Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

Royal Festival Hall Compton


Recommended Posts

  • 1 month later...

...''Also, when the tutti was used the power was there, but in a startlingly 'unforced' way....''

The reason Ralph Downes always produced a good unforced Tutti was because he had musical ears, and had the Tutti set to a combination which was preselected, and not able to be altered by the player. The Tutti was made adjustable once the new combination system was installed a few years back, after the console's refurbishment when Simon Preston opened it. This led to players adding as many stops as they could not realising that the tonal balance was being disturbed. RD was very strick about what, and what should not be used in the Full organ.

 

While on the subject of the RFH:

When I heard virtually every recital on it during the mid 70's to its silencing, I found huge pleasure from hearing it. Not only did I learn vast chunks of repertoire from hearing these recitals, but found it easy to judge those that could play well or in some cases not. The acoustic though dry, meant you could hear ALL the notes and not just a heavy open wood or reeds covering the plenum like fog. I found it a very musical sound and I long for the day when it returns. There simply is no other instrument in London where you can hear French classical music played to some degree of authenticity with French reeds, or hear organ music in a comfortable seat on full view of the player. After all this is a concert hall not a cathedral or church.

Link to post
Share on other sites

For those of us in our 40's and 50's, the RFH organ was a landmark. We were learning the organ at the most volatile change in the pipe organ's history, tonally and asthetically.

I would be very sad if this instrument was no longer to be heard. It had a profound influence on me. I first heard it on a gramaphone, and wondering hugely about the 'new' sounds which I had never heard (learning on a 2 manual 4 rank extension Rushworth and Dreaper) I went to hear it in the flesh. I can't even remember the organist, but I do remember hearing notes in the left hand of the Bach F minor P&F which I had never heard before! Yes the acoustic was awful, yes the upperwork was 'challenging' but it was and still is (hopefully) a very fine instrument.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It is rather tiresome to find a thread enquiring about a recording of the RFH Compton turning into another round of ritual criticism on this forum of the H&H organ and its designer. I am of the same vintage as bombarde32 and Adrian, and the Wednesday 5.55 recitals were an important part of my musical development when, as a sixth former at school, I would rush to the tube station on the 4pm bell, to arrive at Waterloo in time for the recitals. Would that some of my own school pupils studying Music GCSE or A level took the initiative to go to live concerts or a Prom or two, but that is another subject.

 

With all respect to an earlier poster on this thread, I am dismayed by his vehement criticism of the RFH organ when he hasn't actually heard it live, and as for the comment, "it was a misguided instrument for Ralph Downes to experiment with his mainly unsupported and ill-informed ideas.", was it made before or after reading Downes's autobiography Baroque Tricks (Positif Press, 1993)?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Nigel ALLCOAT

I begin to feel that only in this country could a travesty such as that unfolding on the South Bank could take place. There is the exception of another European country - but this type of scenario is the norm there and so have it finished and working would be the exception.

Nevertheless, this is the country's premier concert hall, for numerous reasons as we all know. That it possesses not the greatest of acoustics is a shame, but ...... But the organ was an exceptional opus in the land and the bravery that many showed in its design and construction should never be forgotten. That we have a truncated torso of an instrument beggars belief. That the cost of storing the other 'body parts' in the north of England is well-nigh scandalous and as each year passes one hopes that deterioration or accidental damage does not strike the 'coffins' in which it is stored. The cost so far I would suggest might build a modest new organ. Who is paying for this and out of which fund?

With the ever-worsening economic gloom descending upon the country I fear that this project has foundered upon the Rock of Westminster and will sink without trace 'ere long. What was once a landmark is now just an historic ruin. And it was no folly either, no matter what some said and still say. The construction was extraordinary even considing the appalling restrictions that faced a country so soon after the war. It was designed at time when ration books were still about.

As for playing it. Well - one just had to use ears, skill and imagination. For a start I would say one of the most extraordinary departments was the Solo. This was so necessary to couple through when playing forte and above. The 'wide screen' sound of the organ needed to me, reinforcing and underpinning on the Solo side so that the listeners in the auditorium were not entirely conscious that the sound was so directional because of the displacement of the departments. As has been said about the Full Organ - that never ever should mean everything out. Many times I feel that the éclat is seriously diminished because some registers rob the harmonics of other stops whilst others gloriously enhance. Mr Downes knew all this off course as it was his baby.

At the moment this body of this notable organ is maimed and limbless. So l,ong as some folk are content for this torso to twitch at the necessary moments in a handful of orchestral works as an effect, then the golden age of concerts and tonal resurrection will never take place. Bets?

 

Nigel

Link to post
Share on other sites

Sadly I fear that you are correct. I would also agree that this situation is a travesty - one of which London and the government should be ashamed. Given the amount of money which has already been spent on refurbishing the hall (to say nothing of what this country will spend on hosting the next Olympic Games), I find it hard to believe that money to finish the re-installation of the instrument cannot be found from some source. Unfortunately, since vast swathes of our society seem to be 'dumbing-down' at an alarming rate *, I am afraid that projects such as this one are so low down on the list of priorities that it would only get completed if the organ chamber was also to be adapted to provide housing for single mothers with dependants - or Estonian lesbians.

 

I suspect that what we need in this country is another Andrew Carnegie.

 

 

 

* If you do not agree with this viewpoint, just cast your eyes over the TV schedule for the coming week, or go into an ordinary café and listen to the 'conversation' for an hour

Link to post
Share on other sites
Ok, I am at a slight disadvantage when I reveal that I have never actually heard this instrument in the flesh, and I speak from my hearing it in recordings only.

 

Basically, I don't like a number of the sounds I hear from it. There's nothing that actually makes me think "That's lovely". I had a recent listen to the Pye Golden Guinea recording of Downes playing Bach, coupled with the Widor Toccata, and thought what weird sounds he produced from the instrument. Certainly not the sort of sounds I enjoy hearing. I also think that a lot of the registers don't blend, and some sound rather "odd".

 

And, yes, in a concert organ of over 100 speaking stops, there should be space for devotional tones and noble diapasons as well as pseudo-Baroque squeaks!

 

And that awful "case" too, which looks like the organ has Tibias (yuk!) when it doesn't!

Don't get me wrong, I think that the organ at the RFH paved the way to an improvement in organ building in this country. But I think it is a child of its time, and has been eclipsed by instruments (of better integrity and cohesion) which have followed since.

 

But, yes, all credit to RD for steering the organ world in a direction of better understanding of "Baroque" principles.

 

It's just not an organ which I think I'd really like to hear in the flesh.

 

However, I'm always happy to be proved wrong......

 

But really - as someone who naturally inclines toward Arthur Harrison for Proper Organ Tone - do go to hear this instrument in the flesh (if it's ever resurrected).

 

It sounds remarkably well in the hall (certainly better than recent European instruments in UK concert venues), and in the hands of top-class players (recently David Goode, Jennifer Bate, John Scott) can perform magnificently. Recordings really don't do it justice.

 

Interestingly, the idea of the solo as a 'bolstering' division for use with orchestra etc. seems to have been influential in American concert-organ building (Fisk, Dallas etc.).

Link to post
Share on other sites

The reason Ralph Downes always produced a good unforced Tutti was because he had musical ears...

 

Ear, actually. He was deaf in one ear, which I believe led to an interesting verbal exchange with H&H's voicer when the RFH was being installed !

 

H

Link to post
Share on other sites
With all respect to an earlier poster on this thread, I am dismayed by his vehement criticism of the RFH organ when he hasn't actually heard it live, and as for the comment, "it was a misguided instrument for Ralph Downes to experiment with his mainly unsupported and ill-informed ideas.", was it made before or after reading Downes's autobiography Baroque Tricks (Positif Press, 1993)?

 

After! And, if referring to me, not THAT vehement!

 

But really - as someone who naturally inclines toward Arthur Harrison for Proper Organ Tone - do go to hear this instrument in the flesh (if it's ever resurrected).

 

Yes, of course, I shall.

 

Ear, actually. He was deaf in one ear, which I believe led to an interesting verbal exchange with H&H's voicer when the RFH was being installed !

 

Was it only one.....? :)

Link to post
Share on other sites
Sadly I fear that you are correct. I would also agree that this situation is a travesty - one of which London and the government should be ashamed. Given the amount of money which has already been spent on refurbishing the hall (to say nothing of what this country will spend on hosting the next Olympic Games), I find it hard to believe that money to finish the re-installation of the instrument cannot be found from some source. Unfortunately, since vast swathes of our society seem to be 'dumbing-down' at an alarming rate *, I am afraid that projects such as this one are so low down on the list of priorities that it would only get completed if the organ chamber was also to be adapted to provide housing for single mothers with dependants - or Estonian lesbians.

 

I suspect that what we need in this country is another Andrew Carnegie.

* If you do not agree with this viewpoint, just cast your eyes over the TV schedule for the coming week, or go into an ordinary café and listen to the 'conversation' for an hour

 

I'm afraid you are perfectly correct, and the sad thing is that I cannot see things changing for the better.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Pierre, best wishes on the Belgian National Day! I hope the views of Belgian people are soon more united than some of those in this thread.

JC

 

Thanks, John,

 

Belgium is like much 20th-century organs: a patchwork of several, non blending styles.

 

Bien amicalement,

Met vriendelijke groeten,

Mit freundliche Grüsse,

Mat Gréiss,

 

Pierre

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 years later...
I think the organ Tony Newnham has in mind is (or was) the Compton from the Free Trade Hall in Manchester; it was built shortly after the RFH one and, give or take one or two stops, they were identical. My recollection is that Compton took back the RFH one, not best pleased at the contract for the permanent replacement going – contrary to what he thought he had been given to understand – to another company, and it was broken up in his factory. As Tony says, the FTH console has been recently pressed into service for a Hauptwerk system, but the Compton tone-generators and all the associated electronics have been preserved in full working order and are temporarily in use in a three-manual Compton console.

 

Regards.

Apologies for this very tardy note: You are spot on! It was the FTH organ which I am afraid I vandalised. In fact I did try to sell it for a modest sum, to raise some funds for a new organ in my house. Unfortunately there was not one taker - so in the end, I took the decision to rebuild the console - changing it from IIIP and 97 speaking stops, to IVP and 87 speaking stops (and used the extra tabs for more couplers). As far as possible the tabs have the original engraving, but inevitably some have been re-engraved.

 

The ranks are drawn from a Skinner organ, plus a about 20 additional ranks to make up up additional stops. The whole thing is based on Hauptwerk and is run by a dedicated PC (hidden away inside the organ, with 14 speakers hidden behind a pipe screen. The effect is stunning - bearing in mind it is installed in a house, not a concert hall. The specification is decidedly English Town Hall of the 1930's, and includes no less than 5 Open diapasons 8' on the great, 3 32' flues an 2 32' reeds on the pedal.

 

The work was mostly done by David Houlgate who has done excellent work on the Brighton Dome organ.

 

Regards

 

Will

Link to post
Share on other sites

In about 1979, the Free Trade Hall Compton belonged to a Mr Whitfield Lewis, who lived in St. John's Wood, London. I was very keen on Comptons at the time (still am, but was thinking about doing serious research then) and he very kindly let me visit and try the instrument. He said the price he paid for it was les than the value of the ivory on the keys. I thought, as I still do, that it was a remarkable job for its period. I sometimes wonder if electrones have really and truly got all that much better.... The old Compton at least had a character of its own.

Link to post
Share on other sites
It is rather tiresome to find a thread enquiring about a recording of the RFH Compton turning into another round of ritual criticism on this forum of the H&H organ and its designer. I am of the same vintage as bombarde32 and Adrian, and the Wednesday 5.55 recitals were an important part of my musical development when, as a sixth former at school, I would rush to the tube station on the 4pm bell, to arrive at Waterloo in time for the recitals. Would that some of my own school pupils studying Music GCSE or A level took the initiative to go to live concerts or a Prom or two, but that is another subject.

 

With all respect to an earlier poster on this thread, I am dismayed by his vehement criticism of the RFH organ when he hasn't actually heard it live, and as for the comment, "it was a misguided instrument for Ralph Downes to experiment with his mainly unsupported and ill-informed ideas.", was it made before or after reading Downes's autobiography Baroque Tricks (Positif Press, 1993)?

 

I also made the weekly 'pilgrimage' to the 5.55 series from '76-'79 while at college in the East End (now part of London Guildhall Uni.) and walked the whole way to the South Bank whenever it was dry! Yes, the acoustic was awful, but as an early inroduction to both organ music and performers of great worth, what a treat!!

 

CP

Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...