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Recitals, Rochester Cathedral & some general observations.


ples
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Anyone who read my original introductory post a couple of months ago might remember that when I first posted I was on a photography tour of several cathedrals in the West of England. Although I went because I wanted to see a part of the country I was not familiar with and wanted to photograph several cathedrals I had read about but never visited it was actually this forum, at least in part, that increased my interest in the cathedrals in question because 3 of them (Gloucester, Worcester and to a lesser extent Hereford) seem to be mentioned on here more than pretty much every other cathedral added together.

 

I am pleased to say that although I visited during the day for the purposes of photography I did get to hear all three organs being played. The pictures from the trip have been online for some time at Flickr now and naturally each cathedral visited generated a picture or two of the organs there which have been added to an organ group. I noticed this morning though that it was none of these which had generated the first comment from a member of the public but the organ at Rochester Cathedral taken some months back and it reminded me of a few things I had thought about asking on here.

 

Back in March I stopped off at Rochester for a recital by Scott Farrell. I live in Norwich but frequently travel to Kent as I have family and friends in Ashford. The route home on a Sunday afternoon / evening takes me right past Rochester and, knowing that there was a recital on I decided to stop by, despite knowing nothing about the organist himself (other than that he is the DoM of the cathedral in question) or anything about what he intended to play. In fact, he plays the organ at Newcastle on a recording from there (Priory?) which was not highly regarded on a previous thread on here so I didn't know what to expect. Well I guess, not being a muscian, I am not qualified to judge whether the recital was good musically but I do feel qualified to say whether I enjoyed it and I thought it was outstanding. It was undoubtedly the best organ recital I have heard and I gave everything I had (bar the change for the tunnel!) to the collection at the end as a small token of my appreciation. What I was disappointed with, however, was the paltry attendance. I was also a little disappointed that the cathedral hadn't managed to find anyone to introduce the recital leaving the poor man himself to do his own introduction in the quire and then scurry off up to the organ loft and begin playing before the silence lasted too long.

 

So I guess my first question is whether this kind of thing is fairly normal practice in a cathedral recital? And what about the paltry attendance? It seemed a great shame that so few people were there to hear such a good recital. The previous weekend I went to the inaugural recital of the new organ at St Edmundsbury Cathedral by Nicholas Kynaston, a performer whose work I had many recordings of as a child. It was a great recital which I thoroughly enjoyed but I enjoyed the recital at Rochester even more. But Nicholas Kynaston was playing to a full nave at St Edmondsbury whereas Scott Farrell would have been lucky if he'd had 50 people at Rochester. It didn't seem fair somehow.

 

Obviously Nicholas Kynaston is a big name who has been around for many years and the recital was a special one in that it was the first on the new organ so doubtless it would attract a higher than normal turn out but even so I still felt bad for the performer at Rochester that so few turned up to hear him play. I went to a recital there as kid to hear Barry Ferguson play "The Widor". I was sat about half way back in the nave with several hundred people between me and the organ. This time I was sat as one of a few people in a sparsely populated quire - is that just the difference that 20 years makes?

 

Of course, one of the things which made the recital so impressive to me was the organ itself which, for all the effort of H&H to my uneducated ears couldn't match the instrument at Rochester. How much of that is the instrument and how much is the building though is hard to say - at St Edmundsbury there was an immense amount of masonry between the organ and me whereas the organ at Rochester seems to be perfectly positioned to to speak clearly throughout the cathedral which brings me to one last point on which I am interested in the opinions of the good folks here.....

 

Although I like gentle pieces and value subtlety (even if I'm not sure how to spell it!) the organ at Rochester is able to shake the entire cathedral to its foundations when opened up which is quite breathtaking when used sparingly. I was treated to a brief show of similar fireworks from Gloucester whilst there as well (and have a number of recordings of it flexing its muscles which never fail to make the hairs on my neck stand on end when I hear it). I'm pretty sure NK rounded off the recital at St Ed's on full organ but although impressive didn't fill the cathedral with anything like the same sound it kind of brought home to me that every cathedral and instrument is different - and perhaps Gloucester is known for being extremely powerful? I don't know the answer to that but I do know that Gloucester seems to be the subject of much nashing of teeth from organists on this forum whereas I, as a non-musician, think it sounds fantastic. Why the difference ?

 

Much to discuss, input please. :blink:

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and perhaps Gloucester is known for being extremely powerful? I don't know the answer to that but I do know that Gloucester seems to be the subject of much nashing of teeth from organists on this forum whereas I, as a non-musician, think it sounds fantastic. Why the difference ?

 

Much to discuss, input please. :D

You don't carry any baggage. Gloucester's not particularly powerful but is sighted very effectively, and hence doesn't need to be that loud. The roof also acts as a fabulous soundboard to carry the sound around the building. My ears give me doubts over a lot of things that others rave about which doesn't necessarily make either view right or wrong but does give me the impression of 'latest new toy' or sometimes 'emperor's new clothes'.

 

AJS

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Although I like gentle pieces and value subtlety (even if I'm not sure how to spell it!) the organ at Rochester is able to shake the entire cathedral to its foundations when opened up which is quite breathtaking when used sparingly. I was treated to a brief show of similar fireworks from Gloucester whilst there as well (and have a number of recordings of it flexing its muscles which never fail to make the hairs on my neck stand on end when I hear it). I'm pretty sure NK rounded off the recital at St Ed's on full organ but although impressive didn't fill the cathedral with anything like the same sound it kind of brought home to me that every cathedral and instrument is different - and perhaps Gloucester is known for being extremely powerful? I don't know the answer to that but I do know that Gloucester seems to be the subject of much nashing of teeth from organists on this forum whereas I, as a non-musician, think it sounds fantastic. Why the difference ?

 

Much to discuss, input please. :P

 

I suspect the answer lies in the buildings and in the physical disposition of each instrument. That at Saint Edmundsbury (as you will know) is situated in a loft, roughly at triforium height, extending to the roof, in the angle formed between the North Transept and the Quire. Obviously, Gloucester is sited on the Pulpitum, on the central axis of the cathedral. In addtition, as far as I can remember, Saint Edmundsbury Cathedral is not particularly resonant. Gloucester is. In fact, I regard Gloucester as having the perfect acoustic for organ music. This will also enhance the sound - and to an exent, fill-out the tonal 'thinness' of some of the chorus reeds. There is also a fairly long 'decay', on releasing a chord on the full organ (depending on the time of year, the ambient temperature and whether or not the Nave seating is in place, or stacked in the aisles). The echo alone probably goes a long way to increasing the aural enjoyment of the organ of Gloucester Cathedral.

 

Your comment regarding your 'non-musician' status is interesting. Apparently (it has to be admitted, according to Ralph Downes), the old organ (H&H, 1921) was not highly regarded by non-musicians. It was described as 'oppressive'.

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