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MusingMuso

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This is a bit like a photographer asking what is the next lens he should buy - to which the answer is, "What do you want to shoot?"

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OK, here we go........

 

Which is the best cathedral organ in the UK? :blink:

 

MM

 

Coventry, Chichester, Truro - in that order

 

JS

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Lincoln, Southwark....& Coventry.

 

A

 

PS NOT Wells!

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No has said St Mary's Episcopal Edinburgh - but yet Truro gets a mention. Surely Edinburgh can boast having one of the most magnificent Neo-Gothic church buildings in Britain.

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Well, I think that since Salisbury is completely incapable of making an unmusical sound, and incapable of making a bumpy crescendo even with a toddler jabbing at the pistons, it has to be my winner. It's massively successful as a musical instrument from Mozart to jazz purely because it aims simply to be just a very musical instrument, and not representative of anything in particular or aiming specifically to be all-embracing. It is what it is, and it does that one thing to perfection. As I sometimes drone on, give a musician a musical instrument and he or she will make music on it, and who gives a monkeys if Franck or Rheinberger don't sound quite absolutely exactly right. It all sounds musical. And, who cares if you can't hear it at the back. Get there earlier and sit at the front.

 

Counting against it is a slightly odd Choir organ, much of which is a later addition; I don't really know what it's for, and I don't like it's winding one bit. I suppose if I were accompanying a smaller choir than the one I usually take there (which is 45-strong) then I would suddenly see the point of it.

 

Peterborough comes close, for me. I even like the later Solo stuff like the Quintaton. Bristol oozes quality but not many will have experienced it working as well as it did shortly after the 1992 work by our hosts. Anyone who played it then wouldn't have had a word to say against the action. Truro is also a serious contender but I found too much fiddling and faffing and leaping about necessary to render the sort of effects which Salisbury makes a walk in the park. This is partly due to the number of enclosed divisions. With very considerable respect to our hosts, I do not think the console is their finest hour; I have a dislike for looking at expanses of plain-sawn oak made up from very wide planks (I get the same sensation of G-plan overload at Chichester), and I'm not a fan of that style of piston either when (presumably) there would have been original Willis ones which could have been copied. I am aware that the Salisbury console has altered very significantly, but it feels like an evolution rather than renewal, and there is enough variation in the grains around the console to make it look and feel more distinguished than pretty much anything else I have ever encountered.

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Well, I think that since Salisbury is completely incapable of making an unmusical sound, and incapable of making a bumpy crescendo even with a toddler jabbing at the pistons, it has to be my winner. It's massively successful as a musical instrument from Mozart to jazz purely because it aims simply to be just a very musical instrument, and not representative of anything in particular or aiming specifically to be all-embracing. It is what it is, and it does that one thing to perfection. As I sometimes drone on, give a musician a musical instrument and he or she will make music on it, and who gives a monkeys if Franck or Rheinberger don't sound quite absolutely exactly right. It all sounds musical. And, who cares if you can't hear it at the back. Get there earlier and sit at the front.

 

Counting against it is a slightly odd Choir organ, much of which is a later addition; I don't really know what it's for, and I don't like it's winding one bit. I suppose if I were accompanying a smaller choir than the one I usually take there (which is 45-strong) then I would suddenly see the point of it.

 

Peterborough comes close, for me. I even like the later Solo stuff like the Quintaton. Bristol oozes quality but not many will have experienced it working as well as it did shortly after the 1992 work by our hosts. Anyone who played it then wouldn't have had a word to say against the action. Truro is also a serious contender but I found too much fiddling and faffing and leaping about necessary to render the sort of effects which Salisbury makes a walk in the park. This is partly due to the number of enclosed divisions. With very considerable respect to our hosts, I do not think the console is their finest hour; I have a dislike for looking at expanses of plain-sawn oak made up from very wide planks (I get the same sensation of G-plan overload at Chichester), and I'm not a fan of that style of piston either when (presumably) there would have been original Willis ones which could have been copied. I am aware that the Salisbury console has altered very significantly, but it feels like an evolution rather than renewal, and there is enough variation in the grains around the console to make it look and feel more distinguished than pretty much anything else I have ever encountered.

 

They say that you don't need to play a Father Willis organ, it plays itself, which is much the same as you are saying about Salisbury. Truro is much the same - perhaps its size makes it a little harder to handle, although it's amazing that it gets so much out of so little. I like Canterbury a lot, although it's a shame it was pruned so much - but what could one do withn a site like that?

 

I played Peterborough for a wedding about 35 years ago and the chief thing I remember about it was the (then) amazing range of unison tone on the Great - 32, three 16s, Phonon, three Opens, Geigen, big flute, little flute, dulciana. Most excessive, I suppose, but fun when it was there. I'm not, in a general way, a great Hill fan, but I think Chester is extremely fine, and so is Cork. Allan Wicks, at a seminar at Bristol University, was asked (by a non-organist) what he thought was the finest organ in the country and said, 'Chester Cathedral'. At the time, it probably came very close to what one expected of a cathedral organ, and I think it's still exceptional in its way.

 

I knew Bristol quite well as a student in the seventies. A real aristocrat when it came to accompaniment - a dark, rich pleno and some beautiful soft stuff. Clifford Harker used to say that it was a proper church organ, while Redcliffe was more of a recital instrument, and I think he had a point. The Cathedral was perfect for seamless accompaniments, whereas Redcliffe needed a lot more care. Armagh CofI Cathedral, heard in the nave, was rather similar to Bristol and hasn't lost any of its old character in the very successful pepping up done by Wells-Kennedy some years back. Choral Evensong at Bristol around the middle of the month when there was plenty of smiting in the psalms was well worth the trot down the hill.

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OK, here we go........

 

Which is the best cathedral organ in the UK? :blink:

 

MM

 

Gloucester, St Chad's Birmingham, Hereford, Coventry, Truro, Liverpool (both - well, why not!?)

 

But each to its own job - in other words I wouldn't want to play choral evensong on St Chad's, but then registering some repertoire on Hereford can be challenging with the wonderful, but gentle swell division. The glory of Gloucester has to be the building and its position within it. And the understanding that it's not trying to be a H&H or Willis-style cathedral organ.

P

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Coventry, Southwark and Gloucester along with St Paul's for its sheer presence and amazing range of sounds from the "Firing Squad" (love that description elsewhere on here!) through the Tubas, the wonderful Swell organ to the beautiful strings and flutes.

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Well, I wouldn't include Chichester in a short list, I don't think - St Paul's would be at the top - as someone has said - presence, what Dearnley called "playing the buildings," the range of sounds and timbres and not just the big reeds. Truro is extraordinary - even well down the nave it has incredible presence - (sorry to use that word a second time). I just cannot help thinking that adding a Willis style quiet Contra Posaune 32 (just like the ones at Salisbury and in the chancel at St Paul's) would have added something worth having. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being absolutely beyond the pale, how great a sin would it have been if one had been added at the last rebuild? And if it would have been such a shocking thing to do, why would this have been so much worse than adding a pedal divide or bringing the Tuba forward?

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On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being absolutely beyond the pale, how great a sin would it have been if one had been added at the last rebuild? And if it would have been such a shocking thing to do, why would this have been so much worse than adding a pedal divide or bringing the Tuba forward?

 

Because the only logical thing to do would be to extend it from the Ophicleide, and that kind of rules out "quiet"...

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Because the only logical thing to do would be to extend it from the Ophicleide, and that kind of rules out "quiet"...

Ooh Gosh, no - that's not at all what I had in mind - the CP at St Paul's is much more gentle than the Ophicleide.

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Ooh Gosh, no - that's not at all what I had in mind - the CP at St Paul's is much more gentle than the Ophicleide.

 

Well, you could always add a Digital Rank <_<

 

Or just pay a lorry driver to sit outside with his engine at 1,496.3 revs on receipt of a text message.

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My own choice would have to be influenced by certain things; not just the quality of the sound an organ makes.

 

So many cathedral organs have evolved over a considerable period of time, but a few had tonal integrity right from the start, and remain more or less as they were fashioned.

 

Then consider build-quality and longevity.

 

Then take into consideration the job the organ has to do, and how well it does it.

 

Now if it were just a tonal decision, my personal favourites would have to include Chester, Coventry, Liverpool, Southwark, Salisbury, St Paul's and Blackburn; not least because there are many I have not heard, such as Truro, Chelmsford, Winchester etc.

 

Taking the first seven on my favourites list, which would be the best in terms of quality of contruction. I suspect that most of them are well made since Wood of Huddersfield replaced the windchests at Blackburn, so perhaps that approach doesn't help very much.

 

When it comes to doing the job of accompanying choirs and leading congregational singing, I find the following:-

 

Chester lacks subtlety, but it is a magnificent instrument nontheless.

 

Coventry does all things rather well.

 

Liverpool, considering the date when it was built, is quite inspired on all counts.

 

Southwark has a few placement problems, and that tends to diminish it in terms of choral accompaniment.

 

Salisbury is superb at close range, but it soon dies a death down the nave. Still, it is the perfect accompaniment instrument.

 

St Paul's is magnificent, as it should be in that building, but the wide spacing of divisions has an effect.

 

Even after the extra manual and pipework, plus the sub-octave couplers and digital stops, Blackburn still falls short as an accompaniment instrument. As a pure recital instrument, it is probably without peer for certain styles of music.

 

If I am forced to makea choice, I would tend to go for Liverpool, which has astounding integrity on all counts.

 

Definitely Liverpool for me.

 

MM

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OK, here we go........

 

Which is the best cathedral organ in the UK? <_<

 

MM

 

 

Totally subjective. You are quite right in your assumption that this innocent little question will merely serve the point of awakening prejudices and egos from their torpor.

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Totally subjective. You are quite right in your assumption that this innocent little question will merely serve the point of awakening prejudices and egos from their torpor.

 

 

Yes, but if it does it in a good-humoured way, there's no harm and we might learn a few things we didn't know before.

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I assume that all the contributors to this thread have actually played all the cathedral organs in the UK?

 

 

=========================

 

Is that terribly important?

 

I was the first to admit that I haven't even heard some of them, and obviously, those who live in the North will have had far less exposure to those organs in the South and vice versa. Even though I am well travelled and have lived in many regions, I have still to hear Chelmsford, Chichester, Rochester, Truro, Winchester, St David's, Llandaff, St Asaph's, anything in Birmingham and possibly a majority of the RC instruments.

 

I don't think it is entirely subjective, because we all should have trained ears, and with a little bit of scratching about, it is usually not very difficult to find out if an organ does the accompaniment job well, or whether it is likely to collapse under its own weight within a decade of being built.

 

Tonally, the task of deciding which is best is not that difficult, surely?

 

Blackburn is supreme as a neo-classical/eclectic instrument. Liverpool scores highly in all areas, but tonally, it is utterly magnificent, even though this is not my preferred style of instrument. I don't hear anyone saying bad things about Salisbury or Hereford, which are both fabulous examples of the Willis sound.

 

Another instrument with great musical integrity has to be the organ of Clifton RC cathedral, but whether or not it measures up to all the criteria, I do not know.

 

Most people seem to agree that Coventry is a superb instrument.

 

If, on the otehr hand, one were to mention the organ of York Minster, it could only be in the context of constant evolution. In my own lifetime it has changed three times, (I think), and even if it is a bit of a mix-and-match instrument, it remains one of my personal favourites because it has real colour and character. That is, without doubt, a subjective response, but one that is shared by many who have played the instrument and accompanied choirs on it. The more objective approach might result in this splendid organ being dismissed as a hotch-potch of periods and styles.....we have to strike a balance.

 

MM

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