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DaveHarries

RFH Organ

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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.

Why should he take legal counsel before making his disclosure? He came onto the platform with a BBC mike and a sheet of paper from which he read his prepared announcement. In it, he said that he and his wife were "not allowed" by the publisher to play the four-hands piano version on the organ "because of unproven violation of [the] intellectual and moral interest of the composer." I was fortunate to hear them play The Rite in Haarlem in July 2012. If the premise were continued, should the accompanists amongst us be forbidden from playing Elgar's The Spirit of the Lord; Vaughan WIlliams' Rise, heart; Let all the world etc. on the organ? Was Philip Scriven (with Martin Baker) prevented from playing The Rite at Westminster Cathedral in July last year?

 

For what it's worth, I attended the first of forty-two organ recitals at the RFH from 1974-1988 on 30 October 1974 (Jean Costa) at the age of sixteen. To my mind (and ears) - and having played the organ very briefly both before and after restoration, the hall acoustics and the instrument are both vastly improved.

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... 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.

 

He was.

 

Apparently, an early test in the hall (which had no seating at that time), involving a student orchestra from the Guildhall School of Music, was ...'dire. Tympani sounded like biscuit-tins.'

 

Apparently he remembered thinking something to the effect of 'Thank God the organ was not on trial that day.'

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I completely agree with this.

 

When the organ was restored at St Albans Cathedral in 2009 (another Ralph Downes instrument), several adjustments were made to the choruses on the Great and Swell divisions, which have not undermined the integrity and vision of the original design of the instrument at all. ...

 

 

In fact, this is at least the second time that alterations have been made to the chorus-work of this instrument - the first being with the collusion of Downes himself.

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Why should he take legal counsel before making his disclosure? He came onto the platform with a BBC mike and a sheet of paper from which he read his prepared announcement. In it, he said that he and his wife were "not allowed" by the publisher to play the four-hands piano version on the organ "because of unproven violation of [the] intellectual and moral interest of the composer." I was fortunate to hear them play The Rite in Haarlem in July 2012. If the premise were continued, should the accompanists amongst us be forbidden from playing Elgar's The Spirit of the Lord; Vaughan WIlliams' Rise, heart; Let all the world etc. on the organ? Was Philip Scriven (with Martin Baker) prevented from playing The Rite at Westminster Cathedral in July last year? ...

 

 

 

 

Absolutely.

 

It sounds a most odd stipulation.

 

It reminds me of my copy of A. Herbert Brewer's Marche Heroïque, on which is a small note admonishing me that 'The Public Performance of any parodied version of this composition is strictly prohibited.' (Not that I should wish to - I actually quite like the piece and regard it as a good example of its genre.)

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Indeed.

 

Do you think, if Ralph Downes were with us today, whether he would take the opportunity to conduct revisions to the RFH organ? (given the caveats that current funding and support etc would all be in place?)

 

Personally, I have no doubts whatsoever that he would. He would take the mildly improved acoustic into account, look at the finances, look at the divisional specifications, and he would go for it. I have no doubt in my mind about this whatsoever. What he would actually do though is another matter!

 

Of course, with the creator still with us, the possibility of conducting changes wouldn't be so much of a problem. It's always more of a problem of dealing with the 'halo' and the 'legacy' of those who are not with us.

 

 

Probabbly.

 

In fact (as you are no doubt aware), he did - and with H&H in 1964). True, this was largely limited to the tonal re-balancing of all of the compound stops and most of the reeds . However, it did include a couple of new pipes (and consequent re-scaling) to two Pedal foundation ranks (the 32ft. Principal* and the Major Bass † - neither of which had ever spoken properly in the dry acoustic).

 

In addition, the 32ft. reed was revoiced - with new shallots and tongues (from Bertounèche, the firm which had supplied Cavaillé-Coll), which were unobtainable at the time of the original installation of the instrument. *

 

 

 

* E, in the 32ft. octave.

 

† C, in the 16ft. octave.

 

 

 

* p. 184; The Harrison Story. Laurence Elvin. Elvin, Lincoln: 1974 and 1977.

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We shouldn't forget that Ralph Downes was deeply influenced by the "American Classics" of G Donald Harrison, and although I forget all the details, he did want to bring Harrison over to build organs in England.

I'm fairly certain that Downside or Buckfast featured in that ambition, but of course, it never came about.

 

Considering the building, I always thought that the RFH organ was a good one trying to get out, and even if the hall remains very dry, it is certainly sounds better than before.

 

MM

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Ah ! Thank you, wolsey (re #78). I’m afraid that, neither on my radio, nor on the iPlayer, was this (reading from a written statement) visible.

 

And, thank you pcnd5584, for your further relations of Downes reactions/impressions. As far as I can recall, Buckfast was the ‘testing ground’ for some of his ideas, which eventually bore fruit in the RFH organ. It should be said that the acoustic here is reverberant.

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I'm not sure about the spelling, but I seem to recall that the original pedal reeds were voiced by Rochessen, and I have two records of the organ from the early days, of which the most signficant is the one played by Ralph Downes himself.

The programme includes the Widor Toccata, and those pedal reeds sounded absolutely awful.....rasping, rattling horrors, which we now know was partly due to the some of the cladding materials used in the construction of the hall.

It was good to hear how much that aspect of the hall and the organ has improved since the refurbishment of the hall and organ.

It's also interesting to compare how the RFH organ compared to two other well known instruments, namely those at De Doelen in Rotterdam (Marcussen?) with a similarly dry acoustic, and the Cavaille-Coll "Trocadero" organ when it was installed in a very dry "Palais de Chaillot". I have recordings of these also from around the same date, and actually, the RFH organ sounded comparable to both of them, and probably better than the Rotterdam instrument.

If these instruments demonstrate nothing else, it is the way many modern building materials don't just absorb sound-energy, but the way in which hey absorb specific frequencies; requiring VERY professional acoustic engineering, if the disasters of the past are to be avoided.

 

MM

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What on earth was going on at the end of the middle section of the Bach in Thomas Trotter's recital? To my ears it was utterly ruined by being played on a registration with far too much quint tone. The final chord had strong sevenths and ninths in it, and sounded like Ravel.

 

However, I've heard on another forum every view from "it sounded fine to me" to "OMG what a disaster".

 

What did people on here think?

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As I said on another forum, I was at the recital, and the combination (played on the swell) appeared to include the 16' Quintadena. The sound though was superior and more convincing when heard live than via the BBC.

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N.B. With the two concerts attended fresh in my mind, I have just listened to one of my recordings of Peter Hurford playing Franck's Piece Heroique, recorded at the RFH in 1983. It does come rather as a shock, relative to where we are now. With no disrespect intended to Peter Hurford, I would simply describe the organ on this recording as 'nasty'.

Just now I am listening to Germani’s 1961 EMI Bach recordings, which were a shock to me as well when first I listened to them. They grew on me, however. First, it is the perfect playing of course, with that seamless and even legato and wonderful control of tempo, phrasing and articulation. The build-up in the passacaglia is really wonderfully done. Then, the bright choruses have that fine quality that conveys the actual pitch, without the reeds drawn, even in the most brittle of combinations. There must be some sophisticated mixture design behind that. The Solo chorus apparently plays a major role in Germani’s registration concepts.

 

Furthermore, there is a balance of chorus reeds and mixturework that is rarely found in concert hall organs of that vintage. The 32-foot reed extension, of course, never sounds properly integrated, which was (if memory serves correctly) one of the major disappointments of the involvement of Rochesson.

 

The De Doelen Flentrop at Rotterdam is, I think, the case of an excellent organ in the wrong venue – at least as concerns its role as an addition to a symphony orchestra. The organ in itself is magnificent in my ears, a Flentrop at the very best they could do. But it is not a concert hall organ. With that imposing reed battery, it will be able to make some effect with an orchestra, but generally, I would expect something with a bit more body and depth than that.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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What on earth was going on at the end of the middle section of the Bach in Thomas Trotter's recital? To my ears it was utterly ruined by being played on a registration with far too much quint tone. The final chord had strong sevenths and ninths in it, and sounded like Ravel.

 

However, I've heard on another forum every view from "it sounded fine to me" to "OMG what a disaster".

 

What did people on here think?

I thought, eerie but wow.

 

I think that part of the piece is always good for a surprise, and there it was.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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We shouldn't forget that Ralph Downes was deeply influenced by the "American Classics" of G Donald Harrison, and although I forget all the details, he did want to bring Harrison over to build organs in England.

 

I'm fairly certain that Downside or Buckfast featured in that ambition, but of course, it never came about.

 

Considering the building, I always thought that the RFH organ was a good one trying to get out, and even if the hall remains very dry, it is certainly sounds better than before.

 

MM

 

 

Although, if one reads the collected letters of Ernest M. Skinner, Henry Willis III, G. Donald Harrison and a number of other well-known and influential figures in the organ world in the first half of the twentieth century, it becomes readily apparent that G. Donald Harrison had little reciprocal respect for the ideas of Ralph Downes. *

 

It was Buckfast Abbey and, whilst Donald Harrison did not come over to voice stops, Ralph Downes did indeed, in collaboration with J.W. Walker (Walter Goodey and a young Dennis Thurlow) build a most interesting instrument.

 

 

 

* The American Classic Organ. Charles Callahan. OHS. (1990).

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-American-Classic-Organ-History/dp/0913499056

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I'm not sure about the spelling, but I seem to recall that the original pedal reeds were voiced by Rochessen, and I have two records of the organ from the early days, of which the most signficant is the one played by Ralph Downes himself.

 

The programme includes the Widor Toccata, and those pedal reeds sounded absolutely awful.....rasping, rattling horrors, which we now know was partly due to the some of the cladding materials used in the construction of the hall.

 

It was good to hear how much that aspect of the hall and the organ has improved since the refurbishment of the hall and organ.

 

 

 

MM

 

I also have a copy of this recording - and another by some American organist (Dr. Lenough Anderson, I believe) who, amongst other works recorded the slowest version of the 'little' E minor Prelude and Fugue, by Bach (BWV 533) which I ever hope to hear - Vierne included. I much prefer this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1NF6X9SVTw. The organ at Weingarten is stunning - and so is the acoustic ambiance.

 

In fact, Rochesson voiced rather more than just the Pedal reeds.* I have a list somewhere, which I shall try to locate tomorrow. For the record, there is some documentary evidence (including old back-issues of The Organ, dating well before 1950), which suggest that Rochesson was not exactly highly regarded as a voicer by his peers in France.

 

 

 

* I believe that it was even intended to include the proposed Solo strings - that is, before they were consigned to history.

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Ah ! Thank you, wolsey (re #78). I’m afraid that, neither on my radio, nor on the iPlayer, was this (reading from a written statement) visible.

 

And, thank you pcnd5584, for your further relations of Downes reactions/impressions. As far as I can recall, Buckfast was the ‘testing ground’ for some of his ideas, which eventually bore fruit in the RFH organ. It should be said that the acoustic here is reverberant.

 

You are welcome.

 

I was fortunate to have met Downes whilst I was a third-year student. I contacted him and requested an interview, since I wished to ask him many questions regarding the organs of Gloucester Cathedral and the RFH, in order to provide some background information for my thesis. He was most gracious and spent a long time with me, at the RFH after a recital by (if my memory serves me correctly) Jonathan Rennert. I learned much, some of which I have never seen published.

 

I have also played the organ of Buckfast Abbey a number of times, due to the kindness of Dom Sebastian Wolff, OSB. I consider it to be a versatile and musical instrument - although it must be admitted that the excellent acoustic properties of the beautiful abbey church serve to enhance the sound. This organ also contains perhaps the most clarinet stops (of various types) which I have ever seen on one organ.

 

Buckfast was indeed the 'testing ground' for some of Downes' ideas. This instrument too was substantially altered by Walkers, in 1963 - with the collusion of and under the control of Ralph Downes.

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The organ probably holds the record for the most Quintadenas and other fifth-based stops (excluding mixtures) of any organ in Great Britain:

 

... I really don't know why Ralph Downes didn't go the 'whole hog' and go a la Notre Dame de Paris and have Tierce 6 2/3' and Septieme 4 4/7' as separate entities on the Pedal as well.

 

Quintadenas - indeed. They appear to have been a favourite tonality with Downes. The organ of Brompton Oratory also possesses a few examples.

 

I have also wondered about the lack of pedal mutations à la Cavaillé-Coll. I wonder if he felt that they would not cohere into an acceptable synthesized tone in the dry acoustic. If this is so, it is a great pity that he missed the rather more pertinent point (already alluded to) regarding the French reeds he so admired. I have long pondered why he apparently did not realise that the organs he was listening to all spoke in an ample acoustic, which gave body and warmth to the tone. In fact, I am sure that I recall reading somewhere that when our hosts came to rebuild the organ of Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, in 1972-77, initially they were surprised by the apparent coarseness of some of the major reed stops of FHW, when the pipes were placed on a voicing-machine. However, it soon became apparent that this was a deliberate ploy by FHW, in order to counteract the effect of the acoustic. Had the pipes been voiced with a more 'rounded' tone, they would have had less impact or éclat in this vast building.

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I have also played the organ of Buckfast Abbey a number of times, due to the kindness of Dom Sebastian Wolff, OSB. I consider it to be a versatile and musical instrument [...]

 

How much of a "Downes instrument" is this going to remain, I wonder? It has been in pieces for the last year (chez a local builder, I believe) and there isn't any imminent sign of it being put back. It will be reinstated once the abbey have decided what to do with it and where to put it (the west gallery is one option, apparently - the toaster speakers were up there last time I played there). I am told that there are differing opinions about what should be done, but at least one of these involves substantial alterations to the instrument. I am not at all sure that there is any commitment to keep the organ "as is".

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I commented on Trotter’s strange choice of registration for the conclusion of the Bach Adagio (Nick Bennett #88) in #29.

 

Despite all my strictures, my (radio/iPlayer) impression of the organ is that it now sounds unified and more coherently powerful- good, even, if not better than good. When I first heard it, in the 60s, I did, indeed, think it ‘clattery’- although, also, strangely impressive, in that previously I’d not heard anything like it.

 

I have heard a description of the relatively new Nicholson at Llandaff Cathedral, when on ‘full throttle’, as a ‘Wall of Sound’. Would those who have had the fortune to hear the RFH instrument live describe this in similar terms ?

 

And, does anyone know if Downes actually liked Tubas ? I cannot find many in organs he designed. (I’m prepared to be instantly corrected, by those with superior knowledge- which is why I ask.)

 

[The Barbican Hall, designed and built some 30 years later than the RFH, is also acoustically less than perfect. Perhaps, fortunately (!), it doesn’t have a pipe organ.]

 

With orchestral concerts (in the RFH) in mind, further acoustic enhancements should be on the cards- notwithstanding the fact that those cards will not be dealt for a very long time. There is an obvious desirability for even greater bloom, in this regard. With an increased (future) knowledge of reflective and reverberance-enhancing materials and the investigation of the possibility of cavity creation, for increased resonance, these should be pencilled in now.

 

I’m not suggesting the complete re-building of the Hall, but we will know what to do and how to achieve it even better, in the future- whenever that might be.

 

Tangentially: the ‘outreach’ programmes and events, for young people and others, in and around the RFH sound fascinating. I truly hope they have beneficial results. In the next two decades, might one measure for their acclamation as a success be if they ‘produce’, e.g., an organ scholar at King’s ?

 

[£1.3M is just over one month’s remuneration for certain footballers. This was the amount raised by public appeal. Perhaps we should be engaged in outreach to the sporting world.]

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Off Topic: #99 [The Barbican Hall, designed and built some 30 years later than the RFH, is also acoustically less than perfect. Perhaps, fortunately (!), it doesn’t have a pipe organ.]

 

But it was going to. Simon Preston the 'authorised advisor' approached Grant Degens and Bradbeer and a proposal for a 35 stop 3M+P with two consoles was put forward. The details are in Forsyth-Grant's book 'Twenty-One Years of Organ Building' page 200.

PJW

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