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#1 DaveHarries

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 12:25 AM

Hi all,

After hearing the archive edition of Radio 3's Choral Evensong which was a 1974 broadcast from Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford I must say that the organ sounded in fine voice as did the choir.

What, then, was the reason for the work undertaken by Reiger in 1979?

Also must say that organ & choir sounded in fine voice after the end of the 1974 broadcast when Radio 3 played Forbes' arrangement of the Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis - which was comissioned for Christ Church, Oxford - followed by "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day" as arranged by John Gardner who did my favourite version of that song.

Dave

#2 nfortin

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 12:44 AM

As a result of your query I've just been looking up the old (Fr Smith, Gray & Davison, Willis & H&H) and new (Reiger) specifications on NPOR, regular readers will not find it difficult to guess which I prefer.

As I recall this was a sorry tale. A contract for the restoration of the old organ was awarded, I believe, to an overseas firm who dismantled the organ, removed the pipework to their workshop, and then promptly went bust. The legal position was such that the pipework was effectively lost to the colledge/cathedral with the result that they had no option but to commission a new organ.

I must stress that this is my personal recollection of events as came to me through the grapevine. I'm sure someone with closer or more accurate information will correct any glaring errors.

#3 Heckelphone

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 01:53 AM

As a result of your query I've just been looking up the old (Fr Smith, Gray & Davison, Willis & H&H) and new (Reiger) specifications on NPOR, regular readers will not find it difficult to guess which I prefer.

As I recall this was a sorry tale. A contract for the restoration of the old organ was awarded, I believe, to an overseas firm who dismantled the organ, removed the pipework to their workshop, and then promptly went bust. The legal position was such that the pipework was effectively lost to the colledge/cathedral with the result that they had no option but to commission a new organ.

I must stress that this is my personal recollection of events as came to me through the grapevine. I'm sure someone with closer or more accurate information will correct any glaring errors.


To mention Fr Smith and Gray & Davidson here is probably a little disingenuous, as the cutups and other vital characteristics (not to mention action and winding) would have undoubtedly been altered beyond all recognition by later builders and almost certainly it was not within anyone's 1970s ethos to painstakingly restore these, lowering all the mouths etc etc. It's safe probably to call it a Harrison or possibly Willis-Harrison and forget about all other paper-based influences.

To prefer one organ above another on the basis of stoplist alone is probably something which we would do well to avoid. I had understood that the Phelps contract was for a new organ - could be I'm wrong in this - which would make this a little less hugger-mugger and conspiratorial than is being implied. I think Phelps is on record as having no time for restoration work, preferring a clean sheet. The philosophy that an organ by builder A altered by builder B represents neither builder terribly well extends logically into restoration ideally taking the earliest practicable date as a point to work to. I would suggest that the (nasty foreign???) Smith organ would not have been found a terribly acceptable point to work from (presumably contaynning two Pryncypalls of mettle and a Stopt Diapafon of waynscott, and maybe a Hoyboy halfway), had such a thing even been in consideration 30 years ago, and also the present instrument probably has more in common (philosophically at least) with a good G&D than we might care to admit.

It is terribly easy to make an instrument sound good on a recording or broadcast. Witness the Briggs effort from Buckfast Abbey back in the summer - I know from personal experience what a pitiful and dilapidated condition this instrument is in - also the annual Edington Festival broadcasts where a succession of organists manage to make an extremely pedestrian village instrument sound special, usually in some very tough contemporary repertoire.

Unless there is anyone here who fondly remembers the old instrument and does not possess rose-tinted ears, what's the point in crying over 30 year old spilt milk? I am sure we would have been busy bemoaning the way G&D ruined the Smith organ had we been alive a few years earlier. It's an important and good musical instrument in a city that's full of them - let's just appreciate it before someone tries to alter it (and it must be due a cleaning soon...) Sometimes the philosophy behind an instrument gets so muddled and over-wrought that starting again is the only responsible thing to do.

#4 pwhodges

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 09:02 AM

Unless there is anyone here who fondly remembers the old instrument and does not possess rose-tinted ears, what's the point in crying over 30 year old spilt milk?

I remember it fondly from my formative years as a chorister, and later as a student - but never had an opportunity to play it. I'm sad I missed the broadcast, as the only recording I know using the old organ is Simon Preston's Ch Ch recording of Dvorak's Mass in D (available coupled obscurely with Kertesz's Dvorak Requiem). I wonder sometimes if somewhere there may still be a copy of the tape of hymn accompaniments that some friends and I recorded Paul Morgan (then organ scholar) playing for a missionary to use in his church in Africa.

To a chorister, it did all that was required for services, and did it very well. To my opinionated but ignorant student ears, it sounded more Harrison than Willis (as one might expect, really). It was, shall I say, mellow - the Great having a foggy OD-1 and a modest 3-rank mixture - but I dare say that Bach could have been played a bit more idiomatically than Sydney Watson chose to do. The enclosed Tuba was particularly good (if you like that sort of thing - which I do in its place, which this definitely was), and was effective as the intended voice for the last section of Walton's The Twelve, and also in the Dvorak mentioned above.

Although in 1968, when I last visited the organ loft, it was all functional, Sydney told me that it was mechanically in a bad way and requiring a lot of attention. But he did not wish to have it rebuilt, preferring to leave that to his successor, who in those days could be assumed to have a very different view of what it should be like. The sideways-extended main case was ill-proportioned; and when the organ was removed, the choir case was found to be unsafe, and so was taken down for safety.

There were no known Smith pipes (except a vague rumour that the remains of one stop was in the Choir); Phelps's star was rising high after Hexham, and the rest we know. The only written history of the organ that I know is a rather whimsical one in Rieger's promotional leaflet for their replacement.

Paul

#5 pcnd5584

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 09:32 AM

I remember it fondly from my formative years as a chorister, and later as a student - but never had an opportunity to play it. I'm sad I missed the broadcast, as the only recording I know using the old organ is Simon Preston's Ch Ch recording of Dvorak's Mass in D (available coupled obscurely with Kertesz's Dvorak Requiem). I wonder sometimes if somewhere there may still be a copy of the tape of hymn accompaniments that some friends and I recorded Paul Morgan (then organ scholar) playing for a missionary to use in his church in Africa.

Paul


Small world! I was taught by Paul Morgan for several years after he moved to Exeter. He is an extremely good organist and a thoroughly nice chap, too.
Pierre Cochereau rocked, man


#6 Guest_Cynic_*

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 09:45 AM

I have (somewhere) an EP recording of this instrument, made by Roger Fisher, I believe, while he was organ scholar there. Everything decent and in good order.

Impressions 'live': I remember hearing this organ regularly during my time at New College School. Outside university term, but while school term continued, the boarders used to be walked over to the cathedral on Sunday mornings and we sat (out of sight of the service) but in good sight (and hearing) of the organ in the north side aisle. I also remember there being a tiny chamber organ with no visible pipes just within sight of where I used to sit. Was this made by the great Dr.Crotch? I vaugely recollect this.

My memory is that the 'old' organ at Christ Church was, as stated above, much more H&H in tone than Willis - I used to hear and play the Willis jobs at Wadham and New College and had some basis upon which to compare.

IMHO CCC was a decent accompanimental organ, but nothing exciting. One thing: I remember how silly the Choir case used to look as it seemed to project at least eight feet out from the gallery - the nearest I have ever seen to an organ looking pregnant!

At the time I used to write around to organ builders on a regular basis and collect specifications - the reason for the size of the Choir case was clear when I discovered the spec. There were ten stops on the Choir including a 16' Dulciana and the whole lot was in a swellbox.

#7 pcnd5584

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 10:07 AM

I think that there was also a prepared-for Double Ophicleide on the Pedal Organ (to be extended down from the Ophicleide). I cannot imagine where H&H would have put the pipes for this stop.
Pierre Cochereau rocked, man


#8 pwhodges

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 10:22 AM

I also remember there being a tiny chamber organ with no visible pipes just within sight of where I used to sit. Was this made by the great Dr.Crotch?

It was (is? I've no idea if it's still there) called the Crotch organ, and I was told that he built it. It was occasionally used for a continuo-type accompaniment when (in those days) we sang evensong unaccompanied at the East end on Fridays.

Paul

(Incidentally, to someone with connections to both, CCC means Corpus Christi College, and Christ Church is ChCh)

I think that there was also a prepared-for Double Ophicleide on the Pedal Organ (to be extended down from the Ophicleide). I cannot imagine where H&H would have put the pipes for this stop.

There was. When, as organ boy, I was first asked by Sydney to pull out the Ophicleide during a voluntary, I selected the wrong knob in my ignorance :rolleyes:

Paul

#9 John Sayer

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 10:30 AM

Yes, it was a nostalgic broadcast, with memories of undergrad days in the late Sixties, bringing back voices long since gone - did clergymen really speak like that 30 years ago?

And where did the acoustic come from? The building always struck me as pretty well dead.

The old organ was as undistinguished tonally as it was visually. Gilbert Scott's choir case was not only too deep but far too tall for the main case. It's a pity this wasn't corrected in 1979. If it had been reduced, say to a 6ft front, there might have been less temptation to lift the main case so high up, though this was probably necessary to accommodate the Swell in Brustwerk position. And the case pipes should surely have been gilded in accordance with 18c English practice. Today the whole visual ensemble is somehow less than satisfying.

In those days, the choir sang at the 11.00 Eucharist in the choir stallls at the east end, with Sydney, often resplendent in D Mus robes, conducting Palestrina, Lassus and Jakob Handl with minimalist movements of the right index finger. At the communion hymn he would disappear into the side chapel to accompany on the little Crotch organ, with the main organ contributing just the final hymn and voluntary.

Dean Cuthbert Simpson would bid worshippers a stone-faced farewell at the west end, his cassock disturbed by the occasional draught from the 32 Violone stacked up against the wall around the door.

JS

#10 pwhodges

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 10:57 AM

Yes, it was a nostalgic broadcast, with memories of undergrad days in the late Sixties, bringing back voices long since gone - did clergymen really speak like that 30 years ago?

My brother-in-law is a clergyman, and still does.

And where did the acoustic come from? The building always struck me as pretty well dead.

It's not a fulsome acoustic, but it's not quite as dead as people always seem to think. It's clean, and nice to record in.

In those days, the choir sang at the 11.00 Eucharist in the choir stallls at the east end, with Sydney, often resplendent in D Mus robes, conducting Palestrina, Lassus and Jakob Handl with minimalist movements of the right index finger.

Here you can see Sydney and the choir posed in the east-end stalls in c. 1957. I am the boy closest to the camera.

Paul

#11 pcnd5584

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 11:35 AM

It's not a fulsome acoustic, but it's not quite as dead as people always seem to think. It's clean, and nice to record in.
Here you can see Sydney and the choir posed in the east-end stalls in c. 1957. I am the boy closest to the camera.

Paul


Thank you, Paul. I often find it interesting to see photographs of famous people of whom I have heard.

I, too, was surprised at the acoustic - and the sound of the organ in the Sebastian Forbes piece. Neither sound like that during August when I play for a visiting choir!

Out of interest, where was the choir case on the old organ? I have a photograph looking west. There is no choir case, just a curtain behind the organist. In addition, there are the extra side towers clearly visible.

Pierre Cochereau rocked, man


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Posted 11 January 2007 - 11:53 AM


Out of interest, where was the choir case on the old organ?** I have a photograph looking west. There is no choir case, just a curtain behind the organist. In addition, there are the extra side towers clearly visible.


A different Paul but...
I've beaten him to it!

**This must have been a photo taken immediately after Phelp's men took down the bulk of the H&H organ. I've seen this one too. This is not how the organ used to look at all.
The 1922 Choir was in a Chair case in the 'usual' place - normal expcet for its size/bulk which was just plain silly.

#13 pwhodges

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 12:11 PM

**This must have been a photo taken immediately after Phelp's men took down the bulk of the H&H organ. I've seen this one too. This is not how the organ used to look at all.
The 1922 Choir was in a Chair case in the 'usual' place - normal expcet for its size/bulk which was just plain silly.

There was also a period around 1900 (I don't have the dates to hand) when Willis's for who knows what reason moved the choir case (which was the present one) to the West face (i.e. the back) of the organ facing the west doors!! I've not seen any photos from that time, though, so I expect pcnd has seen the one you mention (as I have).

It's perhaps also worth noting that until the organ was rebuilt, the choir stalls were a bay nearer the crossing.

Paul

#14 pcnd5584

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 12:45 PM

A different Paul but...
I've beaten him to it!

**This must have been a photo taken immediately after Phelp's men took down the bulk of the H&H organ. I've seen this one too. This is not how the organ used to look at all.
The 1922 Choir was in a Chair case in the 'usual' place - normal expcet for its size/bulk which was just plain silly.


Thank you, Paul. How strange - I had no idea! Perhaps it occurred to someone to take one or two 'before and after' photographs - except that they did not get around to it until a few days into the dismantling process....

I have to say that I quite liked the sound of the old organ, too. I think that there were other prepared-for stops, including a double reed on the G.O.

I am still puzzled by the apparently warm acoustic. I cannot imagine that the sound was tweaked or processed by the BBC.

What a pity the voluntary was cut short, too.


There was also a period around 1900 (I don't have the dates to hand) when Willis's for who knows what reason moved the choir case (which was the present one) to the West face (i.e. the back) of the organ facing the west doors!! I've not seen any photos from that time, though, so I expect pcnd has seen the one you mention (as I have).

It's perhaps also worth noting that until the organ was rebuilt, the choir stalls were a bay nearer the crossing.

Paul


Ah - I wonder if it is this photograph which I have. Otherwise, I should have expected to see the case swathed in scaffolding.

With the stalls in the previous position, did this make the organist's job more difficult, with regard to balance and synchronisation?

Pierre Cochereau rocked, man


#15 pwhodges

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 01:12 PM

I am still puzzled by the apparently warm acoustic. I cannot imagine that the sound was tweaked or processed by the BBC.

Actually, I worked as a BBC studio manager only a couple of years before that broadcast, and so I can tell you that it was common BBC practice to have a pair of microphones much more distantly placed which could be mixed in with the main mics to add acoustic. This was done in the RFH, for instance. In Ch Ch I would guess they put a pair of mics somewhere in the North transept for this purpose.

I should have expected to see the case swathed in scaffolding.

The scaffolding wasn't left up once the choir case was removed; it would have been seriously in the way.

With the stalls in the previous position, did this make the organist's job more difficult, with regard to balance and synchronisation?

Probably. But how would I know? - it was the norm for me as a choirboy :rolleyes:

Paul

#16 Vox Humana

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 01:19 PM

To my opinionated but ignorant student ears, it sounded more Harrison than Willis (as one might expect, really). It was, shall I say, mellow - the Great having a foggy OD-1 and a modest 3-rank mixture - but I dare say that Bach could have been played a bit more idiomatically than Sydney Watson chose to do.

That matches my recollection of it very well. I played it for at least two week-long visits with a visiting choir in the years around 1970. I remember it being a rather cumbersome instrument to play, no doubt due to its dilapidation, but it felt less like taking a lumbering elephant for a walk than did Winchester Cathedral at that date. Tonally it failed to stir me much (Winchester was infinitely finer); my recollection is that it sounded somewhat heavy. Of all the cathedral organs I played around that time this was perhaps my least favourite. Being very much a child of the neo-Baroque, I never felt it was terribly suitable for Bach, but I do remember that, after having played one of the big P & Fs after a service, one of the choir choir up to me, raving that I'd made the organ sound just like a Schnitger. I'm still trying to work out whether he meant that as a compliment!

#17 DaveHarries

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 08:56 PM

As a result of your query I've just been looking up the old (Fr Smith, Gray & Davison, Willis & H&H) and new (Reiger) specifications on NPOR, regular readers will not find it difficult to guess which I prefer.

As I recall this was a sorry tale. A contract for the restoration of the old organ was awarded, I believe, to an overseas firm who dismantled the organ, removed the pipework to their workshop, and then promptly went bust. The legal position was such that the pipework was effectively lost to the colledge/cathedral with the result that they had no option but to commission a new organ.

I must stress that this is my personal recollection of events as came to me through the grapevine. I'm sure someone with closer or more accurate information will correct any glaring errors.

What a shame. So who was the firm originally asked to do the 1979 work and how much (if any) of the pipework was by Smith, etc before 1979?

Dave

#18 pcnd5584

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 10:23 PM

What a shame. So who was the firm originally asked to do the 1979 work and how much (if any) of the pipework was by Smith, etc before 1979?

Dave


The firm was Lawrence Phelps Associates (U.S.) - which became insolvent shortly after the dismantling of the Willis/Harrison organ had been completed.

The brief history of the organ of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford is as follows:

The Smith (or Schmidt) organ was commissioned in 1680 and stood on Dean Duppa's screen at the west end of the quire. The specification was as follows:

'Two setts of keys, from GG (short octaves) to C.

GREAT

Open Diapason (50 pipes)
Stopped Diapason (50 pipes)
Principal (50 pipes)
Twelfth (50 pipes)
Fifteenth (50 pipes)
Tierce (50 pips)
Sesquialtera iii. Ranks (150 pipes)
Trumpet (50 pipes)
Cornet [from C] iv. Ranks (96 pipes)

CHOIR

Stopped Diapason (50 pipes)
Principal (50 pipes)
Flute (50 pipes)
Fifteenth (50 pipes)'

Around 1827, the organ was rebuilt by Bishop, who added a small Swell Organ (from C to fiddle G) and common pedals without, however, providing separate pedal pipes.

In 1856, the quire screen was removed and the organ was placed on the floor of the south transept (with the singers in front, under the tower). At this point, the history becomes slightly confused, since my source reads that the organ was subesquently moved to its final resting-place at the west end of the nave - although still on Dean Duppa's screen. Presumably the screen was rebuilt at the west end of the nave. The instrument was at this time clothed in Father Smith's original case.

Gray & Davison carried out a rebuild in 1870 and FHW followed in 1884, when the instrument was entirely rebuilt at a cost of 1,500. A few alterations were made in 1910 and, in 1922, Harrison & Harrison rebuilt the organ to the following specification:

PEDAL

Contra Violone (W) 32
Open Wood 16
Violone (M) 16
Sub Bass 16
Dulciana (Choir) 16*
Octave Wood (Ext.) 8*
Flute 8
Double Ophicleide (Ext.) 32*
Ophicleide (M) 16
Posaune (Ext.) 8*
Choir to Pedal
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Solo to Pedal


CHOIR ORGAN
(Enclosed)

Contra Dulciana 16
Claribel Flute 8
Viole d'Orchestre 8
Salicional 8
Vox Angelica (TC) 8
Gemshorn 4
Viola 4
Flauto Traverso 4
Harmonic Piccolo 2
Corno di Bassetto 8
Swell to Choir
Solo to Choir


GREAT ORGAN

Double Open Diapason 16
(12 from Pedal Violone)
Open Diapason I 8
Open Diapason II 8
Open Diapason III 8
Claribel Flute 8
Octave 4
Harmonic Flute 4
Octave Quint 2 2/3
Super Octave 2
Mixture (17-19-22) III
Contra Tromba 16*
Tromba 8
Octave Tromba 4
Choir to Great
Swell to Great
Solo to Great


SWELL ORGAN

Lieblich Bourdon 16
Open Diapason 8
Dulciana 8
Principal 4
Fifteenth 2
Mixture (17-19-22) III
Oboe 8
Tremulant
Contra Oboe 16
Trumpet 8
Clarion 4*
Octave
Solo to Swell


SOLO ORGAN
(Enclosed)

Harmonic Flute 8
Concert Flute 4
Cor Anglais 8
Tremulant
Tuba
Octave
Sub Octave


COMBINATION COUPLER

Great and Pedal Combinations
Coupled


* = prepared-for, only.

ACCESSORIES

Five combination pedals to the Pedal Organ
Four combination pistons to the Choir Organ
Five combination pistons to the Great Organ
Five cobination pistons to the Swell Organ
Three combination pistons to the Solo Organ
Reversible piston to Pedal Ophicleide
Reversible Pedal to Great to Pedal
Reversible piston to Great to Pedal
Reversible piston to Solo to Pedal
Reversible piston to Swell to Great
Reversible piston to Solo to Great
Reversible foot piston to Swell Tremulant
Thre balanced crescendo pedals to Choir, Swell
and Solo organs.

WIND PRESSURES

Pedal flue-work, 2 in. to 4 in. ; reeds, 7 in.
Choir, 2 1/2 in.
Great flue-work, 4 in. and 5 in. ; reeds, 7 in.
Swell flue-work and Oboe, 3 1/2 in. ; reeds, 7 in.
Solo flue-work and orchestral reed, 3 1/2 in. ;
Tuba, 16 in.
Action, 7 in. and 16 in.

Comparing the two specifications and having a fair idea of the voicing methods and styles of FHW and Arthur Harrison, I think that it is likely that if any ranks did remain from the original instrument of 1680, any pipe-work would have been revoiced, rescaled and scattered throughout the instrument, eventually forming parts of multiple ranks.

Pierre Cochereau rocked, man


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Posted 12 January 2007 - 01:37 PM

[quote name='pcnd5584' date='Jan 11 2007, 12:45 PM' post='18374']
[font=Arial]Thank you, Paul. How strange - I had no idea! Perhaps it occurred to someone to take one or two 'before and after' photographs - except that they did not get around to it until a few days into the dismantling process....

I have to say that I quite liked the sound of the old organ, too. I think that there were other prepared-for stops, including a double reed on the G.O.

I am still puzzled by the apparently warm acoustic. I cannot imagine that the sound was tweaked or processed by the BBC.


The BBC have been known to tweak though, adding reverb. Broadcasts that I well recall are Manchester, about four/five years ago, which acquired a reverb of about 8 seconds for a Dupre Vol (Crucifixion, Symphonie Passion) then there was Lichfield, that used to grow as a building and get about 5 seconds, as did Worcester, the latter often sounding like it was recorded in Kings Cross Station. One BBC (Worcester) broadcast of Howells including his Requiem, sounds very "swimmy". So yes, the BBC could tinker, and may well still do. I was intrigued by the Carol "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day" as that had a fair wack of reverb, and I wondered if it had actually been done in Merton or somewhere like that!!! It's also interesting how many modern choral recordings, of Christchurch Choir, are not done at the cathedral. I have a couple, done I think at Leominster Priory, and Dorchester Abbey. I wonder if it is because of the acoustic or the organ?
R

#20 pwhodges

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Posted 12 January 2007 - 01:47 PM

It's also interesting how many modern choral recordings, of Christchurch Choir, are not done at the cathedral. I have a couple, done I think at Leominster Priory, and Dorchester Abbey. I wonder if it is because of the acoustic or the organ?

Their Nimbus recordings were done at Dorchester, and latterly Merton; but a lot of their recent recordings with other companies (from the time that Nimbus were in difficulties) have in fact been in the cathedral, as were the ones for ASV under Francis Grier. I believe (from conversation with their engineer) that Nimbus don't use the cathedral mainly because there is no suitable place for their monitoring, which being (ambisonic) surround needs a bigger space than they could otherwise get away with.

Paul




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