Jump to content
Mander Organs
DaveHarries

RFH Organ

Recommended Posts

 

They just didn't see the appeal of the organ. A pianist summed it in up after an organ recital I had dragged him to, wailing in desperation, "Can't you vary the expression of the notes?" I explained about stop changes, swell boxes, rubato and the rest, but of course he meant the sort of shaping of lines that an orchestral player, or he as a pianist, would use.

 

I wonder how these same people regard the harpsichord.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

The organ, good on paper, still sounds lousy in spite of the enormous sum spent on its renovation thanks to the RFH’s abysmal acoustic.

 

Well, all I can say is that, personally, I thought it sounded quite magnificant and better than I remember it, though I must repeat that it's an awful shame about the acoustic.

 

To my mind, the more the organ is featured alongside mainstream musical instruments the more chance it will have of being taken seriously.

 

Just to shoot myself in the foot, I might add that going down this road would probably involve a lot of arrangements and, going on what we heard in the inaugural concert, I don't think the RFH organ is at all well suited to them. After all, I rather doubt that arrangements featured in Downes's vision of eclecticism - didn't he want to move away from such things?

 

 

I wonder how these same people regard the harpsichord.

 

A good question. I don't really know, but I get the feeling that it is more readily accepted by orchestral instrumentalists, at least as a continuo instrument. Most pianists I have met don't have a lot of time for it because, again, they see it as inexpressive and unlovely in tone compared with their own instrument, but I have certainly met some who are broader-minded. My sample is probably meaningless though (as it probably is for the organ too).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I totally concur, contrabordun (re #19). They have had criticisms: in an astonishing read-out on Radio 3, on Tuesday morning (at about 0750h), a listener wrote in to say they’d be happy if they never heard another piece of organ music. There is antipathy- hostility even- out there towards ‘our’ instrument. It’s obvious that we organists need to work in unison with (NOT unison off!) such invaluable assets to our country as the BBC in much ‘crusading work’.

 

Possibly, though, they have a new employee, who actually knows something about the organ and its repertoire, and is prepared to put BBC money where our license fee is. It’s almost as if they’ve just found the key, so long lost, to the cabinet containing most of their organ CDs !

 

And thank you so much, contraviolone, for your illuminating insights, gained through hearing the instrument live. These are invaluable to someone yet to hear this instrument live, after many years.

 

Thomas Trotter’s playing was far more assured- and, thus, more comfortable listening- than anything I’ve heard up till now: I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next slip/mistake/jolt. Was he able to procure more rehearsal time, to better settle in ?

 

I query his registration for the last section of the Bach Adagio, though: this, surely, would have been on Fonds d’orgue. Yes, Tremulant- but applied to 8’ diapason/principal ranks, rather than the rather Romantic sound we heard.

 

[And, as for the principal/diapason choruses, they do, over the radio, appear rather bland and smooth. Those who have heard it in the RFlesH may wish to comment. This was the fashion of the 50s, no doubt, but it is a shame. I prefer organs with more characterful choruses- and individual ranks. Some of the flute ranks, of course, are beautiful.]

 

[in connection with non-organists’ misperceptions of the instrument, the proliferation of (small) continuo organs can only assist in correcting these. The great beauty of many continuo instruments will make a start in this direction. This, in one way, is going down a blind alley: the organ is not supposed to be- and was not designed as- an expressive instrument in that sense. Keyboard music was being performed for half a millennium before the advent of the fortepiano.]

 

However, his Reubke was astonishingly and virtuosically assured.

 

As for the Mozart: that must be the loudest clock in the world ! Wolfgang would have been blown away- almost literally. Why do we hardly ever hear someone playing this with slightly more restrained registrations ?

 

Finally, there’s the other old saw: I would have wished, at last, for the inclusion of a Tuba ? Possibly the much-reduced space ‘did for’ this. Surely, though, this would have been an ideal opportunity to rectify an unfortunate (and now obviously mistaken?) omission. Even (!) European builders regularly include such a stop on the Bombarde division (or whatever it may be called), as an indispensible stop for the performance of many significant 20th century compositions.

 

In (or, rather, not in!) an instrument with a specification that is, in other respects, so comprehensive, this has always puzzled me. I know Ralph Downes’ rationale and, in all other respects, he should endlessly be applauded for his vision . . . but, it IS the ROYAL Festival Hall, they are OUR Royalty, it was OUR Festival, it is an BRITISH organ in an iconic BRITISH concert hall and the Tuba is a quintessentially BRITISH stop, irreplaceable in some important works of ‘our’ FESTIVE repertoire.

 

Am I missing something ? As can be seen, I believe this instrument certainly is. This is, nonetheless, not to be taken as anything other than a relatively minor criticism of the realisation of one of the most worthwhile musical endeavours of recent times: the reinstatement and restoration of this organ and consequent, and unprecedentedly well-publicised, concert series and accompanying ‘events’.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some musings on what has been posted so far:

 

As some posters have pointed out, not all pianists are mystified by or antipathetic to the organ. I recall a radio interview with John Lill many years ago. I think it was broadcast on Classic FM a year or two after it came into being in 1992. He said words to the effect that "he wished he could play the organ - it SINGS so!". They then played an organ recording of his choice.

 

It clearly seems not to be well known that the original Tender Specification for the RFH included two Tubas - a Tuba Major 8' and a Tuba Clarion 4' on 15 inches of wind. I suggest members might like to refer to Ralph Downes's book 'Baroque Tricks' for a very detailed discussion of how the organ came into being under his guidance, and (inter alia) why the Tubas disappeared.

 

A much shorter though equally informative brochure was available in the RFH foyer for many years in the 1960s. Simply entitled 'The Organ in the Royal Festival Hall', it also was by Downes.

 

From the above, readers might correctly infer that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend many of the original '5:55' Wednesday recitals in those days. I was doing my PhD at King's College just across the river, and it was pleasant to pop across before returning to the lab for the usual late evening stint ...

 

CEP

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Notwithstanding the aspirations/intentions of the original tender (#30), Tubas did not grow in the fertile H&H soil, to emerge and flourish in the final result/spec.

 

For those of us not in possession of that tome (“Baroque Tricks”), a summary of the facts is in #16 and #19 of: http://mander-organs-forum.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/1199-royal-festival-hall-organ/?hl=

 

Would pcnd5584, mgp or someone else be able to inform us why these changes occurred ?

 

Many thanks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, again, contraviolone, for remembering so well what happened and, also, for so promptly conveying it to us.

 

I can well imagine Downes’ chagrin, if this was the sequence of events.

 

Over to pcnd5584 (?).

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Thomas Trotter’s playing was far more assured- and, thus, more comfortable listening- than anything I’ve heard up till now: I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next slip/mistake/jolt. Was he able to procure more rehearsal time, to better settle in
Dunno, but he is Thomas Trotter, after all. That's what he does.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The following snippet appeared in the Financial Times back in 1971 relating to an organ concert at the RFH:

 

"There are plenty of organs whose fuses could be expected to blow if fed with Ligeti's 'Volumina', but the Festival Hall is the last place you would expect it to happen; absurdly it did last night. 'Volumina' began with a deafening bravado - a huge tone cluster using every stop in sight. Then silence, but for the glances - positively vocal in their astonishment - between M Daresse and his two assistants. Explanation: the current had been overloaded and caused a sudden flood when all the notes were released, blowing the fuses for the electro-pneumatic contact between notes and pipes. Apology: no Ligeti."

 

(Note to Moderators: This is posted merely for its topical entertainment value in view of the current focus on the RFH organ. It is not intended to cause embarrassment to the builders of the organ nor to anyone else. If you consider it should be removed please feel free to do so!).

 

CEP

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Many years ago a lecture recital took place at the RFH, at which Ralph Downes explained his reasoning behind the design and illustrated it with appropriate musical examples. Thomas Trotter was one of the organists delivering said examples.

 

The Solo division was clearly intended to be a ”big” Great for use with/against an orchestra. Time has faded my memory regarding the intended use of the other divisions – it made sense at the time !

 

And therein lays the key: the recitalist must have this inside knowledge in order to bring out the best from this organ. Like other commentators on this board, I attended many of the 5:55 recitals. It was clear that not all recitalists had “got it”.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I shall pull no punches.

I thought that the choice of music for the opening night was simply dreadful....not many converts there, I suspect.

IMHO, the organ sounds better, but not that much better than it used to sound. The hall is the main culprit, which really doesn't measure up to the much better concert halls in Europe. In fact, without even attempting controversy, there is a case to be made for the interchange of two instruments in large halls. Were the Festival Hall organ to be placed in the lively acoustic of Stockport Town Hall, it would stand a chance. Were the organ of Stockport Town Hall installed in the RFH, it would probably sound very much at home.

As for this nonsense about 1st and 2nd division composers, I suspect that what is really being implied is that only those composers who wrote for orchestra or multiple genres may be regarded as 1st division, and all the rest are 2nd best.

May I remind everyone that there are NAMES other than Bach, Franck & Messaien?

 

Brahms, Reger, Bruhns, Reubke, Liszt, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Brixi, Alain, Mendelssohn, Saint Saens. Dupre, Durufle, Rheinberger....it's quite a big list, but their output may not be the most prolific.

 

If they wanted to present new music to a new generation, why didn't they commission something from the young, 18 (?) year old Belgian composer/organist Thomas Mellan, who's "Galaxies & Explosions" is utterly remarkable?

Indeed, why not get him to play a proper recital of standard repertoire works, transcriptions and original compositions?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTUS6nRLOKg

Here we are, with what is supposed to be the leading capital of the world, and yet the establishment knows nothing about what is really going on in the world of the organ..

If they wanted to include other instruments, perhaps they should have asked this gentleman:-

 

http://www.kiralycsaba.com/audio.htm.

I'm sorry, but all I see and hear are organ geeks at the helm, and it is killing the organ off.

 

MM

 





Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

May I remind everyone that there are NAMES other than Bach, Franck & Messaien?

 

Brahms, Reger, Bruhns, Reubke, Liszt, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Brixi, Alain, Mendelssohn, Saint Saens. Dupre, Durufle, Rheinberger....it's quite a big list, but their output may not be the most prolific.

 

What I wrote was " It doesn't help, either, that the names of most of its composers are unknown to mainstream musicians, or at best regarded as second-stream (Franck) " and "I was excluding the likes of Bach, Mendelssohn and Messiaen. I would suggest that my statement remains true." Producing a long lost of composers who have written worthwhile music for the organ isn't going to convince me that my argument is incorrect because it's missing the point I was making.

 

I don't disagree with your main argument though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

MusingMuso: I have sympathy with a lot of what you say. The programme for the opening concert could have been much better designed- as has been said already by several of us. But, I believe it was drawn up by someone with little knowledge of what should have been in it. It should have been coruscatingly exciting and incandescently illuminating- especially for those unfamiliar with organ repertoire and the many young people participating. It was, of course, neither- and not particularly well played.

 

The premières have, so far, proved disappointing to my ears. I’m afraid I even found Judith Weir’s unmemorable. This is remarkable, as I know and like many of her idiosyncratic works for all sorts of genres and have worked with her on a major project, when I found her delightful, insightful and wonderfully stimulating. Her Illuminare, Jerusalem trod new ground with its sparse, but extraordinarily effective and atmospheric (organ) accompaniment- described recently to me (by another composer Cleobury commissioned) as the best (new carol for King’s) in the last ten years.

 

I agree with your approbation of Thomas Mellan, who is now around 20 years. I was unable to locate a recording of your suggestion, although others of his works and performances (including some for organ) are on YouTube. He is an obvious and huge talent.

 

I also find that there is a copy of “Baroque Tricks” available- for well over £50 ! Please, can someone fill in the reasons for the changes in the spec. of the Solo, until I can find a copy of this (see #33) ?

 

As for the Hall’s acoustic, it is a pity that, when the planning for the refurbishment was being done, the people in charge did not avail themselves of the University of Southampton’s excellent Institute of Sound and Vibration Research: requesting both an even further enhancing of the acoustic than has been achieved and one that was variable according to the performance medium. As MusingMuso quite rightly says, this is one of our premier concert halls and is something of an embarrassment in that respect.

 

Finally, at every broadcast I’ve heard, there’s been an idiot (the same one?) who has started clapping immediately after the final chord. Is he (I’m sure he’s a he) engaged in some kind of competition, to show how well he knows the music ? After the Poulenc Organ Concerto, he waited for at least a micro-second; what little reverberation there was, was completely obscured.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Finally, at every broadcast I’ve heard, there’s been an idiot (the same one?) who has started clapping immediately after the final chord. Is he (I’m sure he’s a he) engaged in some kind of competition, to show how well he knows the music ?

Are you telling us that an organ recital audience has included at least one person who should not really have been allowed out on their own?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Notwithstanding the aspirations/intentions of the original tender (#30), Tubas did not grow in the fertile H&H soil, to emerge and flourish in the final result/spec.

 

For those of us not in possession of that tome (“Baroque Tricks”), a summary of the facts is in #16 and #19 of: http://mander-organs-forum.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/1199-royal-festival-hall-organ/?hl=

 

Would pcnd5584, mgp or someone else be able to inform us why these changes occurred ?

 

Many thanks.

I'm hesitant to say too much before I get my first 'live' upfront experience of all 103 stops when I prepare to play in the RFH in July. The tender spec of late 1948 specified a set of enclosed Gt reeds and a Solo division that was - to all intents and purposes - a 'super' Cavaille-Coll Recit of the 1840/50 (Flutes 8 4, strings 8, reeds 16,8 plus two heavy pressure reeds - named Tuba probably to keep people quiet - all enclosed). (Baroque Tricks 1983 ed pp 93-5). By mid 1949 the Tubas had become Trompette/Clairon Harmonique respectively with the (now unenclosed Gt Reeds & Cornet) transferable to the Solo. At no stage did Downes contemplate an HH solo of families of Strings. Harm Flues & Orch reeds. (The first sketch included a complete 16' Cornet from 16' - 3 1/5' plus septieme 2 2/7').

 

Downes admits (p 133) that he DID worry about whether the organ would be powerful enough and so in late 1950(?) transformed the Solo into a 5th Principal chorus to 'support massed singing' - thereby 'clinching the organ's success in practice'. This reflected the fact that all the soundboards had already been made and there was neither time nor material to do anything else. He also acknowledges (p177) that he panicked and the organ was too loud at first - all flue pressures were reduced by 1/8" or so shortly after the 'launch'. .

 

To my (possibly heretical) ears Downes ended up pretty near to what CC night have done in rebuilding a Cliquot or similar, preserving the classical choruses and adding symphonic voices (as in St Sulpice and elsewhere) BUT designed for a concert hall (cf the Salle des Fetes at Trocadero). There are all the classical choruses/contrasts and yet a grand symphonic whole (provided you know what to leave out of particular combinations). For the English repertoire there a perfectly good Open Wood on the Pedal, a luscious Harmonic Flute and a 'Claribel' on one of the manuals if you use your ears in exploring and not rely on eyes ticking off a list of stop names. There are even some quite good strings ...albeit with a clear recognition that dimenuendi 'a niente' effects are completely pointless in that room.

 

I'll post my experience of the whole thing when I've been lucky enough to spend a few hours exploring later this year.

 

mgp

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was at the Olivier Latry concert last night and the whole experience was really rather fine. The acoustic is now nicely accommodating, the instrument sounded very 'polished' (with moments of great excitement and 'non chiffing' peace) and in marvellous form and of course the playing was first rate.

 

A

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Let us remember that the funding for the project was kicked off by the HLF, and they are more concerned about heritage than anything else, such as music. If the organ is part of our heritage, then it is, to their mind, proper to restore it as it was originally made. This was their reasoning in giving a lot of money to restore a historic organ in Lincolnshire several years ago; we were to restore it as far as possible to its 1878 condition, which was what we wanted to do in any case.

 

So no case for tinkering with the stop list in the manner so beloved of English organists.

 

I recall Dr Caleb Jarvis giving a demonstration of the St George's Hall organ in the 1960s, & talking about the post-war restoration, funded by Liverpool City Council. the brief was to restore the organ to its 1931 condition, i.e. what it what like immediately before war damage. he might have liked to do many things to it, but in the interests of history was not permitted to.

 

I heard Messrs Scott, Bell & Trotter at the RFH organ this past weekend. The playing was outstanding, the musicianship impeccable, the organ, history and all, a quite suitable vehicle for the music played, and, bar the Saturday night, the place full. On the Saturday night, the majority of the audience was young. And they listened to a concert which included two hymns sung by a choir! And the Saturday lecture series well-presented and enlightening.

 

Bravo, I say, to all involved.

Share this post


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...