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Mark Taylor

HMV (EMI) Great Cathedral Organ Series

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A whole CD for a tiny amount of documentation is a bit of a waste. I'd have thought they might have included the front covers of the LPs as well as the specs from the backs, especially as some of them were missed out because there are less CDs than LPs. The essay about the series is decent enough (much less tolerant of unstylish playing of older music than this board seems to be, though), but surely it wouldn't have been that hard to prepare fuller notes.

 

Paul

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

 

Well it doesn't read like fatuous gas-bagging to me!

 

On the contrary, it comes straight from the heart, and I found myself nodding with approval at many of the observations.

 

I never did actually hear or own ALL the Great Cathedral series, but I have quite a few stacked away.

 

Certainly, there were some gigantic performers around in those days, and one must surely envy the time when being an organist had a certain prestige in the eye of a public who had grown up through the era of cathedral, church and theatre organ playing; backed up by regular celebrity broadcasts on the radio. Little did I know at the time that this was really the end of an era.

 

I think that the York recording was always my favourite, and it still is, a frightening 45 years later. The Willan interpretation still comes up in conversation to-day, and I have never heard anything other than the fact that everyone regards this as the perfect performance of a quite tricky work.

 

I love the description of the organ of Westminster Cathedral....."rock crushing." :)

That's just marvellously accurate in just two words.

 

Chester.....erm.....I don't think it had been re-built when the recording was made, but I may be wrong. I have a recording of the old organ as was, played by John Sanders (I think), and it was at the time when the old Hill electric action was still in use. It's an instrument which needs to be heard in the flesh, because the positioning of the instrument and some of the pedal stops, tends to make it a difficult one to record. Personally, I love the instrument the way it is, but recognise that it isn't the most subtle of accompaniment instruments.

 

Coventry was a bit disappointing I felt, except for the Walond, which delighted me at the time.

 

All the other comments I find myself in agreement with, and then we come to Germani.

 

I've said before, and will happily repeat the impact that Germani had on me as a 15 year old.

 

How many organists could play Reger with such power and musical conviction, that it totally "blew away" a kid that age?

 

I've loved Reger's music ever since, (most of it anyway), but for whatever reason, I seldom hear his music played well in the UK. There seems to be something of a mental barrier for so many English organists/listeners, but that isn't the case in Germany, Holland and America, where great performances are quite normal.

 

I know that when I learned the "Hallelujah" Gott zu Loben" for myself, it was something of a seminal moment, for my desire to master this work was entirely due to the Selby recording, to which I listened and listened time and time again. Even now, I regard it as a peerless performance of a truly great organ-work, and for those of us who have worked at it, the effortless fluency of Germani's playing is quite something; not to mention his depth of understanding. I regard hearing Germani in concert as one of the great privileges of my life.

 

However, changing tac slightly, what of the Ryemuse series of recordings?

 

Never of great quality from a vinyl-pressing point of view, they were nevertheless VERY important recordings of some extraordinary performers. In some ways, (Francis Jackson excepted), the Great Cathedral series were possibly of less significance from a musical point of view, yet perfectly well played and presented.

 

On the Ryemuse label, Francis Jackson (for instance), played some of his own music, and that superb Pastorale by Peter Racine Fricker.

 

Noel Rawsthorne delighted us with what I would regard as the definitive performance of the Howells "Master Tallis Testament," which I like very much. (Remarkable, considering how much I dislike the music of Howells generally).

 

Perhaps the most stunning English recording of all, with one or two exceptions described above, was that produced by Vista from Blackburn Cathedral, when Jane Parker-Smith bowled us over with some glorious French interpretations; not all of it entirely familiar.

Has there ever been a better Durufle Toccata, (original version), or a better-oiled spinning-wheel by Dupre?

 

It's a recording to marvel at, even to-day.

 

Finally, which company recorded and produced the Keith John performance from the Tonhalle, Zurich?

 

When it comes to the Reubke Sonata, perhaps only Roger Fisher and Wolfgang Rubsam ever equalled this on disc, and foolishly, I never bought it at the time.

 

MM

This evokes many thoughts and leads to a kind-of "Remembrance of things past."

 

But first, what of the Ryemuse series ? I'm only dimly aware of it. Was there a Barry Rose/Guildford on it ? Have they ever been transcribed to CD and, if so, what are the important ones ?

 

I hope members won't regard the following as too tangential, BUT

 

Have any of you heard the recordings of a very old Healy Willan playing at St. Mary, Mag in Toronto ? Much of it was strange to me and I'm 61. The rolled chords, the pedal note held first, these and other bits I had never heard before. Can anyone explain ?

 

When I was taken to Canada in '67 to attend the second International Congress of Organists, I first experienced the practise of holding the first note of a hymn an extra beat or so. What is that called, why was it done, and why do we no longer do it ?

 

One thing I noticed as a common thread amongst the best playing of the Great Cathedral Series, is beautiful, singing legato. It seems now that even when young players play what they regard as legato, it is a very dry thing.

 

At the risk of spinning this discussion off on yet another tangent, I have to say that I heartily disliked the playing on the Coventry disc of the Mein Junges Leben variations. The playing utterly lacked any vocal quality. I suppose many will say that it is an appropriate period approach and is suited to 18th century instruments. OK, maybe. But I wonder. I don't think that we hear too many period performances of the 9th Symphony or the late Beethoven Sonatas. These works are clearly the music of the future and they are constantly bursting their bonds. I rather feel that way about about the Pachelbel. When I hear it played legato (and with other, varied touches as required) it is fully realized as an art work. I play and teach that piece from Rolande Falcinelli's edition.

 

Just my two cents. But DO let's keep on about the Great Cathedral Series !

 

Karl Watson,

Staten Island, NY

 

P.S. On that same Canadian trip, c.1967, I heard Dr. Willan offer a table grace, in Latin. Not sure if it was a Public School thing, an Oxbridge affectation or just old-time, Church Union style Anglo-Catholicism!

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My set has just arrived, haven't had time to play any of it yet, but my first reaction is that at the price charged I can put up with any shortcomings which have been mentioned - surely this is the bargain of the year, worth every penny and more. Reading the various comments above one or two other things crossed my mind, mainly about the lack of appreciation of organ music generally in this country in recent years. I put the blame squarely on Radio 3 - I've more or less given up listening to it, it's becoming a shadow of Classic FM in my view. Organ music - forget it, unless you wish to celebrate Wayne Marshall's 50th, nice enough man I'm sure, but what of the great Doctor (who should be Sir), Thomas Trotter and many of the other talented musicians who grace our cathedral and church lofts. My big grouse is piano music, sorry if I offend anyone but the amount of piano on Radio 3 drives me to distraction, endless Chopin, Beethoven etc., one morning they played the same piece twice within an hour. I used to enjoy listening to a piano but not anymore, I'm afraid. The second point is that I'm not so sure that organ music has declined to such an extent (ignoring the dreadful BBC), after all EMI are not in it for charity, they obviously determined that it was worth their while bringing this set out. There are excellent CDs issued almost monthly by various record labels, both here and in France and Germany, I sometimes have difficulty keeping up with them even when trying to be selective, they must sell. Off topic, but if I can put in a plug for a new CD from Chester, Priory have just brought one out on which Philip Rushforth plays the Whitlock Sonata, I'm not an expert but I don't think I've ever heard it performed better.

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A whole CD for a tiny amount of documentation is a bit of a waste. I'd have thought they might have included the front covers of the LPs as well as the specs from the backs, especially as some of them were missed out because there are less CDs than LPs. The essay about the series is decent enough (much less tolerant of unstylish playing of older music than this board seems to be, though), but surely it wouldn't have been that hard to prepare fuller notes.

I'm not sure how fuller you want the notes on the CD-ROM to be. The essays by Brian Culverhouse and Graham Barber are really quite enlightening (the absence of record sleeve notes on each of the albums is itself covered in Professor Barber's essay), and all the specifications of the organs - as then recorded - are on the CD-ROM. There is also information on the organs as they stand today, as well as brief information about the organists and their ages at the time of their recordings.

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But first, what of the Ryemuse series ? I'm only dimly aware of it. Was there a Barry Rose/Guildford on it ? Have they ever been transcribed to CD and, if so, what are the important ones?

I have Priory Records' 2-CD compilation (PRCD 933) of the Ryemuse series. It includes Barry Rose's performance of Parry's Chorale Prelude on the Old 104th.

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. . . Off topic, but if I can put in a plug for a new CD from Chester, Priory have just brought one out on which Philip Rushforth plays the Whitlock Sonata, I'm not an expert but I don't think I've ever heard it performed better.

 

I have always rated Philip very highly ever since I first heard him when he was sub-organist at Southwell many years ago. I rate him much, much higher than his step-father.

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Sorry if I got that wrong about the Chester rebuild. I remember hearing the John Saunders recording and thinking that the organ was much darker but also much, much more of a unity.

 

 

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

 

 

You may be right about the Chester re-build, because having checked the date, it was 1969 when R & D worked on it.

 

I'll have to dig out the Chester recording and see what the sleeve says and what date the recording came out.

I've now checked the date, and the Great Cathedral pressing is dated 1971, which confirms that it was recorded post-rebuild.

 

My mistake initially, because I was confusing it with an earlier extended play recording featuring John Sanders on the original Hill organ prior to the re-build.

 

MM

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This evokes many thoughts and leads to a kind-of "Remembrance of things past."

 

But first, what of the Ryemuse series ? I'm only dimly aware of it. Was there a Barry Rose/Guildford on it ? Have they ever been transcribed to CD and, if so, what are the important ones ?

I hope members won't regard the following as too tangential, BUT

 

Have any of you heard the recordings of a very old Healy Willan playing at St. Mary, Mag in Toronto ? Much of it was strange to me and I'm 61. The rolled chords, the pedal note held first, these and other bits I had never heard before. Can anyone explain ?

When I was taken to Canada in '67 to attend the second International Congress of Organists, I first experienced the practise of holding the first note of a hymn an extra beat or so. What is that called, why was it done, and why do we no longer do it ?

 

One thing I noticed as a common thread amongst the best playing of the Great Cathedral Series, is beautiful, singing legato. It seems now that even when young players play what they regard as legato, it is a very dry thing.

At the risk of spinning this discussion off on yet another tangent, I have to say that I heartily disliked the playing on the Coventry disc of the Mein Junges Leben variations. The playing utterly lacked any vocal quality. I suppose many will say that it is an appropriate period approach and is suited to 18th century instruments. OK, maybe. But I wonder. I don't think that we hear too many period performances of the 9th Symphony or the late Beethoven Sonatas. These works are clearly the music of the future and they are constantly bursting their bonds. I rather feel that way about about the Pachelbel. When I hear it played legato (and with other, varied touches as required) it is fully realized as an art work. I play and teach that piece from Rolande Falcinelli's edition.

 

Just my two cents. But DO let's keep on about the Great Cathedral Series !

 

Karl Watson,

Staten Island, NY

 

P.S. On that same Canadian trip, c.1967, I heard Dr. Willan offer a table grace, in Latin. Not sure if it was a Public School thing, an Oxbridge affectation or just old-time, Church Union style Anglo-Catholicism!

 

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

 

 

There were two rivals to the Great Cathedral Series in terms of playing quality and significance. The first was Ryemuse, and the second was Vista; the latter employing the outstanding recording skills of Michael Smythe.

 

I have a few of each, and their significance is considerable.

 

I've already mentioned the outstanding recording made by Jane Parker-Smith at Blackburn, but for sheer quality of vinyl sound, this also tops my personal charts. It was recorded on Revox A77 tape with Nuemann microphones, and so well, that it is the next best thing to standing in the chancel area at Blackburn, where the organ sounds best. It's a rare combination of exceptional talent from the performer and from the recording engineer; not to mention the superb quality of the Blackburn organ.

 

Even 40 years or so on, this is still one of three of my ultimate organ recording favourites; the others being THAT performance of the Reubke on the Great Cathedral series, played by Roger Fisher at Chester, and Jackson playing the Willan at York.

 

I always say, that two of the records make me want to toast the organists with champagne, but the other makes me feel obliged to eat worms.......that's the artistic power each deliver.

 

The other recordings I own include, variously:-

 

Ernest Maynard at Bath Abbey - Ryemuse (7" EP)

Huskisson Stubington at Tewksbury - Ryemuse (7" EP)

Geoffrey Tristram at Christchurch - Ryemuse (7" EP)

Philip Marshall at Lincoln - Ryemuse (7" EP)

 

Perhaps the most significant Ryemuse recording I have, is that made at the Metropolitan RC Cathedral, Liverpool, on which three organists share the limelight....and what a trio!

 

Firstly, there's the late Jeanne Demessieux playing Messaien, Widor, Bach, and that superb "Mouvement" by Bervellier. Wonderful playing from a lady who left us far too young, and Dupre's star pupil.

 

Then there's the late Flor Peeters playing Tournemire's Pentecost Cycle from "L'Orgue mystique," which I find absolutely thrilling even now.

 

Finally, there's Noel Rawsthorne playing the Matthias "Invocations," written for the dedication of the new instrument and cathedral.

 

I think I may be right in suggesting that all three performers played at the opening concerts when the organ was first installed, but I guess they were recorded seperately at the time for posterity.

 

Anyway, it's the most wonderful LP, and of considerable historic significance.

 

Two other 'Vista' recordings are in my collection; the first played by the excellent Graham Steed, whom I met shortly after the recordings were made. A pupil of Dupre, he was not always 100% accurate, but as a musician, he was utterly outstanding. He could communicate both as an organist and as a wonderfully warm human being. This particular LP features three organs; namely Bury St Edmunds, Blackburn and Westminster Cathedral. The Dupre P & F in G minor is absolutely scintillating, and you just know that Graham Steed loved this composer's music above all other. Most signigicantly, he played his own Variations on "Durham," which I find rather good. However, at St Edmunsbury and Westminster, he featured the music of Hermann Schroeder; the Sonata no 3 (Westminster) and the excellent Partita on 'Veni Creator Spritus.' (St Edmunsbury)

 

Another interesting Vista recording was that made by Garth Benson at St Mary, Redcliffe, on which can be heard mainly Parry, Bach and Herbert someone or other.

 

I've only checked half my records, and I'm sure there are others, but you can appreciate the significance of some of them, either as important recordings of now deceased organists, music written by the performer or music specific to a particular place and time.

 

I'm not sure who recorded the Francis Jackson "20th Century British Organ Music" LP.....was it Alpha?

 

That is an incredibly significant recording, because the maestro plays not only the Fricker Pastorale, (which is never heard), but also, his own Toccata, Chorale & Fugue. Again, a composer playing his own music.

 

Changing the subject slightly, (to say the least), you mention rolled chords and held pedal notes

 

Now come on Karl, you live in Big Apple Country for heaven's sake!!! Smell the coffee!! :)

 

This was a technique used by the late Virgil Fox, in which he conveyed the impression of an acoustic which didn't exist at Riverside in the old days, before they modified the church and made it better. It used to be as dead as Abraham Lincoln.

 

("Apart from that Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?")

 

Maybe Healey Willan was getting senile, or perhaps they didn't have much of an acoustic at Toronto, but it sounds to me like he was either copying Virgil Fox's technique or he had lost the plot.

 

(I met Healey Willan once, but as he was with his close friend Francis Jackson, I was a mere 15 year old, and Jackson had just blown us away with his recording of the Intro & Passacaglia. I was a bit shy and overwhelmed, but I had a sweet, seductive smile in those days, which often opened doors and organ lofts. Still, he said hello, smiled back and wandered off after a brief handshake....I think I addressed him as 'Sir').

 

Finally, (you can put the kettle on now), you mention legato playing.

 

The best non-lesson I ever had came from Francis Jackson, who said to me when I was very young, "Always play as if you're singing from the heart, but always let a little daylight in through an open window."

 

I often wish organists could learn to do this.....those old recordings of Francis Jackson are a total revelation.

 

MM

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Your writing is always something special and I'm grateful for the info contained therein.

 

I know very well the recording you mention (in its Decca incarnation) of the three organists at the Liverpool Met. Except for the Widor Toccata, it is special in every way.

 

Funnily enough, the Garth Benson at Redcliffe was one of my desert island discs. One of my students must have made off with it. His playing of that remarkable Parry chorale prelude so impressed me that I ran out immediately to buy the music and learn it. I still play it every year during Holy Week.

 

I know the technique of which you speak VERY well. It's not like that at all as Dr. Willan did it - not at endings, but rather at the BEGINNING of things !

 

Any advice given by FJ is precious. I once heard him play the two Dupre Sketches as encores as if they were child's play.

He was HUGE. Still is.

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I know the technique of which you speak VERY well. It's not like that at all as Dr. Willan did it - not at endings, but rather at the BEGINNING of things !

 

 

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

 

Curioser and curioser..............I'm intrigued. I just can't, for the life of me, think why anyone would want to do this.

 

MM

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the practise of holding the first note of a hymn an extra beat or so. What is that called, why was it done, and why do we no longer do it ?

If it's what I'm thinking of, I believe it was called a gathering note, the idea was to give the congregation chance to get their bearings at the start of the hymn (or even of every verse) and we no longer do it because it brings the flow of the music to a juddering halt!

 

I was taught to train congregations to expect an invariable 2 beats at tempo after the playover and between each verse - after a while each person's innate sense of rhythm will tell them when to start singing. It does seem to work very well.

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musingmuso - Demessieux playing Liverpool Met is available on CD, Festivo FECD141, also includes her playing at St Bavo, Haarlem, Oude Kerk, Amsterdam and Victoria Hall Geneva. I'm not sure whether the other Liverpool Met performances are on CD, I haven't checked.

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I'm not sure whether the other Liverpool Met performances are on CD, I haven't checked.

 

The Noel Rawsthorne and Flor Peeters performances from Liverpool Met were reissued on Priory PRCD 931 (Organ Music From The Two Cathedrals In Liverpool).

 

Rerads, Oscar

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Any advice given by FJ is precious. I once heard him play the two Dupre Sketches as encores as if they were child's play.

He was HUGE. Still is.

 

 

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

 

I know I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating.

 

Francis Jackson once gave an evening concert at Halifax Civic Theatre (Hill/R & D), but it had been foolishly planned for a Sunday evening, when most organists were at church playing the final voluntaries. As a consequence, I think there were eleven other people in the audience apart from myself!

 

It was a disaster commercially, but what a recital!

 

It remains as one of the most memorable I ever attended; not least because the maestro was on sparkling form.

 

His final work was the Dupre - Noel Variations, but there was a hidden agenda. He had a train to catch, and if he missed it, he wouldn't have got back. Consequently, he played the Dupre, shall we say, a little quicker than he might otherwise have done?

 

Now I'm not into speed renditions, or even speed skating, but the Dupre Noel CAN be played as fast as it will go in many of the variations, without falling apart.

 

On reaching the Fugue/Toccata at the end, Francis briefly looked at his watch, and then launched into it like the express train he was hoping to catch......it was blindingly quick.

 

I swear, he got every single note right, took a quick bow to the pathertic applause of 12 people and shot out of the theatre like a bullet. Everyone, myself included, was absolutely breathless at his virtuosity.

 

But the thing which struck me then and now, was how effortless it all seemed......quite extraordinary.

 

Anyway, I was so impressed, I wrote to him expressing my appreciation and gratitude, as well as expressing my regrets that so few could turn out to hear him. Lo and behold, I got a lovely reply from him: ever gracious and grateful of my appreciation.

 

MM

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

 

 

You may be right about the Chester re-build, because having checked the date, it was 1969 when R & D worked on it.

 

I'll have to dig out the Chester recording and see what the sleeve says and what date the recording came out.

I've now checked the date, and the Great Cathedral pressing is dated 1971, which confirms that it was recorded post-rebuild.

 

My mistake initially, because I was confusing it with an earlier extended play recording featuring John Sanders on the original Hill organ prior to the re-build.

 

MM

 

The Worcester organ also sounds quite different these days :)

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The Worcester organ also sounds quite different these days :)

 

 

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

 

 

Why is that then?

 

I'm sure the 32ft Hope Jones Diaphones are still in place.

 

MM

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but if I can put in a plug for a new CD from Chester, Priory have just brought one out on which Philip Rushforth plays the Whitlock Sonata, I'm not an expert but I don't think I've ever heard it performed better.

 

I remember a short time ago, Philip let me record his recital at Southwell Minster, and he played the Whitlock Sonata on that occasion, and that was superb "live", so I will be geting the Chester version to no doubt

 

Peter

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

 

 

Why is that then?

 

I'm sure the 32ft Hope Jones Diaphones are still in place.

 

MM

 

Well, most of the basses were, since Harrisons could not remove them from the case without dismantling it completely. However, they were disconnected by about 1972, when the Pedal reed unit arrived (a Trumpet at 32ft,. 16ft. and 8ft. pitches *). For that matter, the entire transept section has been disconnected since the old Hope-Jones/Harrison/Wood organ was de-commissioned.

 

 

 

* I always thought that the nomenclature for this extended rank was a bit odd - why not at least manage 'Double Trumpet 32', 'Trumpet 16' and 'Clarion 8' ?

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Well, most of the basses were, since Harrisons could not remove them from the case without dismantling it completely. However, they were disconnected by about 1972, when the Pedal reed unit arrived (a Trumpet at 32ft,. 16ft. and 8ft. pitches *). For that matter, the entire transept section has been disconnected since the old Hope-Jones/Harrison/Wood organ was de-commissioned.

 

 

 

* I always thought that the nomenclature for this extended rank was a bit odd - why not at least manage 'Double Trumpet 32', 'Trumpet 16' amd 'Clarion 8' ?

 

 

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

 

 

I think 'heva' and myself were just exchanging a little humour. I was pretending not to have noticed the new Tickell organ, which I'm sure is very fine, unless someone says it sounds awful. I have neither heard nor seen it.

 

MM

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

 

 

I think 'heva' and myself were just exchanging a little humour. I was pretending not to have noticed the new Tickell organ, which I'm sure is very fine, unless someone says it sounds awful. I have neither heard nor seen it.

 

MM

 

We were ;-)

 

I thought the 32's were active from the new console, so why not re-instating those diaphones? they're there, historic, use them if you like.

Also, is the transpept 'solo' division scrapped as well?

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Guest Hector5

I have just bought the entire boxed set (13 CDs plus a Cd-rom) of the Great Cathedral Organs Series, and fascinating listening it is too. There is some fabulous playing and also some extraordinary liberties taken (although these seem to be rather indicative of the time). I loved Sumsion's playing on the old Gloucester organ - and what and instrument it was too. The extra Cd rom has writing by Culverhouse and Graham Barber together with specs of th e organs etc. All in all great value for money.

 

H

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We were ;-)

 

I thought the 32's were active from the new console, so why not re-instating those diaphones? they're there, historic, use them if you like.

Also, is the transpept 'solo' division scrapped as well?

 

No - just disconnected at present.

 

Apparently, the plan is that, once even more money has been collected, the South Transept case will be moved to the North Transept, the 32ft. flue ranks reconnected and a two-claiver Transept (Nave?) Organ will be built. Presumably the pipework from the former Solo Organ will be removed at this time - unless it has gone already.

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