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MusingMuso

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

 

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

 

I've never been in Blackburn Cathedral and I've never heard Bradford or Wakefield (and I like Comptons). I played the Allen at Chichester but I've never heard the pipe organ. Or St. David's or Llandaff, Birmingham, Oxford or Lichfield. I've never heard Coventry really put through its paces. And there are a good few cathedral organs that aren't the same now as they were when I played them.

 

I have a rather pointless claim to fame in that I am the only person to have given recitals in all 31 cathedrals of the Church of Ireland, and likely to remain so given that Achonry Cathedral is no longer in use. A few of those have had a change of organ since then, too, including replacement of toasters at Waterford and Raphoe (the latter a particularly nasty Hammond).

 

When visiting Liverpool, I think it's wise to experience the RC cathedral organ first, because one would then think it magnificent. The Anglican cathedral organ is totally amazing and I don't think there's anything like it, although St. John the Divine, New York City (a much smaller instrument) gave me a similar thrill.

 

No one (I think) has mentioned Westminster Cathedral yet. Am I a total Philistine in not rating it very highly? It's not the organ so much as the acoustic. Close to, I find it bluff verging on coarse (not untypical of Henry III) and at a distance, blurred and indistinct. It sounds pretty fine in the galleries at the side of the nave, but one doesn't normally hear it from there. I feel guilty about feeling this way and one day maybe I shall learn better.

 

I agree about York.

 

I had a salutary experience at Norwich a few years ago. I had thought it prone to be rather unsubtle, but in the course of directing a visiting choir for a week, we sang one Evensong with David Dunnett at the organ (our accompanist had to make a flying visit back to Canada to receive an honorary FRCCO) and it sounded fabulous. I suppose the effect of a lot of organs depends on the player to some extent.

 

I knew Clifton Cathedral organ quite well as a student, but didn't hear it again until more than twenty years later, when it sounded a good deal more mellow than I remembered it. Has Time laid her gentle hand on it, has it been revoiced, or was I getting old?

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The best organ might not be my favourite. I suppose the best one is the one that can do everything that's asked of it in the most effective way. So choral accompaniment, recital and effective congregational accompaniment and we can add integrity after that. So on that basis,

 

Coventry

Peterborough

Liverpool Met

Chester

 

I have soft spots for Salisbury, Truro, Bristol, Wakefield, Blackburn, Gloucester & Southwark. Liverpool Anglican does next to nothing for me, but in that building I'm not sure anything would.

 

AJS

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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

 

Overall, I think York is a bit of a mish-mash, albeit a very high quality mish-mash. Nevertheless, on the DVD from there, JSW demonstrates the organ, going through all the stages of its evolution, and the Hill pipework is absolutely glorious.

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David's point about the player and instrument is well made, and David Dunnett is one who can make the Norwich organ sound much better than it should. Francis Jackson is able to make (almost) any instrument sound extraordinary, and once told me that, after York Minster, Bristol was his favourite cathedral instrument.

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Using the criteria of service accompaniment being the No.1 role, then Salisbury is my favourite, followed by Peterborough, then Truro, then Hereford. Lichfield would figure on this list if it wasn't so sharp! Given all of this is subjective and, as the topic title suggests, a bit of fun too, I don't think it matters whether one has not heard/played every cathedral organ in the country.

 

What about least favourites (without saying nasty things about organ builders!!!)....? For me, Norwich (bland and difficult to manage), Gloucester (considering the accompaniment role as paramount), St Albans, Derby (too far from the choir) and, if we can include organs that no longer exist, Chelmsford and Worcester. Finally, Guildford does little for me!

 

I have heard or played all the above at some point down the years!

 

Richard

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What about least favourites (without saying nasty things about organ builders!!!)....? For me, Norwich (bland and difficult to manage), Gloucester (considering the accompaniment role as paramount), St Albans, Derby (too far from the choir) and, if we can include organs that no longer exist, Chelmsford and Worcester. Finally, Guildford does little for me!

 

Now that's the bit I've been secretly waiting for. I didn't find Norwich so very terrible - Aston in F has never sounded finer, and it did a mean Elgar Spirit of the Lord. You absolutely must try St Albans post-revamp if you haven't already because I think you will find it a very considerably different instrument. In its new form it was a contender for my top five.

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I have had epiphonal moments at Norwich. It really must depend on who's playing it. Have not experienced St Albans post rebuild, so it looks like I ought to.

 

AJS

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Using the criteria of service accompaniment being the No.1 role, then Salisbury is my favourite, followed by Peterborough, then Truro, then Hereford. Lichfield would figure on this list if it wasn't so sharp! Given all of this is subjective and, as the topic title suggests, a bit of fun too, I don't think it matters whether one has not heard/played every cathedral organ in the country.

 

What about least favourites (without saying nasty things about organ builders!!!)....? For me, Norwich (bland and difficult to manage), Gloucester (considering the accompaniment role as paramount), St Albans, Derby (too far from the choir) and, if we can include organs that no longer exist, Chelmsford and Worcester. Finally, Guildford does little for me!

 

I have heard or played all the above at some point down the years!

 

Richard

 

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

 

 

I think my least favourite instrument in almost any cathedral, has to be Bradford, but not because it is a poor organ.

 

The trouble is, the poor thing huddles in a chamber, (of generous proportions), in the chancel, and although it sounds splendid at the console opposite, it just doesn't get down the nave at all. This fact was recognised even when the organ was re-built 50 odd years ago, and for this reason, the rather charming Nave Organ, (on stilts), was placed at the back, with a very attractive modern case by Edward Maufe. (Complete with a low-pressure chamade).

 

The cathedral "management," (I use the word loosely), decided that the Nave Organ was in the way, and pushed through plans to have an exhibition space costing a fortune and serving no particular purpose. Thus, the Nave Organ was removed to a storage location, (has it ever been sold?), and a few loudspeakers and a digitally sampled Bradford System replaced it.

 

Sadly, whatever happens in the future, there is no getting away from the fact that the old part of the cathedral is an old wool-church with a dire acoustic, and even the very spacious, attractive and resonant Edward Maufe designed chancel, has little impact beyond the chancel-steps.

 

MM

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Years ago I did a week at Norwich and, after an initial moment of panic, found the organ straightforward enough. In fact I rather liked it. I don't think it's changed since.

 

I know Salisbury hardly at all. I've only heard a live service there once, but it left me with little regard for the organ as an accompanimental instrument. The Great sounded far too fat and lugubrious, with the diapason (no.2, I assume) threatening to drown the choir and completely obliterating their consonants in the psalms, which sort of defeats the object of the exercise. Perhaps it was just the way it was used. Looking at the spec there ought to be enough softer stuff there to accompany effectively, but I'm very much on the fence with this one. Apologies if the resident crew read this, but that's how it was.

 

Again years ago, I was also unimpressed with Winchester. Playing the organ felt like taking a lumbering elephant for a walk and I had the same impression on listening to the choir's recent (and mightily enjoyable) Howells CD. I'm not sure whether to blame H&H or Hele's. The sound makes me think of the latter - but I admit I'm biased.

 

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Exeter. This is a superb accompanimental instrument for all the reasons Salisbury and Ely are not: you can use so much of it - even occasionally approaching full organ - without drowning the choir. It's a pity the Solo division faces the wrong way though.

 

One which is surely equally adept at both accompaniment and repertoire is the new Tickell at Worcester. For sheer versatility this one must rank very high, even if it is pipped at the post on any individual aspect by other instruments.

 

Coventry, similarly and superbly - but it would be a damn sight better if it had a proper Solo division. This is why, for me, its soul-mate at St George's, Windsor scores better - but it's not a cathedral, so is disqualified.

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Francis Jackson ... once told me that, after York Minster, Bristol was his favourite cathedral instrument.

Bristol is altogether superb - knocks spots off that lugubrious H&H down the road.

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Bristol is altogether superb - knocks spots off that lugubrious H&H down the road.

 

 

We're back to how the beast is played - there's nothing lugubrious about Redcliffe in the right hands.

 

The Cathedral lost its Vox Humana in about 1971 in favour of a Sifflet, but it's back again now so we can both be happy. :D

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How about:

 

Best - St Chad's RC, Birmingham

Second best - York

Third best - Derby (west end)

 

?

 

Please tell me you are joking....

 

I know that beauty is in the ear ( in this case) of the beholder, but Birmingham and Derby.... ?

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Lincoln, Southwark....& Coventry.

 

A

 

PS NOT Wells!

 

Indeed. I had to play it again a couple of weekends ago for Choral Evensong, with absolutely no practice time (for Brahms' How lovely and a canticle setting which I was sightreading). Oh yes, in addition, the organist for the evening concert had taken the last available divisional channel and asked me not to alter the settings. Well, fair enough, but since I was only given access to the instrument a few minutes before the full practice in the stalls, all I could do was try one or two of the other channels - oly to discover that on one (locked) channel, every G.O. or Swell piston pressed drew full Pedal. Hmmm. Really useful.

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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.

Well, yes it has - but I thought we were rating the organs, not the buildings?

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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.

 

I would agree - apart from the mixtures, which I hate. Interestingly, I once played it when all the chorus reeds were 'off', due to some re-leathering of the high pressure reservoirs. Under these conditions, I found it considerably less impressive. I would also agree regarding the Choir Organ. The lack of enclosure renders most of it too loud for the daily service accompaniment - particularly the Trumpet. There is also considerable duplication amongst the flutes - and not just in nomenclature, either.

 

 

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.

 

I also agree regarding Bristol, including the action work. I was lucky enough to have played it in the early 1990s. Peterborough - I would dearly like to play this instrument. I have always regarded it (on paper) as superb.

 

However, I am slightly puzzled by your comments regarding the Truro console. I played on the 'old' (1963) console several times. As far as I am aware, the piston heads were copied (for the additional units). They certainly look the same as they did, prior to 1990. I am more offended by the piston selector panel. I find this both obtrusive and ugly.

 

The Chichester console - I am not quite sure what you mean. I rather like this (apart from the slightly harmonium-feel of the Nave Organ stops in a row above the Solo clavier). It has, to my mind, a simple elegance. Out of interest, what is G-plan furniture supposed to look like?

 

I agree with your comments about Truro. The lack of a second expressive division results in a lot of fuss and bother - which is not really worth the effort. In addition, I find the Pedal Ophiclede to be one of the most supremely useless Pedal reeds I have encountered. It only balances absolutely full organ (and annihilates anything less). On a meagre seven-stop Pedal Organ, it is a pity that Willis could not have provided something of more general utility.

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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?

 

David Briggs told me that they did consider it - but in the end, there was a unanimous decision that this was one cathedral organ which simply did not need such a stop.

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[However, I am slightly puzzled by your comments regarding the Truro console. I played on the 'old' (1963) console several times. As far as I am aware, the piston heads were copied (for the additional units). They certainly look the same as they did, prior to 1990. I am more offended by the piston selector panel. I find this both obtrusive and ugly.

 

The Truro pistons appeared to me to be pretty much the standard KA fayre of the era.

 

To me, quarter sawn timber looks vastly better - or plain sawn in very small planks, as at Salisbury. Plain sawn in very wide planks looks to me like cladding rather than furniture and I dislike its utilitarian appearance. Go to Google Images and compare a few console grains if you don't see what I mean.

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

 

 

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

 

 

MM

 

Chester - I would have to disagree, here, MM. This organ has been messed-around with more that most cathedral organs. It has, as far as I am concerned, lost its Hill pedigree (and no, I have not forgotten Whiteley or Gray and Davison).

 

Salisbury. Well, I have accompanied choirs on this instrument many times. It is good - but it is really only the Swell Organ, the quietest flutes on the Choir Organ and some of the Solo (enclosed) ranks which can be uesd in the accompaniment of the average choir, here. (oh, with Pedal to balance, naturally). The rest is somewhat too loud. The G.O. Stopped Diapason can be used with discretion. However, I recall a previous (and extremely competent) organ scholar telling me that the G.O. was almost always used as a coupling clavier, to support the admittedly slender resources of the cathedral choir (in so far as the back row in concerned).

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I have had epiphonal moments at Norwich. It really must depend on who's playing it. Have not experienced St Albans post rebuild, so it looks like I ought to.

 

AJS

 

I once knew an organist who had a slightly different kind of 'Epiphany' at Norwich. During the course of accompanying the Paslms for the day, he managed (inadvertently) to tranfer everything off the lowest claver.

 

Apparently, he pressed General Cancel, swore quietly but vehemently - then re-joined the choir a few verses later, once he had discovered the new location of each division.

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Please tell me you are joking....

 

I know that beauty is in the ear ( in this case) of the beholder, but Birmingham and Derby.... ?

 

Will explain in due course....poorly small children occupying me at the moment.

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.... Again years ago, I was also unimpressed with Winchester. Playing the organ felt like taking a lumbering elephant for a walk and I had the same impression on listening to the choir's recent (and mightily enjoyable) Howells CD. I'm not sure whether to blame H&H or Hele's. The sound makes me think of the latter - but I admit I'm biased.

 

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Exeter. This is a superb accompanimental instrument for all the reasons Salisbury and Ely are not: you can use so much of it - even occasionally approaching full organ - without drowning the choir. It's a pity the Solo division faces the wrong way though. ....

Winchester - I agree heartily. Vox, I know you are biased, but I think that this one is probably Harrisons' fault. In any case, they either eradicated or revoiced most of the Hele ranks - apart from the enormous 32ft. reed.

 

Exeter - I was about to mention this. I agree whoeheartedly. It is a superb accompanimental organ - every department is useful. The console is utterly comfortable - especially the pedal-board.

 

I too wish that someone would swap the Solo and Choir soundboards - and re-instate the old Choir upperwork, instead of that pointless Larigot (there is a Nazard and a quiet 16ft Lieblich Bourdon - and an 'Octaves Alone', if you absolutely must to have a Larigot). The Clarinet is also a touch too loud. The rest is superb - apart from the G.O. four-rank Mixture, which should be replaced. It is very 'quinty' and imparts neither clarity nor brilliance to the chorus.

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Bristol is altogether superb - knocks spots off that lugubrious H&H down the road.

 

Hear! Hear!

 

Absolutely. Bristol is a fantastic instrument - a refreshing change from the usual Willis or H&H which so often occupies the vaults of Engilsh cathedrals.

 

I still find it difficult to understand how it can cost in excess of £800,000 simply to restore the other instrument to which you alluded - I know that it is a big organ, but even so....

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The Truro pistons appeared to me to be pretty much the standard KA fayre of the era.

 

 

Not as far as I know - but I may be wrong. It would not be the first time, I shall make enquiries.

 

To me, quarter sawn timber looks vastly better - or plain sawn in very small planks, as at Salisbury. Plain sawn in very wide planks looks to me like cladding rather than furniture and I dislike its utilitarian appearance. Go to Google Images and compare a few console grains if you don't see what I mean.

 

Yes, but where is this panelling/cladding at Chichester? Are you referring to the stop jambs, the casework (of the console) or some other part of the instrument?

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Winchester - I agree heartily. Vox, I know you are biased, but I think that this one is porbably Harrisons' fault. In any case, they either eradicated or revoiced most of the Hele ranks - apart from the enormous 32ft. reed.

 

Exeter - I was about to mention this. I agree whoeheartedly. It is a superb accompanimental organ - every department is useful. The console is utterly comfortable - especially the pedal-board.

 

Winchester is terribly dull.

 

I found (in a residential week) that I really didn't enjoy Exeter. The winding (esp to the Choir) I found just too flaky. The rest of it, for me, failed to deliver the character which the case promised, and left me disappointed.

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