblings, or becomes hidden beneath too loud an accompaniment, everything instantly dies a musical death.

I just wionder if "Presto"” wasn't understood as a "Quick March"” rather than a mad gallop to the finishing-line at Newmarket or a stampede to the January Sales?

I personally find Herbert Sumsion's "Presto commodo" just about right; especially since it allows the lyricism time to breath, and this is probably why I like it. ( I once more mention the word "Tenuto" expression).

Strangely enough, the same quality is found in light music of the Elgar era, (which included the early "Swingtime" generation as well as the "Roaring twenties"). In the following, the lyricism is totally dominant throughout, but there’s a lot going on behind the tune:-

http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

I'll put my neck on the block, in suggesting that anyone who wants to know how to play an organ lyrically, should first try it on a theatre-organ, and not on an instrument inspired by the classical ideals of balanced choruses.

Sumsion, I think, did the lyrical thing rather well, and I can well imagine Thomas Murray doing the same thing, considering the Skinner organ at his disposal at Yale University.

It's a bit of a lost art these days......

MM

#11 MusingMuso

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 02:08 PM

It is available.

Paul



=====================

If you only want to hear the performance of the Elgar in reduced mp3 quality, it is available to listen here:-

http://pipedreams.pu...ings/2001/0103/

MM

#12 biggestelk

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 08:48 PM

Not Gloucester but my favourite recording (I think I've written about this on here before) of the Elgar Sonata is on the organ of the Immaculate Conception Church, Boston, USA (E. & G. G. Hook, 1863) - AFKA label by Thomas Murray. Fantastic playing on an amazing instrument. 'Not sure if available any more but if anyone is interested send PM.

A


I too have this disc and love it. Old(ish) it may be, but has a wonderful warmth and clarity.
Anyone know the current fate of the organ as I believe the Jesuit 'reordering' of the church may have displaced it?
Oliver.

#13 Ian Ball

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 10:11 PM

===============================


This is an interesting and challenging reply, but although I don't agree with it, I have to pin my colours to the mast by saying that I don't have the music and I don't play the Sonata. However, I think I know why Herbert Sumsion's recording does it for me, and I’ll try to explain as best I can.

I'll get the first bit out of the way, because apart from a slight irregularity in the LH of the Allegretto, I didn’t particularly notice anything terribly out of place or unmusical. Did he make mistakes or something? I have no way of checking.
However, the amusing comment about“"Presto commodo" got me thinking, because my instinct is at odds with it.

I have a bit of a personal "golden-rule" when I approach a new piece of music, which is to completely ignore the tempo markings until I've had a look at what the notes suggest musically. (If only people would do the same with Reger!)
I may be a fool, but I always think of Elgar as a brass band man who eventually saw the light; probably never much of an organist. More importantly, the age in which he lived was essentially a military one....imperial expansion and might, wars, conscription, military service....that sort of thing.

I recall my grandfather, who at the age of 80+, could march in perfect step at remembrance bashes; as could all those with whom he marched to the local cenotaph. It was in his blood, as it was in the blood of those with whom he marched.

If you listen to British music of Elgar's era, (especially), it tended to be written and performed in very strict rhythm, with a certain military precision.......think Sidney Torch, Eric Coates, Billy Thorburn, Billy Meyerl etc. It’s really one of the very big differences between Bitish music and music from elsewhere.

Musical expression therefore tends to be dynamic on the one hand, and lyrical on the other.....Elgar was a great melody writer, but more importantly, those melodies would often crop up in the inner parts as repeated motifs. So in effect, lyricism is what absolutely dictates everything, and if it is lost in a welter of accompanimentally inappropriate stumblings, or becomes hidden beneath too loud an accompaniment, everything instantly dies a musical death.

I just wionder if "Presto"” wasn't understood as a "Quick March"” rather than a mad gallop to the finishing-line at Newmarket or a stampede to the January Sales?

I personally find Herbert Sumsion's "Presto commodo" just about right; especially since it allows the lyricism time to breath, and this is probably why I like it. ( I once more mention the word "Tenuto" expression).

Strangely enough, the same quality is found in light music of the Elgar era, (which included the early "Swingtime" generation as well as the "Roaring twenties"). In the following, the lyricism is totally dominant throughout, but there’s a lot going on behind the tune:-

http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

I'll put my neck on the block, in suggesting that anyone who wants to know how to play an organ lyrically, should first try it on a theatre-organ, and not on an instrument inspired by the classical ideals of balanced choruses.

Sumsion, I think, did the lyrical thing rather well, and I can well imagine Thomas Murray doing the same thing, considering the Skinner organ at his disposal at Yale University.

It's a bit of a lost art these days......

MM


I take your points, MM, and agree with the importance of lyricism and expression. There's much to admire in Sumsion's recording (for example, I love his rolling of chords and delaying of the melody note). However, I would use the bristling, brisk yet lyrical vigour of Torch, Coates et al to argue against Sumsion's approach in the 'intermezzo' and presto, which just isn't idiomatic to my ears. When you listen to recordings of Elgar conducting music in the same style and with similar tempo markings, Sumsion's approach simply fails, IMHO.

As to your remarks about lyricism and classical choruses... you're a brave man! I think our friends and colleagues fortunate enough to have studied with top teachers on the finest mechanical actioned instruments (whatever the repertoire) might take issue with you, not to mention those who have maintained a decent piano technique!

No-one's mentioned Thomas Trotter's new recording of the Elgar from Salisbury. Haven't heard it yet but am told it's superb.

Incidentally, the lovely Thorburn recording is about the right tempo for Elgar's Allegretto!

#14 MusingMuso

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 11:31 PM

I take your points, MM, and agree with the importance of lyricism and expression. There's much to admire in Sumsion's recording (for example, I love his rolling of chords and delaying of the melody note). However, I would use the bristling, brisk yet lyrical vigour of Torch, Coates et al to argue against Sumsion's approach in the 'intermezzo' and presto, which just isn't idiomatic to my ears. When you listen to recordings of Elgar conducting music in the same style and with similar tempo markings, Sumsion's approach simply fails, IMHO.

As to your remarks about lyricism and classical choruses... you're a brave man! I think our friends and colleagues fortunate enough to have studied with top teachers on the finest mechanical actioned instruments (whatever the repertoire) might take issue with you, not to mention those who have maintained a decent piano technique!

No-one's mentioned Thomas Trotter's new recording of the Elgar from Salisbury. Haven't heard it yet but am told it's superb.

Incidentally, the lovely Thorburn recording is about the right tempo for Elgar's Allegretto!



===================


Thanks for the positive comments: it was quite difficult to express what I meant in words, and I'm not sure that I fully did.

However, I didn't mean to cast doubt on lyricism as it relates to classical style organs: after all, I play a totally unenclosed neo-classical instrument.

What I think I meant, was the ability to gradiate the relative dynamic levels of solo and accompaniment, which can only really be done with two or even three enclosed divisions. That's why I used the rather odd example of Billy Thorburn, which seemed to project lyricism by means of careful dynamic control.

In my little organ-crawl to the States, (Smelling the coffee), there is a wonderful video of Thomas Murray playing Schumann, with every dynamic and expressive means at his disposal. It's VERY impressive to hear and watch, and it simply wouldn't be possible on a neo-classical instrument or even a modified romantic one.

Listening to the "Intermezzo" again, you may well have a point, but I still feel that the Presto is about right, because I can't imagine the fast bits going any faster without a loss of detail.

Anyway, an interesting little diversion in the discussion, and one which has had a very beneficial affect on me, having "discovered" Elgar as a fine organ-composer for the first time.

MM

#15 john carter

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Posted 25 May 2011 - 06:38 AM

No-one's mentioned Thomas Trotter's new recording of the Elgar from Salisbury. Haven't heard it yet but am told it's superb.

It's a very fine performance indeed. I doubt even Lewis Hamilton could have done better in the Presto! B)

I tend to agree with MM on Sumsion's tempo; presto comodo says "a comfortable pace" to me, and I think that is exactly what it is.

#16 MusingMuso

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Posted 25 May 2011 - 11:43 AM

It's a very fine performance indeed. I doubt even Lewis Hamilton could have done better in the Presto! B)


==================

I think you may be right....he plays the guitar! B) :lol:

MM

PS: Other musically talented F1 drivers included Francois Cevert (killed in action)....brilliant pianist. Currently, Adrian Sutil is the outstanding pianist in F1, and he can rattle his way through Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" among other things.

PPS: Is "Tempo Commode" a comfortable place?

#17 Double Ophicleide

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Posted 25 May 2011 - 10:26 PM

Well here's a genuine treat for all lovers of English organ-music, which I stumbled across almost by accident:-

http://www.youtube.c.../48/vhK_XEdSaNQ

After God knows how many years, the penny has finally dropped about the Elgar Sonata.......I've heard a PROPER rendition of it for the first time....wonderful stuff!

It's interesting that Herbert Sumsion did the Elgar in one take.

Enjoy!

MM



It is an amazing recording! Its a pity its recorded a bit close IMO. Much better than anything I have heard since although I need to catch up on the recordings mentioned above. I referenced this recording when learning the Sonata - I'm still learning it! It should be remembered that people who lived in the era and knew the composer are likely to interpret the music as it should be rather than someone who was born much later and has no direct link. I imagine the best person to interpret the music of Bairstow is FJ for example.

Its amazing that this organ was dumped in favour of its successor and at least it wouldn't happen now - I hope!

Perhaps I am missing something but what exactly was wrong with the Harrison?? I'm not surprised Sumsion never set foot in the place again after they put in the squeak box!

#18 Ian Ball

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 08:18 AM

It is an amazing recording! Its a pity its recorded a bit close IMO. Much better than anything I have heard since although I need to catch up on the recordings mentioned above. I referenced this recording when learning the Sonata - I'm still learning it! It should be remembered that people who lived in the era and knew the composer are likely to interpret the music as it should be rather than someone who was born much later and has no direct link. I imagine the best person to interpret the music of Bairstow is FJ for example.

Its amazing that this organ was dumped in favour of its successor and at least it wouldn't happen now - I hope!

Perhaps I am missing something but what exactly was wrong with the Harrison?? I'm not surprised Sumsion never set foot in the place again after they put in the squeak box!


Well, if your first proposition held true, music would die after a couple of generations. What does "as it should be" mean anyway? A composer loses most of his rights once the notes are committed to paper. There are many organists who stake their claim to "correct" interpretations as a result of a line of pupil/teachers. In the case of the Elgar, there are several such links still alive, teaching today's generation. But there weren't many in the chain from Kittel to Vierne, whose generation claimed to play Bach "as it should be", so that argument can be equally spurious.

I am sure Sumsion had his reasons for recording the second and fourth movements at sight-reading speed, but Allegretto (meaning "moderately quickly, fairly lively") and Presto (comodo) (meaning "quickly, in haste, immediately, suddenly (but comfortably)") they are not. Almost as important as the Italian indications are the time signatures: 4/8 for the former, 2/4 for the latter. Again, to my ears, Sumsion's recording misses by a mile.

I believe it is a gross error to sanctify and venerate one particular performance because one 'great man' happened to know the other 'great man' who created the work of art in the first place.

I'm not saying that what follows is any more "as it should be" (for one thing, what's "in haste but comfortable" for an orchestra is bound to be different for ten fingers and two feet) but for me this not only hits the spot, it sits comfortably within a range of interpretations we have from Elgar's own recordings of his compositions, as well as by conductors who knew him and claimed to know his intention:

Allegretto
Presto (comodo)
(RLPO, Vernon Handley)

John Scott brings this approach vividly to life and with great clarity in his St Paul's recording, as do Trotter and others. The Elgar only set light to my imagination after hearing Jacob's orchestration and then John's recording.

As for the reasons why the Willis/Harrison was "dumped"...well now we will never know. Ralph Downes and John Sanders are sadly no longer around to explain.

#19 MusingMuso

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 08:53 AM

Pressed wrong button...bear with me.

MM

#20 MusingMuso

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Posted 26 May 2011 - 09:22 AM

[quote name='Ian Ball' post='58946' date='May 26 2011, 09:18 AM']


Well, if your first proposition held true, music would die after a couple of generations. What does "as it should be" mean anyway?

The works of Reger and the interpretation thereof, spring to mind. There have been soooo many idiotic, speed-skating versions of the Reger B-A-C-H because people followed the tempo markings to the letter. The notes suggest something quite different......remember my "golden rule?"

There are many organists who stake their claim to "correct" interpretations as a result of a line of pupil/teachers

I agree, and what's more, you know a good interpretation when you hear it, without need to refer to any sort of lineage.

But there weren't many in the chain from Kittel to Vierne,

There may be a few more than is commionly supposed......think Czechoslovakia.

I believe it is a gross error to sanctify and venerate one particular performance because one 'great man' happened to know the other 'great man' who created the work of art in the first place.

Well! That's buggered up the Trinity hasn't it? B)

I am sure Sumsion had his reasons for recording the second and fourth movements at sight-reading speed.

Ah! Niow this is interesting. Could it be that Sumsion wanted to HEAR what he was playing, and placed clarity and comprehensible lyricism before all else?

In a close-up recording, there is clarity, but actually, from what I rememebr of the old Harrison, the sound travelled about
ten feet and then decayed into a jumbled mess. The full organ sound was like a great ball of fur rolling down the nave.

Ask yourselves why the sound engineer recorded the organ the way he did.

I suspect that's why they wanted rid of it, in the interests of greater musical cohesion and clarity.

When all has been said and done, I still feel that the "Presto" is right.....sort of "making haste slowly."

Try rushing to catch a bus on crutches. It will all fall into place, but the trouble is, so will you. Perhaps the "comodo" part had to accomodate the acoustic and the lack of clarity.

Anyway, dear olf Herbert has gained a few admirers from beyond the grave, which has to say something, I suppose.

MM




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