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DaveHarries

RFH Organ

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Bravo indeed. I got to both John Scott's and Thomas Trotter's concerts and think the organ sounds (and looks) miles better than before. The acoustic is not perfect but it's much improved, the reeds sound far better and you can really hear the pedal 32' now.

 

The choruses are clear, but I have never been convinced that they really are that much clearer than a "traditional" British chorus and they are anything but when the reeds are added. I've never heard the Colston Hall instrument, completed a couple of years after the RFH using normal H&H scales and voicing techniques, but would be very interested to hear a "compare and contrast" of the choruses from a musician who knows both organs. Apparently the Colston Hall acoustics are superior.

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Thank you, mgp, for #30. Whatever was he thinking of ? But, I suppose, it was 1948. I’m not sure, though, if this (1948) spec. for the Solo wouldn’t have been preferable to what we have now. Did he say (mgp) why he had changed this by 1949 ?

 

[The enclosed Great reeds might have been a throwback to the old King’s organ- where they were enclosed in the Solo !]

 

The first movement of L’Ascension will always present an almost insuperable challenge in such an acoustic. I would posit that (pace Maître Latry) playing a piece such as this can only serve to point out the acoustical deficiencies of the hall. (AJJ: did this movement provide you with a true glimpse of the éternel, or was the acoustic too much of an hindrance ?)

 

It’s a pity Messiaen didn’t envisage the possibility of this work’s being performed in a dry acoustic and provide a substitute movement for the 1st- as he did for the organ version in the 4th, with Transports. As Latry said in the interval talk, French music is nothing if not about colour; and the halo provided by the almost invariably ample (if not substantial) reverberation in French places of worship is almost an assumption by French composers for organ.

 

Nonetheless, listening via Radio 3 and the iPlayer, Latry did make the organ sound different, and (dare I say it?) very French, at times. Also, despite the admittedly unsatisfactory (and compressed) manifestation via radio, the organ now does sound more coherent and unified.

 

Despite all the above caveats: once again, thank you and a massive “Bravo!”, Mr Downes, for your vision and the positive (pun not intended!) effect you had on the development of the organ in the latter half of 20th century Britain.

 

Ah ! (Peter Godden #49)

HLF = array of committees (many members without specialist knowledge) = dilution of vision = compromises = final result

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Ah ! (Peter Godden #49)

HLF = array of committees (many members without specialist knowledge) = dilution of vision = compromises = final result

... but with £950,000, to spend on an organ or indeed on anything else. I'm sure they asked before they spent; they certainly did in Lincolnshire in 2005.

And had they not done so, we might still be looking at a big black hole in the RFH.

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Regarding the coughing and clapping: the BBC did a first rate job in capturing the full majesty of my sneezing outburst during the first (UK?) performance of a work by Petr Eben at the RFH some years ago !

 

I wonder how it would sound with the revised acoustics ?

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Having lambasted the opening concert, I must now heap praise on Oliver Latry.

Messaien is not my favourite organ composer by any means, and I had quietly anticipated the disaster of L'Asension in THAT acoustic. It was miraculous that the performance was very enjoyable, though a generous acoustic always adds the element of mystery to Messaien's works. The WHOLE of the Widor 5th I could have lived without quite happily, but again, I found myself listening with new ears. A million or so Toccatas have come and gone, but the controlled panache of Latry was fabulous.

When I heard the words George Dyson, my perplexed brow could not quite make the connection between the RFH organ, France and a Yorshireman of a decidedly romantic disposition, but I need not have worried.

When I heard the words, "Let's see what happens," I knew that we were in for a treat.

I may be a bit of an improviser, but the other 99% of me knows that I am rubbish at it when compared with a maestro of the art.

This wasn't flappy paddle accompaniment and endless repeats of motifs: this was genius, and more than once, I found the hair on the back of my neck standing to attention as I listened with mouth agape.

 

Oh yes! The organ sounded quite good too.

MM

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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

 

This is largely the reason - although Downes was reacting to a specific protest which had suggested that the RFH organ as planned would not be able to produce sufficient tone (and 'body', as it was then expected and understood), in order to bolster an orchestra during (for example) the Enigma Variations. At that time, much of the organ was already in the process of construction - including the main soundboards. The only soundboards which had yet to be market up, cut and constructed were those of the proposed Solo Organ. Therefore, in order to avoid considerable further delay (and consequent increase in cost), the only viable route was to scrap the (vaguely) Romantic Solo Organ and substitute yet another principal chorus.

 

Downes went on to state that this had proved to be entirely successful in practice, expressing surprise at Cecil Clutton who stated that he felt five complete clavier choruses to be ' "wasteful in a concert instrument", whereas I [Downes], as a professional concert organist, know very well how this final modification clinched the organ's success in practice.' *

 

However, it could also be said that intelligent design of the other departments should have precluded the 'need' for yet another chorus - particularly at the expense of any Romantic voices whatsoever. (The Swell 'strings' are nothing of the sort, for example.) Whilst it must be borne in mind that the RFH organ was highly experimental - and not intended to be a progenitor of any 'organ movement', as such, there are nevertheless a number of flaws in the design, scaling and voicing of the organ - partly the fault of Hope-Bagenall, the acoustcian, it must be admitted.

 

 

 

* p. 133, Baroque Tricks: Positif Press, Oxford. 1983.

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We did hear a smidgen of 'string tone' in the Widor last night, but admittedly it was rather 'weedy', and was stretching the credibility just a little bit!

 

I quite liked them - especially when the Swell and Choir sets were used together at the end of the penultimate movement of the Widor. Considering where we were the overall impression was just about verging on the lush!

 

A

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The last time I heard the organ in situ - quite a few years back now - I was decidedly unimpressed. It was almost like a caricature - very up front in a decidedly nasty acoustic with a noisy action and some decidedly unpleasant sounds.*

 

Last night could not have been different - the acoustic is warm and broad, the previously unfettered Frenchness of the main reed choruses still exciting but now very civilized and the fonds actually that. The strings I have mentioned above but the quieter flutes (including the banks of Quintadenas) sound very good, the 16 and 32 flue basses 'work' right down to their bass octaves, and the smaller reeds (the Hautboy on the Swell was lovely in the Widor) characterful but again civilized. All in all there are now shades of the recently rebuilt St. Albans organ (also tidied up, rounded out and given more 'beef') and Coventry - though with less acoustic. The action is now pretty much silent, fast and efficient.

 

Latry was brilliantly in control and the effectiveness of the whole event was of course due to him but the organ is certainly sounding much happier, much more musical and in my opinion acquitted itself amazingly well.

 

 

A

 

 

* I do however have a recording of a fantastically played performance of the Stanford Fantasia & Toccata op. 57 made before the changes and this is amazing - every note as clear as a bell and registration seemingly held back so as not to sound completely daft. Not the repertoire one would immediately expect but a real surprise. I seem to think it is on a set of discs entitled Grand Chorus.

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I listened, on i Player, to Thomas Trotter’s Reubke yesterday (the rest I heard the day before that) and am now listening to Latry’s recital, which I was extremely keen to hear.

 

What I found most remarkable in Thomas Trotter’s playing was his Über-Legato that lent quite some (or, some more) drama to the Reubke, as playing that way tends to lead some players to permanent accellerando. I found it extremely exciting how Thomas Trotter controlled the tempo at all times, never allowing for gaps in the dramatic developments – sometimes he reacted so immediately that I was even shocked. One of the most dramatic Reubkes I ever heard!

 

The organ sounded magnificent indeed, if not exactly romantic. A large classical organ, yes; but one with expressive qualities aplenty. The reed ensemble allows for great drama – even if you thought you arrived at full organ, there was still some angry snarl to be added (probably the Solo reeds and the 32-foot Bombarde extension). Quite often there were the sounds of harmonic flutes in different locations (judging from the BBC’s stereo arrangement), but in the stoplist, I found only one such stop on the Great. Are there more, masked under different names (« Fl. harm.-caméo »)?

 

Latry, whom I listen to right now, just sounds fabulous, as ever. Super legato as well, but in such an effortless way. The ending of the first movement of the Messiaen: Can you, in any conceivable way, get a more organic crescendo out of any organ on classical lines? I think not … And shutter movement is only part of that effect, most of it is just articulation and breath. No, I do not miss reverb here. Everything appears so beautifully telling. He is one of the few players that make me forget about the instrument in questions, and enjoy and think of the music only. Can’t wait to hear « transports de joie »!

 

Best,

Friedrich

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What I found fascinating with Olivier Latry (as well as Thomas Trotter) was their ability to completely work with, and plug into, the venue itself.

I think it would be unfair not to include John Scott in this – I found the Dupré Esquisses and the “Ad nos” fantasia quite daring and dramatic. Maybe it was not quite the feeling of him being totally at ease with the room that came from the other two – but I quite enjoyed John Scott’s impeccable sense of rhythm and timing, as demonstrated wonderfully in the E-flat P & F.

 

To my ears, exactly these three players represent the very topmost choice of organists on the planet today (so congrats to the organizers). Of course, this is always an unfair judgement, as there are at least two generations of younger players some of which are promising at least … But still, it’s what I think.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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With Downes’ agonisings and constant changes of mind, it’s a wonder H&H didn’t collapse into a collective state of insanity. We still must be eternally grateful to him, though.

 

Agreed (see #53). But, is it too much to hope that some of these (HLF) might be reading this thread (as do national leaders and decision-makers in another, completely unrelated, specialist scientific forum to which I belong) and, when the next rebuild is due, in another half-century or so, get it right ? At the same time, the acoustic could be sorted out.

 

As for committees: why were the opening and closing London Olympic ceremonies so mind-blowingly memorable ? ONE man (Danny Boyle).

 

Latry’s improvisation was, yes, amazing. Those of us fortunate to have heard Pierre Cochereau live might well compare favourably.

 

No one has mentioned Latry’s astonishing disclosure of why he wasn’t allowed to perform the Stravinsky Rite. I trust he took legal counsel, before this.

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The publishers of Stravinsky's Rite have been assiduous in discovering planned performances of unauthorised arrangements and sending clear messages that their rights and those of the Stravinsky Estate will be asserted and maintained by the force of law. So I wouldn't be surprised if that was the reason. However firstrees seems to be implying something stranger.

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The publishers of Stravinsky's Rite have been assiduous in discovering planned performances of unauthorised arrangements and sending clear messages that their rights and those of the Stravinsky Estate will be asserted and maintained by the force of law. So I wouldn't be surprised if that was the reason. However firstrees seems to be implying something stranger.

This seemed to be what he was saying - though he (and Mme L.) were able to play the piece (actually Ravel's 4 hand piano version - note for note - no changes) in the USA where apparently the publisher is not able to challenge. It is also on youtube I understand.

 

A

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This seemed to be what he was saying - though he (and Mme L.) were able to play the piece (actually Ravel's 4 hand piano version - note for note - no changes) in the USA where apparently the publisher is not able to challenge. It is also on youtube I understand.

It used to be. It appears to have been removed recently, probably due to the same circumstances.

It was the most impressive recital, and well captured … pity.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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The publishers of Stravinsky's Rite have been assiduous in discovering planned performances of unauthorised arrangements and sending clear messages that their rights and those of the Stravinsky Estate will be asserted and maintained by the force of law. So I wouldn't be surprised if that was the reason. However firstrees seems to be implying something stranger.

 

I know what we need to do.

 

The next time an orchestra performs the "Rite of spring," we should attend in force. create a riot and shout "Boo!".

 

:)

 

MM

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Not at all, innate (see #68). When one is talking about and around something that has been the subject of a legal warning and, thus, possible legal action, one must choose one’s words most carefully. That is (me) putting words in my mouth.

 

Apologies to members (and M. Latry), if I gave the impression that anything more ‘sinister’ was afoot. [i seem to be expressing myself less than cogently more frequently nowadays, following my latest bout of ill-health.]

 

Surely, not, MusingMuso ! (see #71). We wouldn’t want to create a ‘Riot of Spring’, would we ?

 

And, returning to the subject of ‘the acoustic’, Downes must have been distraught when he first became aware of how poor it was going to be/was. Although this has been improved, with the advances in the understanding and application of acoustical design and adjustable acoustics, let’s hope the next rebuild (of the Hall) will get it right.

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Hi

 

The RAH is a listed building - hence, at least in part, the limited changes to the acoustics, as the look of the interior had to be retained to a large extent. The same really applies to the organ - it's an historic instrument, and although the design ideals were never copied wholesale (thankfully?) it had a vast influence on English organ building in the succeeding decades, and so should be preserved in the designer's vision.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Yes, Tony (#74), no-one is gainsaying this.

 

However, as has been extensively documented above, the designer had multiple visions (similar to those at Fatima) and we can, and should, improve on the imperfect result- sometime in the future- without compromising his ideals.

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