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Best Organ In The Uk? Holiday Fun For The Rainswept!


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OK.......a bit of summer madness.

 

Which are the best organs in the UK?

 

We need categories, or else everyone will choose the ones with 32ft reeds and artillery divisions.

 

So........perhaps:-

 

 

Cat 1 Best small organ (2 manuals under 20 stops)

 

Cat 2 Best medium-size instrument (Up to about 40 speaking stops - any number of manuals)

 

Cat 3 Best large organ (about 40 - 100 stops)

 

Cat 4 Best very large organ (100+ stops)

 

Cat 5 Best cathedral organ

 

Cat 6 Best city/town hall organ

 

Cat 7 The best of the best

 

 

 

MM

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OK, it looks like its me first then. On the basis that it is Friday afternoon and I have just had a very good lunch courtesy of some clients, I would say as follows.

 

Inevitably, these are my choices on the best in each category that I have actually played ; having said that, I am not sure that there are that many instruments in the UK that I have not played that obviously present themselves in any of these categories.

 

Best small - Queen's College, Oxford with Meeting House, Sussex University a close second.

 

Best medium - All Saints, Tooting / St Mary's, Woodford (very hard to choose).

 

Best large - Coventry Cathedral

 

Best very large - St Paul's Cathedral.

 

Best of the best ; if I could only ever live with one organ on which to play everything from Sweelinck to Messiaen, striking the balance between power, excitement, beauty of sound, but the intimacy of feeling completely in control of the whole instrument, it would be Coventry.

 

Incidentally, if I widened this to include instruments outside the UK, I would add Paris / Madeleine joint first place with Coventry in the large category, and I would include St Ouen and Notre Dame as the two organs I still dream of playing.

 

And the rain it raineth every day.

 

M

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For my money:

 

Cat 1 Best small organ (2 manuals under 20 stops)

Bill Drake's organ in the undercroft of the Houses of Parliament

 

Cat 2 Best medium-size instrument (Up to about 40 speaking stops - any number of manuals)

Frobenius in Oundle School Chapel

 

Cat 3 Best large organ (about 40 - 100 stops)

St Giles Edinburgh

 

Cat 4 Best very large organ (100+ stops)

Durham Cathedral (Only 99 stops but can we make concessions?)

 

Cat 5 Best cathedral organ

Durham or St Giles?

 

 

Cat 6 Best city/town hall organ

Newcastle City Hall- has to be heard, pity its in such a mess. A total crime.

 

Cat 7 The best of the best

 

Don't ask mean questions like that............

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Guest Cynic

Two serious submissions from yesteryear:

 

Best 'very small' - Hillington Parish Church, Norfolk - Snetzler (1756) every stop is a gem, the case is a gem, acoustic is perfect AND it's hardly been spoiled at all! Quite remarkable. I agree with Queen's Oxford suggestion above (but maybe that's more than 20 stops?).

 

Exceptional organ under 40 stops - Whitchurch Parish Church, Shropshire. Much pipework by Thomas Parker of Salford 1755, remainder and action by Conacher 1894. A world-class instrument, hardly known at all.

 

I can understand all the nominations given so far and wish to support Coventry as a very serious contender for best of 'the large'.

 

Hereford's wonderful.

 

St.Paul's: what is the organ and what is the acoustic? I've never really heard what this organ does despite having played it several times and listened to others at the console too. I certainly rate the largely Father Willis four manual as heard in the Chancel very highly indeed. The instrument changes character as one moves West, and to me its performance as a musical instrument able to interpret the majority of organ literature from a western listening point is inveitably seriously compromised. Liverpool Anglican is wonderful, but I have decided that I'm not totally happy with the reeds as heard at the downstairs console. I can find similar moans about a lot of big organs, there is always a weakness somewhere. Westminster Cathedral is supremely colourful and exciting - not a very large stoplist. That's a contender.

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From my seriously limited experience:

 

Cat 1 Best small organ (2 manuals under 20 stops)

St Michael's, Framlingham (IIp/19 Thamar(?)/Hunter/Bishop)

 

Cat 2 Best medium-size instrument (Up to about 40 speaking stops - any number of manuals)

Our Lady of the Seven Dolours, West Brompton (IIIP/26 Grant Degens & Bradbeer)

 

Cat 3 Best large organ (about 40 - 100 stops)

St George's, Windsor

 

Cat 4 Best very large organ (100+ stops)

Norwich Cathedral

 

Cat 5 Best cathedral organ

Coventry (but only because St George's isn't a cathedral)

 

Cat 6 Best city/town hall organ

?

 

Cat 7 The best of the best

?

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Guest Cynic
Cat 2 Best medium-size instrument (Up to about 40 speaking stops - any number of manuals)

Our Lady of the Seven Dolours, West Brompton (IIIP/26 Grant Degens & Bradbeer)

 

 

You're referring to The Servite Priory, Fulham Road?

The organ designed by Alan Harverson?

Yes - absolutely - this is a magnificent instrument in a perfect acoustic. A most clever as well as musical beast.

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OK.......a bit of summer madness.

 

Which are the best organs in the UK?

 

We need categories, or else everyone will choose the ones with 32ft reeds and artillery divisions.

 

So........perhaps:-

Cat 1 Best small organ (2 manuals under 20 stops)

 

Cat 2 Best medium-size instrument (Up to about 40 speaking stops - any number of manuals)

 

Cat 3 Best large organ (about 40 - 100 stops)

 

Cat 4 Best very large organ (100+ stops)

 

Cat 5 Best cathedral organ

 

Cat 6 Best city/town hall organ

 

Cat 7 The best of the best

MM

 

What a fascinating idea, MM - I shall have a tinker with this later - I need first to track down my boss and discover the music for tomorrow....

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Two serious submissions from yesteryear:

 

Best 'very small' - Hillington Parish Church, Norfolk - Snetzler (1756) every stop is a gem, the case is a gem, acoustic is perfect AND it's hardly been spoiled at all! Quite remarkable. I agree with Queen's Oxford suggestion above (but maybe that's more than 20 stops?).

 

Exceptional organ under 40 stops - Whitchurch Parish Church, Shropshire. Much pipework by Thomas Parker of Salford 1755, remainder and action by Conacher 1894. A world-class instrument, hardly known at all.

 

 

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

 

 

I think we can stretch to 22 speaking stops in the small category, because I knew that Queen's College would be a favourite with many.

 

Interesting to see the Norfolk Snetzler included, and the organ at Whitchurch of which I was previously unaware.

 

MM

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Oh well, in that case I'll swap Framlingham for St John's, Bridgetown, Totnes.

 

 

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

 

 

Good Lord!

 

At this rate, we'll be in Atlantic City in no time!

 

MM

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OK.......a bit of summer madness.

 

Which are the best organs in the UK?

 

We need categories, or else everyone will choose the ones with 32ft reeds and artillery divisions.

 

So........perhaps:-

Cat 1 Best small organ (2 manuals under 20 stops)

 

Saint James the Great, Kilkhampton, Cornwall.

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N11195

 

 

Cat 2 Best medium-size instrument (Up to about 40 speaking stops - any number of manuals)

 

Saint Aldhelm, Branksome.

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=E00139

 

Cat 3 Best large organ (about 40 - 100 stops)

 

Coventry Cathedral.

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N07508

 

Cat 4 Best very large organ (100+ stops)

 

Saint Paul's Cathedral, London

http://www.mander-organs.com/portfolio/st-pauls-c.html

 

Cat 5 Best cathedral organ

 

Westminster Cathedral.

http://www.westminstercathedral.org.uk/mus...sic_organs.html

 

Cat 6 Best city/town hall organ

 

Birmingham Town Hall.

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=D05065

 

Cat 7 The best of the best

MM

 

Westminster Abbey.

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N00646

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OK.......a bit of summer madness.

 

Which are the best organs in the UK?

 

We need categories, or else everyone will choose the ones with 32ft reeds and artillery divisions.

 

So........perhaps:-

Cat 1 Best small organ (2 manuals under 20 stops)

 

Cat 2 Best medium-size instrument (Up to about 40 speaking stops - any number of manuals)

 

Cat 3 Best large organ (about 40 - 100 stops)

 

Cat 4 Best very large organ (100+ stops)

 

Cat 5 Best cathedral organ

 

Cat 6 Best city/town hall organ

 

Cat 7 The best of the best

MM

 

 

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

 

 

I'm sure that my choice of instruments will not meet universal approval or agreement, but in setting out the following, I have tried to consider ALL aspects of the purely tonal and musical experience within the particular building.

 

In the small organ category, I still think that the lovely Frobenius at Queen's College, Oxford is the perfect combination of building and organ, and whilst other organs of similar size may be as good, this is the best I've personally heard. So Queen's it is!

 

In the medium category are found the bulk of the organ population, and so many instruments spring to mind. However, there is one instrument which I always find wonderfully exciting, and that is the organ of Kendal Parish Church, Westmorland: a Walker re-build of a Fr Willis instrument, with just enough Fr Willis character remaining, and to which had been added new material of quality. It would probably upset many people if it were done to-day, but the end result is quite magnificent, with a fine West End position to further add to the impact.

 

The large organ category covers so many possibilities, but for sheer character, the organ at Doncaster PC still has a commanding eloquence found in only the best instruments. The sheer magic of Doncatser is not restricted to the magnificence of the Great chorus, but must include some of the most beautiful softer voices to be heard, and especially the huge variety of flute tones.

 

Very large organs are so often a mis-match of styles, as they grow and grow, and this is so often the case where Harrison was encouraged to do his thing with a Fr Willis instrument. Strangely enough, now that it is all working and with adequate wind, I really do find the Albert Hall to be an awesome instrument, which never fails to rise to the challenge. Does any other organ in the world have the capability of pealing over the top of a full orchestra and a choir of hundreds? I think not! Considering the problems of the hall, I think this is a wonderful instrument.

 

I found the best cathedral organ category the easiest, because the Walker at Blackburn has such tonal integrity. Not the most powerful instrument by any means, and with recent electronic and pipe additions, it is nevertheless the same instrument it was when they are not used. A magnificent blend of all that is best in English, German and French voicing, this is an instrument which never fails to impress.

 

In the town hall category, I would like to have included (not as first choice, but as a contender) the unique tonal qualities of the organ at St.Paul's Hall, Huddersfield Uni, but as it isn't a town hall organ, I have to exclude it. Of the real town and city halls, St.George's, Liverpool is a unique swirl of sound, and the Taylor at the de Montforte Hall, Leicester is a magnificent sound. However, it is the organ at Leeds Town Hall which impresses me; not so much for its absolute purity or integrity, but by virtue of the fact that the performer is never left wanting for anything, and therefore seem able to bring the best out of whatever music is being played. Hull City Hall would also be a serious contender.

 

As for the best of the best, it would probably fall to St.George's Windsor, if it were in any of the above categories, but it isn't. I do love that organ though!

 

I think, on balance, I would go for the organ at Queen's College, Oxford, because it is so perfect, without pretention of any kind, and superbly executed by a true master organ-builder, Thos.Frobenius.

 

 

MM

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Cat 1 Best small organ (2 manuals under 20 stops)

Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Brompton Regis, Somerset

2 manuals, 13 stops. Built by TC Lewis 1872 and restored by Osmond of Taunton at a later date.

I once had to play that one for a service and it was the priest there who asked me to do it. I was on holiday at the time and was only in the church by chance. But the regular organist had a broken arm.

 

 

Cat 2 Best medium-size instrument (Up to about 40 speaking stops - any number of manuals)

St. Mary Magdalene, Stoke Bishop, Bristol

3 manuals, 34 stops. Built by Vowles (1867) then rebuilt by Hele & Co (1909) & Daniel of Clevedon (1979)

Not necessarily the best in this category but the only organ of this size I think I've ever played as I used to use it for practice.

 

 

Cat 3 Best large organ (about 40 - 100 stops)

Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol

3 manuals, 62 stops. Installed by Daniel of Clevedon, 1952 then rebuilt by Nicholson in 1963-66.

Lovely instrument frequently used for degree congregations by the university. I had lessons on this one at one time. However in 2003 there were plans to replace it with an electronic organ and that would never do! The organ was eventually restored for a considerable sum and it sounds great. Mr Nigel Nash (deputy organist of Bristol Cathedral) showed it off to the best when he played Messiaen's "Dieu Parmi Nous" (from La Nativite du Seigneur) at the end of the degree congregation where Jennifer Bate was given an honorary DMus in July.

 

 

Cat 4 Best very large organ (100+ stops)

Never heard an organ in this category. Will say Liverpool Anglican.

 

Cat 5 Best cathedral organ

Cathedral of the Holy Trintiy, Bristol

Renatus Harris (1685) and others.

This instrument is my favourite out of all the ones I have heard in Bristol.

 

Cat 6 Best city/town hall organ

No nomination.

 

Cat 7 The best of the best

No nomination

 

Dave

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  • 2 weeks later...

Interesting thread, and actually quite difficult insofar as it risks showing all sorts of examples of poor taste for which I could be flamed! Please allow me to indulge in sharing some of my all time favourites (how interesting to see so little duplication in above posts). There's something of a bias towards instruments I've actually played, rather than merely heard of in person or by reputation, which cuts out most cathedral instruments!

 

Cat 1 Best small organ (2 manuals under 20 stops)

Haven't played many one manuals, though I love the 1755 Snetzler in Clare College Chapel, Cambridge. There's a delightful little 2-manual Walker of early 1830s in the tiny parish church of Shearsby, Leicestershire; I'm also very partial to the Gern/Arthur Harrison 2-manual at St. John's Keswick.

 

Cat 2 Best medium-size instrument (Up to about 40 speaking stops - any number of manuals)

So many to choose from, but for starters what about Dunblane Cathedral Flentrop, or off the beaten track, St Peter's Belper (1855 Holt 3-manual), and St Bees' Priory Father Willis?

 

Cat 3 Best large organ (about 40 - 100 stops)

As church organs go how about St Mary Redcliff's Harrison for the romantic repertoire and the Marylebone Reiger for baroque?

 

Cat 4 Best very large organ (100+ stops)

Not much choice here as I believe only St Paul's Cathedral, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, RAH and St George's Hall have over 100 stops.

 

Cat 5 Best cathedral organ

Unconventional choice perhaps, but how about the Clifton Cathedral Rieger? Ooooh, far too different, but a joy to play. OK then, perhaps more "straight", Lichfield (though I haven't heard it since last rebuilt). I recently had a go on Liverpool Metropolitan's organ and was pretty impressed given the poor reputation 1960s organ design seems to be remembered for.

 

Cat 6 Best city/town hall organ

As Leicester has already been mentioned, may I make a plug for the Harrison at Caird Hall, Dundee? And I've only heard, not played, Manchester Bridgewater Hall but it sounded pretty good to me (I gather it's been slated for being too quiet, but sitting up in the gods I thought I got my money's worth listening to Wayne Marshall drowning out the orchestra with the Jongen symphony concertante).

 

Cat 7 The best of the best

None of the above...if I could take one organ to Heaven with me when I die it would have to be the Armley Schulze. Why, oh why, does this instrument not have (at least the last time I looked), a historic organ certificate??? If it had a 32 foot reed it would be perfect ;-)

 

Contrabombarde

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  • 2 weeks later...

Small - Hexham Abbey (Phelps)

 

Medium - Is St Chad's Birmingham too big? My mind's going blank here: It's very good, but there must be others I've overlooked - perhaps Greyfriar's Kirk?

 

Large AND Cathedral - Westminster Cathedral

 

Very Large - St George's Hall, Liverpool

 

Town Hall or similar - Reading Town Hall

 

Overall - Too difficult, but if one HAD to choose, then Westminster Cathedral.

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Cat 7 The best of the best

None of the above...if I could take one organ to Heaven with me when I die it would have to be the Armley Schulze. Why, oh why, does this instrument not have (at least the last time I looked), a historic organ certificate??? If it had a 32 foot reed it would be perfect ;-)

 

Contrabombarde

 

Hi

 

I would guess that there's no HOC because the organ has been altered (Binns changed the action IIRC) and was altered again at the recent rebuild. The HOC requirements are quite specific - the chamber organ here at Heaton was turned down for one because there had been too many changes.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Hi

 

I would guess that there's no HOC because the organ has been altered (Binns changed the action IIRC) and was altered again at the recent rebuild. The HOC requirements are quite specific - the chamber organ here at Heaton was turned down for one because there had been too many changes.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

This is the sort of thing that can make the HOC system suspect. We all know that organs can be changed for the worse, and also that outstanding pipework can be spoiled by needless alterations.

 

Yet there is more than one way of looking at history. A lot of what gets categorised as historic is in fact frozen in time. An awful organ that remains original and of its time could I suppose be eligible for an HOC - and someone could more easily get support for a restoration. A fine organ in need of work but having been (well) altered to allow it to meet the needs of the different times it has served - it isn't in the running - even though it might be historic in the sense of making a long-term impact on a building or community (or providing evidence of varying musical tastes or needs).

 

HOCs by all means - but let's be aware of the limitations on their significance and make heritage bodies aware that there are other things that matter historically.

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I totally agree with Patrick. Having looked through the information on the BIOS website, it seems that in setting the criteria for the award of HOCs, a relatively small, though knowledgeable, group at BIOS are trying to emulate the listed buildings activities of English Heritage, but without the clout or the money to support restoration. If all that comes of the scheme is the award of a "handsome certificate" that may help in raising future funding then surely the definitions of an historic instrument should be broader, to include the likes of Armley and, more modestly, Heaton. Otherwise there is a risk that old fossils may be preserved at the expense of real National Treasures.

JC

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This is the sort of thing that can make the HOC system suspect. We all know that organs can be changed for the worse, and also that outstanding pipework can be spoiled by needless alterations.

 

Yet there is more than one way of looking at history. A lot of what gets categorised as historic is in fact frozen in time. An awful organ that remains original and of its time could I suppose be eligible for an HOC - and someone could more easily get support for a restoration. A fine organ in need of work but having been (well) altered to allow it to meet the needs of the different times it has served - it isn't in the running - even though it might be historic in the sense of making a long-term impact on a building or community (or providing evidence of varying musical tastes or needs).

 

HOCs by all means - but let's be aware of the limitations on their significance and make heritage bodies aware that there are other things that matter historically.

 

Exactly. What is the Grand-Orgue at St Sulpice besides a triumphant marriage of the work of Cavaille-Coll with that of Cliquot before him?

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Exactly. What is the Grand-Orgue at St Sulpice besides a triumphant marriage of the work of Cavaille-Coll with that of Cliquot before him?

 

Surely it is a superb instrument - which Daniel Roth is trying to have declared a Monument Historique - or similar. I cannot recall at this moment the precise terminology.

 

In any case, does that necessarily make it undeserving of either preservation or accolade?

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Life is full of contradictions.

 

- One side, an HOC system which deprives a modified organ of the "historic" status.

 

- On the other side, the idea, largely shared in the United Kingdom (I mean, more so

than elsewhere) that an organ should "meet today's requirements".

 

Pierre

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Surely it is a superb instrument - which Daniel Roth is trying to have declared a Monument Historique - or similar. I cannot recall at this moment the precise terminology.

 

In any case, does that necessarily make it undeserving of either preservation or accolade?

 

You mean World Heritage Site.

 

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