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Mander Organs

Organ Recordings That Really Got Up Your Nose!


MusingMuso

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Why should we write only about recordings of organists who are no longer with us? They can't defend themselves!

 

I'll take the risk and mention one record that disappointed me so badly: Elgar's organ music from Worcester Cathedral, played by Donald Hunt.

I bought the Alpha record in the 80s in Worcester Cathedral, hoping to take home a nice sample of the organ. How disappointed I was after playing it!

Registrations which can be described as colourless and dull, hardly a third of the organ seems to be used, a very "neo-baroque" approach, no musical tension at all. And quite a distant, monophonic recording. Unbelievable, compared with the later Hyperion recordings of Elgar's choral music under the direction of D. Hunt.

 

The other record That Really Got Up My Nose was Vista VPS 1004, The Organ of St. Martin-in-the-fields. It was on the 1912 Hill organ with additions by Spurden Rutt. Interesting programme (Saint-Saëns Trois Rhapsodies, pieces by Langlais, Howells and baroque composers) but very dull recording, not to mention the playing.

 

And last but not least: because I liked the programma by Geoffrey Tristam (Stanford, Whitlock, Bridge, Parry, Vierne III) I once bought an LP of The organ in Christchurch Priory. After playing one side it was obvious I heard an electronic! (which was not mentioned in the sleeve notes by Felix Apprahamian). The playing however was nice.

 

I'm afraid Philip Dore didn't do himself and the organ world a favour with his Mendelssohn recordings on RCA. I know several Dutch organ lovers who were quite disappointed by those records and even got a bad picture of "the British organ" in general because of the RCA LP's!

G.S.

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Why should we write only about recordings of organists who are no longer with us? They can't defend themselves!

 

I'll take the risk and mention one record that disappointed me so badly: Elgar's organ music from Worcester Cathedral, played by Donald Hunt.

I bought the Alpha record in the 80s in Worcester Cathedral, hoping to take home a nice sample of the organ. How disappointed I was after playing it!

Registrations which can be described as colourless and dull, hardly a third of the organ seems to be used, a very

 

Didn't this LP use a machine that hailed from Bradford though?

 

AJJ

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Why should we write only about recordings of organists who are no longer with us? They can't defend themselves!

 

True but neither can they sue for libel if the bounds of fair comment have been exceeded or there is cogent evidence of malice !

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... And last but not least: because I liked the programma by Geoffrey Tristam (Stanford, Whitlock, Bridge, Parry, Vierne III) I once bought an LP of The organ in Christchurch Priory. After playing one side it was obvious I heard an electronic! (which was not mentioned in the sleeve notes by Felix Apprahamian). The playing however was nice. ...

 

G.S.

 

I am surprised that it took you an entire side. As far as I know, this recording featured the Compton-Makin 'Westmoreland' organ (which was the precursor to the model I played for two years as Assistant Organist at the Priory). The later Makin was bad enough, but the original toaster was hideous. I was informed that the sound was initially produced partly by means of oscillating wheels and elastic bands; I have little trouble believing this.

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Why should we write only about recordings of organists who are no longer with us? They can't defend themselves!

 

I'll take the risk and mention one record that disappointed me so badly: Elgar's organ music from Worcester Cathedral, played by Donald Hunt.

I bought the Alpha record in the 80s in Worcester Cathedral, hoping to take home a nice sample of the organ. How disappointed I was after playing it!

Registrations which can be described as colourless and dull, hardly a third of the organ seems to be used, a very "neo-baroque" approach, no musical tension at all. And quite a distant, monophonic recording. Unbelievable, compared with the later Hyperion recordings of Elgar's choral music under the direction of D. Hunt.

 

 

I assume this was subsequently released on CD by Regis? If so, I have it also, and had pretty much the same reaction - although I would be the first to acknowledge Hunt's musical gifts on the wider musical canvas, this recording seemed to consist of playing that was merely "going through the motions", and could not be more different from John Scott's St. Paul's recording of the G major sonata.

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I assume this was subsequently released on CD by Regis? If so, I have it also, and had pretty much the same reaction - although I would be the first to acknowledge Hunt's musical gifts on the wider musical canvas, this recording seemed to consist of playing that was merely "going through the motions", and could not be more different from John Scott's St. Paul's recording of the G major sonata.

There's also the Naxos English Organ Music 2 disc by Donald Hunt from Worcester. Horrible sound from the Bradford. Of all the places that a disc like that could be recorded, why use an electronic?

 

Can I nominate 'Organ Imperial' - a Priory disc by Paul Morgan at Exeter. Nothing particularly wrong with the playing, although the organ sounds fairly dull and ultra-smooth at times. It's the constant deafening hiss through the entire recording. It cannot be wind noise, and it was supposed to be digitally recorded, so I wonder what went wrong...

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There's also the Naxos English Organ Music 2 disc by Donald Hunt from Worcester. Horrible sound from the Bradford. Of all the places that a disc like that could be recorded, why use an electronic?

 

Can I nominate 'Organ Imperial' - a Priory disc by Paul Morgan at Exeter. Nothing particularly wrong with the playing, although the organ sounds fairly dull and ultra-smooth at times. It's the constant deafening hiss through the entire recording. It cannot be wind noise, and it was supposed to be digitally recorded, so I wonder what went wrong...

 

 

 

Graham Barber at Ripon. Playing good, very good programme too, but is this Ripon? It doesn't sound like it.

 

R

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Can I nominate 'Organ Imperial' - a Priory disc by Paul Morgan at Exeter. Nothing particularly wrong with the playing, although the organ sounds fairly dull and ultra-smooth at times. It's the constant deafening hiss through the entire recording. It cannot be wind noise, and it was supposed to be digitally recorded, so I wonder what went wrong...

 

I have this disc - and I know the organ very well (Paul Morgan taught me for several years). Are you sure you do not have a faulty copy? My copy is fine. Whilst I do not by any means have a top quality sound system, nevertheless it is reasonably good.

 

Neither would I describe this organ as ultra-smooth. To me, it has a distinct voice - the tutti (minus the Solo reeds) is unlike that of any other English cathedral organ I have heard, being no longer FHW, nor typically Arthur Harrison. The G.O. reed have far more harmonic development than any H&H Tromba ranks. Two of the Swell reeds have French shallots (dating from 1965).

 

Whilst I may be biased, I thought that the playing was excellent. The Healey Willan Introduction and Passacaglia, in E-flat minor remains one of the best performances I have on disc.

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The Healey Willan Introduction and Passacaglia, in E-flat minor remains one of the best performances I have on disc.

 

As another former pupil of Paul, all I can say without bias is "Hear, hear".

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I assume this was subsequently released on CD by Regis? If so, I have it also, and had pretty much the same reaction - although I would be the first to acknowledge Hunt's musical gifts on the wider musical canvas, this recording seemed to consist of playing that was merely "going through the motions", and could not be more different from John Scott's St. Paul's recording of the G major sonata.

Those people that heard Sumsion accompany evensong at Gloucester speak of his brilliance at accompanying the psalms, at improvising before the service, and generally of being at one with his instrument in his cathedral. Donald had obviously learnt well from his master and whilst not the busiest recitalist on the circuit was really excellent at accompanying evensong. I spent 4 years at Worcester and, although Donald and I certainly knew who each other were, can not claim to have known him well (in fact hardly at all). Nevertheless I would imagine he would agree that his main strengths were/are in choir training and choral conducting. In the days before cathedral MD's routinely farmed out vocal tuition to specialist coaches Donald's results at Worcester were first rate, and this was reflected in the number of recording contracts they received, probably only matched by the leading and obvious Oxbridge chapel choirs. Donald was also a champion and pioneer in introducing much of the French choral repertoire into an anglican cathedral, and most people agreed that, without reducing the cathedral organ's ability to do its day-to-day english job, his changes to the organ gave it a more french character.

 

Its good to see that he features in this year's 3-choirs festival programme. Its also good to see that Henry Sandon is involved, not always having been well treated by the cathedral. (Yes, the well loved antiques roadshow expert, he was a lay-clerk at the cathedral at the time that I was around.) So, whilst recognising that the purpose of this particular thread is to be nasty to people, why not instead recognise that Donald gave us many landmark recodings, even if he was conducting on them rather than playing.

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As another former pupil of Paul, all I can say without bias is "Hear, hear".

As I should perhaps have made clearer, I wasn't faulting the playing in the least - Paul has a good reputation. Nor was my point really about the organ - I shouldn't have dropped that comment in. For me every track has a thin pervading hiss reminiscent of the bad old days of compact cassettes, which is just not there on other recordings, including others at Exeter, and which I find very wearing. I can't see that it can be a fault of my copy only. Oh well, perhaps it's my ears...

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As I should perhaps have made clearer, I wasn't faulting the playing in the least - Paul has a good reputation. Nor was my point really about the organ - I shouldn't have dropped that comment in. For me every track has a thin pervading hiss reminiscent of the bad old days of compact cassettes, which is just not there on other recordings, including others at Exeter, and which I find very wearing. I can't see that it can be a fault of my copy only. Oh well, perhaps it's my ears...

 

 

I have to agree - I've really tried hard to find merit in this disc, as it's often mentioned. But there's a really annoying hiss, and the balance sounds all wrong: very top-heavy, and the chamade-thing sounding very tinny at big climaxes. :)

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As students, at least once a year we would get together to have a party where we would bring LPs of organ music that should never have been committed to disc. My contribution can be mentioned, because, while the organist is still alive, the record label was not a major one. The story goes that a particular organist had arranged to make the first recording on the Ronald Sharp instrument in the chapel of King's School in Sydney, Australia. On finding out about this, another organist had driven the approximately 850 kms from where he was based, complete with a recording engineer and all the necessary equipment, and recorded the concerto arrangements of Bach in one evening, thus wresting the claim to first recording for himself.

 

The concerto that I'd choose to play was the one in G Major (BWV 592). The triplets in the first movement had no discernible tempo relationship with the rest of the movement. That wasn't the 'feature' that so endeared this particular recording to me, however. This was found in the final Presto movement, where the ongoing semiquaver figures make way for single bars where the hands alternately play chords, as in bars 41 and 45, for example. Yes, you guessed. These chords, I could swear, were played by flapping the palm of the hand on the keyboard resulting in alternating clusters. As I recall, some decades later, not one of these chords was correct.

 

I so wish that I had not eventually used this LP as a frisbee! It was unique.

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although the organ sounds fairly dull and ultra-smooth at times. It's the constant deafening hiss through the entire recording.
But there's a really annoying hiss, and the balance sounds all wrong: very top-heavy, and the chamade-thing sounding very tinny at big climaxes.

Dull? or Tinny? Ah well; I find the sound quite reasonable.

 

The hiss, however... I have analysed it a little, and it's very precisely white noise. It is also constant in the gaps between the tracks. So I think it is simply dither that's been applied at the wrong level, or at the wrong stage in mastering, perhaps when increasing the level of a rather low recording.

 

It's embarrassing for them, but probably marginal for chucking the recording and starting again - so we have to tolerate it.

 

Paul

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Recent replies on this topic have been critical of recorded sound quality. I possess very few organ CDs, and dissatisfaction with recorded sound quality has been a recurring issue with a fair percentage of organ recordings purchased since 'going over' to CDs several years ago. I've quite a few which I can't listen to all through at one sitting.

 

An example is the IFO recording of Vierne No.2 and Franck's 3 Chorales from St. Sernin, played by Maurice Clerc. I particularly wanted a recording from St. Sernin having heard it a couple of years ago and this recording recieved good reviews in certain journals!

 

The recorded sound is distant, muddled and very compressed, completely masking the performance; the organ sounds nothing like what you hear in he building, this is very disappointing considering the advanced state of current recording technology, not to mention IFOs good reputation. There's also a dreadful blemish at the end of Chorale No.1

 

In contrast, the IFO recording of the Mendelssohn Sonatas from Neresheim, played by Bernhard Leonardy sounds superb; the exact opposite of the St. Sernin recording, and one of my favourite organ CDs.

 

DT

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I have to agree - I've really tried hard to find merit in this disc, as it's often mentioned. But there's a really annoying hiss, and the balance sounds all wrong: very top-heavy, and the chamade-thing sounding very tinny at big climaxes. :)

 

It is highly unlikely that this is anything other than the Solo Tuba. In any case, there is no chamade on this instrument - the Trompette (formerly Trompette Militaire) was revoiced years ago, being made broader. It was rarely used as part of the tutti in recordings due to its formerly unblending nature and its inability to stay even reasonably in tune with the rest of the organ.

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...is a myth. But I won't go into it more here, as it's not the place, and you'd not be able to stop me once I get going.

 

Paul

 

Would be (seriously) interested to hear more. Maybe a PM if you think it more appropriate? Thanks.

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You're not the only one. I think a number of us would, me included.

OK. Perhaps the way I put it was a bit of late-night hyperbole, but still...

 

What I am saying is not that the technical aspects of recording are in any way inadequate - the noise and distortion levels that can be achieved these days are excellent, and in a properly designed system the microphone is the limiting factor (for recording, that is - let's leave speakers till later).

 

The problem is more philosophical, and is to do with a combination of practicality and lack of vision. The plain fact is that at present we put nearly all our effort into making one-dimensional recordings of what is a fully three-dimensional phenomenon. Unfortunately (he says!) this approach (known as stereo) works far better than it has any right to when analysed from a theoretical and a psychoacoustic viewpoint - "unfortunately" because this has stultified any attempt to investigate real improvements. In addition, the compromises introduced by the development of stereo recording have produced unrealistic expectations in listeners. Recordings are made to sound as recordings are expected to sound, not like the real sound of music.

 

Because in a one-dimensional recording reverberation which would naturally envelop the listener is folded round to appear from the same direction as the instrument(s), it is easy to get too much; this leads (separately) to using studios with less reverberation (and even designing halls to have less, so they become more suitable for recording than listening), and to placing microphones closer to the source. The loss of directional cues in the reverberation makes both venues and instruments less natural. Close microphones lead to the loss of the natural high-frequency fall-off caused by the selective sound absorption of the air, so the sound becomes un-naturally bright. In addition, the exaggerated perspective on an orchestra leads to microphones being placed higher, and to additional microphones suspended above, and these high microphones get more high frequencies, because of the way that many instruments radiate. Even if correction is applied for these factors, the sound is no longer like what a listener would naturally hear, and multiple microphones lead to conflicting psychoacoustic cues, causing listening fatigue.

 

I would prefer to try to reproduce the sound, which means recording and playing back a fully three-dimensional soundfield. Practicalities are a problem, I admit (I don't have a 3-D playback system, though I do record a 3-D signal these days), but the point is to be looking towards this kind of real improvement and using the knowledge gained to optimise the usage of more restricted systems. Currently "Surround Sound" is sold as an answer to this issue, but it really isn't; the conventional 5.1 system is mainly used to present a stereo front signal combined with diffuse artificial reverberation from the sides. Because the speakers are very irregularly spaced, proper reproduction of sound sources all around the listener cannot be achieved through such a system anyway. If the speakers are moved to regular spacing, good results can be managed, but not using the recording techniques commercially used for surround. But it's still only two-dimensional (yes, I know some advertisers talk about "3-D sound" - idiots), and, for instance, the folding of reverberation into a plane is still a problem.

 

I shall try to wind down at this arbitrary point, not because my argument is complete, but for practicality (most of the sentences above could be expanded into separate essays). To read further, start at http://ambisonic.net/ and poke around. You will probably find yourself at my website (incomplete work in progress) at some point, and at another I contribute sample surround recordings to.

 

People who don't accept this viewpoint may call me a purist. I prefer to recall a student experiment in which parallel stereo recordings of the same performance were made using the simplest possible microphone technique (Blumlein) and mixed multimiking. The recordings were played to listeners who knew nothing about recording techniques, and one (guess!) was universally preferred. The important thing, though, was that because the listeners had no conscious awareness of the difference in the sounds produced by the different recording techniques, they said that they preferred the performance in the better recording.

 

Bad recording damages music, and this may be blamed on the performer(s).

 

Paul

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Hmm, interesting.

 

I presume 'Ambisonic' are to company associated with the Jennifer Bate Messiaen recordings and later the Franck series from Beauvais, back in the early '80s on the Unicorn Kanchana lable.

 

I've still got the LPs and remember that they seemed to be a cut above other organ recordings at the time in terms sound quality, in particular the way the reverberation was portrayed. Of course I was only listening in 2 channel stereo. I remember that there was a slight problem on some of the recordings that a very high frequency carrier signal was audible in places.

 

Funnily enough I bought the Franck series on CD a couple of months ago, but am a bit disappointed with the sound quality although I find the performances very satisfying; not as detailed as I expected and a bit toppy - yes I know the big mixtures are definitely not CC.

 

The IFO recording from Neresheim which I previously mentioned is far superior in terms of realistic sounding reverberation (and everything else for that matter), both buildings having a similarly 'vast' acoustic.

 

Then again, with 25 years of advancing technology, you'd expect that wouldn't you!

Oops, there I go again.

;)

 

DT

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