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Vox Humana

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Everything posted by Vox Humana

  1. This is the nub of the issue, I think. If you are giving a recital, your job is to give as many of the audience as possible an enjoyable and memorable experience. That’s it, really. Granted, it can mean different things in different places depending on who the audience is. If you are playing specifically for organists in, say, London, or for some other audience guaranteed to be musically sophisticated, you could possibly get away with a more niche and recherché programme than if you are playing to a non-specific audience in a humble country parish church. I made it a rule early on never to listen to what other organists said. You can never please them anyway. There’s always at least one who will tell you how he would have played something differently. The people who matter are the general public: they are the ones to whom an organist has to appeal if the instrument is to be popularised. There is a reason why Carlo Curley was so popular. In a nutshell, he made sure that everyone went home thoroughly entertained. His approach was unashamedly popular. Not all of us would wish to be quite so low-brow in our approach and nor do I think that his was the only possible approach. However, whatever music we programme does need to deliver audience appeal. As Choir Man intimated, the programme doesn’t ‘have’ to contain Bach, or anything else in particular; it just has to be enjoyable. I once attended a recital on our local foghorn in which a well-known organist played a programme entirely of French Romantic music, nearly all of which involved full organ, on an instrument whose oily-smooth tones are about as remote from a Cavaillé-Coll as it is possible to get. Now I know that I suggested above that one shouldn’t take any notice of what organists say, but, when they are all complaining about having had their brains blasted out almost non-stop for an hour, you have to think that maybe they had a point. ‘A wall of white noise’ was how one FRCO described it. He was right: nothing is audible through that Tromba chorus. Except the Tuba. If the organists found it hard to take, what did everyone else think? It was a pity because the recital had been technically flawless.
  2. Vox Humana

    Room 101

    I don’t like the Reubke either, but, as my teacher would have said, that’s my problem, not Reubke’s. I just dislike heavy Austro-German Romanticism as a genre – a result of having had a friend at the RCM who used to drag me to hear Wagner operas and Bruckner symphonies (amongst other things; I got my own back by dragging him to David Munrow’s gigs). I have much more time for the ‘classical’ German Romantics like Schumann and Brahms. At least the Reubke is a very fine work, which is more than I can bring myself to say about the bulk of Liszt, whose music is a triumph of effect over substance (pace some gems among the softer piano pieces). Yet Liszt, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler and the rest of them are exceedingly popular with many concert goers, so I hesitate to consign any of them to room 101. If I were to make an exception it would be Liszt’s grotesquely bombastic and vacuous piffle on BACH.
  3. Having a couple of offspring who are avid festival-goers, I am fairly certain that the added-value is in the party atmosphere, the communal dancing and the sense of tribeship, the last being a bonding factor in some other pursuits, such as birding. I have not noticed this degree of cameraderie amongst classical musicians. Cliquiness, yes (and certainly amongst organists); broader cameraderie, no. How often after a concert/recital will an audience member approach a complete stranger and start chatting about what they have heard and seen?
  4. Here is the NPOR specification and this exactly is as I remember it. I played the organ fairly regularly until I left the IoW in 1967 and, although at the distance of half a century my memory may be faulty, I don't remember being denied access because of work being carried out. Certainly, when I last played it in a concert in 1973 the specification was still the same. I would imagine that Walker's workmanship was of high standard, but artistically I thought it a very unrewarding instrument, to be honest. It was tonally designed to emphasise 8' pitch at the expense of all others and the Tromba unit was oily-smooth and suffocating. As I mentioned above, all the non-unison pitches on the Choir are extended.
  5. That one dates back to Sir John Goss. See page 30 here.
  6. Yes, that is a good example and, as you say, there are others. Howells is an interesting case. Most of his organ music is quite obviously orchestral in concept, even late works like the Epilogue and Rhapsody no.4 (cf. the Concerto for String Orchestra). Yet a large, cathedral (or similar) acoustic seems built into more than a few of these pieces and it is hard to imagine them retaining their true impact as orchestral works in a concert hall. In any event, the Paean is absolutely organistic in texture. Sorry. This has nothing to do with York so I shall stop hijacking the thread.
  7. There are, though I wouldn't agree. Willan, probably. Duruflé, some of it could - and, like the Requiem, it might sound more colourful, but I find it hard to imagine the P&F, Veni Creator variations and Toccata sounding more convincing orchestrated. They are true organ music, surely? Franck and Vierne, I think fall into the same category. Much of the latter's output I find truly organistic. You can orchestrate anything, as Beecham tried to prove, in the same way that you can arrange anything for the organ. It's more a question of which medium makes the music sound best - though I suppose it does reduce to a matter of opinion in the end.
  8. I don't do organ DVDs because, quite frankly, I'm not committed enough to the instrument, but it seems to me that the problem with the traditional British organ is that it hasn't generated any really great music that justifies the medium. Such decent music as has been written for it sounds - or would sound - infinitely more convincing when orchestrated. The obvious candidate is the Elgar Sonata, but it would be equally true of Whitlock, all of whose output would benefit immensely from orchestration. There probably are odd exceptions to my sweeping statement, but I can't think of them offhand. I shall now duck for cover, but please remember that, 'sending the boys round' is against government guidelines.
  9. I have often thought that. BWV 29 usually fails dismally on that score. Not so the NBS performance.
  10. I absolutely agree with this. Cutting the third bar makes the recap so mundane. It's supposed to be a crescendo, starting from pp where the triplets kick in, through Pos+Récit, then GPR, then a molto cresc with the swell box to lead back to D major where the Positif anches kick in for two bars - and only then the final whack of full organ as the theme returns (and some decent Pedal reeds will continue the effect of the crescendo). When it's done properly the effect is marvellous. The trouble is, on most British organs the lack of a proper Positif equivalent, with suitable reeds, may render this effect difficult to achieve. You need artillery in reserve after the box is open. Maybe you can add the Great reeds progressively (8' first, then 16' + 4'?), but if you can't produce the effect of a door opening onto a blaze of sunlight, it won't work properly. Incidentally, I love Chorzempa's speed for this. Just right! A good old rollick (as opposed to a headlong race) makes the theme so much more 'catchy' and hummable. (IMO, obviously.)
  11. Talking of which, I remember this organ being quite fun, despite all the 'prepared for' stops. Both organ and owner are long gone, alas. The console is now at Kingsteignton in Devon and so, I believe, is the Positive pipework.
  12. https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Vintage-Early-1900s-Booklet-Colston-Hall-Organs-Past-Present-w-Photos/124054746126?hash=item1ce23d340e:g:U0wAAOSwLl5eJcpB
  13. Thank you. That makes sense. I still find it hard to believe that the stop ever went anywhere near a Cavaillé-Coll workshop though. You can hear it here (with the Lieblich Gedackt + Tremulant) at 2:40. Personally, I think it sounds horrible.
  14. The last organ I regularly presided at boasted a Gedackt Flute and a Spindle Flöte, as well as the ubiquitous Lieblich Bourdon (not to mention a 'Prinzipal' that was actually a Dulciana!)
  15. How much of that is because the instrument is really just a glorified extension organ?
  16. "The organ ... [is] versatile enough to accompany the music of Howells, but convincing in 18th-century idioms." Nicely put!
  17. This is all related in Roger Judd's book The Organs in Windsor Castle. The files at H&H reveal that the Vox Humana was sourced from their organ at Devonshire Street Congregational Church, Keighley, in which the Vox Humana stop was said (in both a letter from the church and in the programme for the opening recitals) to have been made and voiced by Messrs Cavaillé-Coll. In 1964 the organ was sold back to H&H and, according to the firm's files, the Vox Humana then found its way to Windsor. Or maybe not. Neither Mark Venning nor Peter Hopps thought that the pipework of this stop is Cavaillé-Coll's.
  18. When I was at the RCM I heard one of the organ tutors there - I think it was Richard Latham of st Paul's, Knightsbridge - say that one advantage of the trigger swell was that you could do sforzandi with them, which you couldn't with a balanced swell pedal. Why one would ever want to do one with a swell pedal and what percentage of attempts ended with an audible thud I didn't like to ask.
  19. IMSLP is indeed very useful, but, as someone who is a little obsessive about reliable editions, I really can't recommend CPDL. It's full of stuff copied slavishly, but not always accurately, from printed editions, which may themselves be obsolete. Some editors have imposed their own interpretations on the music (e.g. dynamics, tempi) without warning. CPDL is full of substandard work. There is undoubtedly good work there too, but picking it out relies on you either knowing that the editor is trustworthy or checking carefully against a reliable published edition - and how many bother to do that? DoMs might well reply, "What's a wonky reading here or there and who's going to know anyway?" Fair point, but if your audience contains people who know their stuff it will be noticed. (One of our top choirs was guilty recently.) Of course even published editions aren't always bullet proof. The Le Huray/Willcocks edition of Caustun's Mag & Nunc contains a blatant error (or is it a wilful alteration?) at the end of the Mag. The penultimate chord should be a minim, not a semibreve (the tied semibreve in the alto is a bit of a giveaway).
  20. I've loved this piece for most of my life and this is a super interpretation, although it would sound even better in a more reverberant acoustic. Interestingly, Gardiner's interpretation is extremely similar to that on an old LP by Magdalen College, Oxford under Bernard Rose. The speed, dynamics and nuances of expression and the general air of devotion are all very similar indeed. Corvedale is lovely, though I prefer the anthem version with its continuous organ part.
  21. I had forgotten all about this thread and spent a few minutes cobbling up my list only to find that my choices were virtually identical to my second option that I had posted previously. I've become a bit tired of the Sheppard (glorious though it is), so now I would probably substitute Robert Parsons's Domine quis habitabit, a wonderful, but virtually unknown motet which is really just one long build-up from beginning to end. For the hymn I might possibly opt for "How shall I sing that majesty" to Coe Fen. But where do you stop with something like this? There are just so many favourite Evensongs one could compile!
  22. I once came across a report in one of our local rags, dating from around the 1920s or '30s, of a performance of a Beethoven piano concerto (the 'Emperor', I think). It took place in a local church. The piano soloist was accompanied by a small string band and an organist, the latter playing an arrangement of the woodwind and brass parts. Apparently it sounded very effective - although one might have to consider the possibility that that description merely drew a kind veil over a combination of teeth-grindingly sour cat guts and fat Hele flutes.
  23. I can't comment on Nicholson's work because I haven't heard it, but I used to know the organ very well indeed half a century ago, back in the days when it was still quite new. It has had one or two things done to it over the years since its designer, Sidney Scholfield Campbell, died in 1974. At some stage the composition of the Great Mixture was changed and, although I believe that Jonathan Rees-Williams intended to return it to its original state, I do not know whether this was ever done. Also, I wonder whether the Solo trumpets were revoiced at some stage: there is a YouTube video in which they don't quite match my recollection.* In any case, they have been 'done' now. The original Orchestral Trumpet and Great Mixture can be heard in this performance by John Porter of Campbell's 'Impromptu' from his Canterbury Improvisations. As the specification loudly proclaims, it is an eclectic organ. SSC believed in clarity of tone. Any suggestion of tonal mud was anathema to him. What mattered to him above all was the music. Musical lines and phrases were what he wanted to hear, not mushy effects (which is why he disliked Howells's music). The Windsor organ reflected this aesthetic. Its versatility was nigh on miraculous. You could play literally any repertoire effectively and could approximate at least vaguely almost any registration specified (though I never did discover a way of faking a Voce Umana for elevation toccatas). It particularly excelled in German Baroque music. The Great and Pedal diapason choruses to Mixtures were perfectly adequate for Bach fugues and if you wanted a bit more sparkle and incisiveness you could add in the Positive Principal and Cymbal and the small Pedal reeds at 16', 8', and 4'. Of course it wasn't perfect. The Swell mutations didn't quite cut it in Tierce en taille movements. They made a valiant effort, but their placing on the Swell was perhaps a compromise too far in that repertoire. On the other hand this allowed SSC to use them as solo colours in the psalms - and maybe that was always his intention. Swings and roundabouts. The Great Cornet, which I was given to understand was cobbled together from sundry left-overs, did not gel well. It sounded too much like a Mixture rather than a unified pitch. I'm quite surprised that, apparently, it still survives in its original state. The Solo 8' Cor de Nuit was an indifferent stop (I was told that some of its pipes had once been an Open Diapason), so I can well understand why that has been replaced. I note that the Positive flues have all been revoiced. They were very '60s and full of chiff (has the revoicing eliminated that?), but it was a very characterful section with well-voiced, colourful stops. I am unimpressed by the discarding of the Great Blockflute in favour of an Octave Quint and the substitution of the 4' flute with an harmonic one. The original flute chorus didn't speak with the incisiveness that the Positive stops did, but couldn't that have been addressed somehow? The substitutions are a distinct departure from Campbell's concept. The Pedal 32' flue was voiced quietly enough to balance the Swell Echo Gamba + Voix Celeste. It did so magically, but the volume could have been upped a little without detriment and I see that that has now been done – but why on earth replace the Swell stops with a Dulciana and Vox Angelica? If they are the usual, anaemic type SSC would surely have had something acerbic to say about that! The Swell Mixture was an odd stop. Its value was that it acted like a Plein Jeu when partnered with the French-style chorus reeds, but it didn't sound well without them. I can understand why it has been rehashed, but I wonder how much of the French flavour in the original Full Swell still survives. Because of the Great reeds, Full Organ sounded fairly English. If you wanted it to sound French you added the Solo trumpets, because the Orchestral Clarion had French shallots and proclaimed the fact very excitingly. The Orchestral Trumpet had English shallots, but it still had plenty of fire. These two reeds were balanced deliberately with a view to being usable in Full Organ without obliterating the fluework. If raising their pressure has spoiled this balance I would be most disappointed, but I am sure those involved will have been careful about this. Certainly there were times when one felt that the 8' trumpet could have done with a little more 'oomph', but it was never intended to be a Tuba and the compromise worked well enough. One of the most impressive things about the organ was the independence of its Pedal department, which is why it is the largest division on the organ. The diapason and flute choruses balanced their counterparts on the Great and indeed the Pedal was completely independent of the Great at all dynamic levels. The Great to Pedal coupler was never, ever drawn. Conversely, the Gt and Ped. Combs coupler was never pushed in - and woe betide any visiting organist who left it so! SSC had set up the Great and Pedal pistons so that each one balanced its partner perfectly. You still had to use the Sw. to Ped. when Sw. to Gt was drawn, but in those pre-sequencer days it made dynamic changes so much simpler because you didn't have to be forever jabbing at the Gt to Ped. reversibles in addition to the Pedal combs. If you wanted to go suddenly to a quiet Swell, you simply hit Gt or Ped 1 and there were your Pedal stops (I think Ped. 1 was the 16' Quintadena + Dulcianas 16' and 8', but my memory is very hazy). I was roundly warned never to use the Gt to Ped. since doing so would make the bass line over-prominent. All SSC's organists knew this, including John Porter (who in his organ scholar days had helped SSC set up the pistons), but I'm not sure how long it remained understood after John died – certainly there are later recordings where you can hear clearly that the coupler is in use. Compare these to the tracks on Porter's excellent Priory recording. Incumbents will always tweak their organs and what they do is certainly none of my business. I think it was this organ that, when new, prompted some criticism in The Organ from organists scandalised that it didn't have a 16' Open Wood – how can it possibly be proper 'cathedral'-type organ without one etc., etc. Ditto the Tuba. Of course they had completely missed the point. That was exactly the sort of organ Dr Campbell didn't want. He was aiming for - and H&H gave him – much greater versatility, an organ with fullness, clarity and ample pizzazz. But it does sound its very best at the console (because that's exactly what the good doctor ordered!) No doubt the day will come when someone insists on adding that Open Wood, but maybe space considerations will save it from that ignominy. As you can tell, I think that any attempt to mould SSC's instrument into something more 'symphonic' would be misguided, but, like I said, it's nothing to do with me. * According to an article in The Organ, April 1966, by Sumner and Campbell, the Solo reeds were originally on 9 in. pressure, but Roger Judd, in his book on the Windsor organs, states that in 2002 they were on 8 in. Campbell also says that the Swell was on 41/2 in., whereas by 2002 it seems that the fluework (only) had been reduced to 3 & 7/8. These two sources record other minor discrepancies in the pressures, but the 1966 ones look as if they were rounded so I don't know how much, if anything, was really altered.
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