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HMV (EMI) Great Cathedral Organ Series


Mark Taylor

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Absolutely - the recording of Duruflé's Prélude, Adagio et Choral Varié sur le thème du 'Veni Creator' with this player and on this instrument is , for me, definitive - and sublime.

 

Actually, on reflection, I think that the recording I mean is at Coventry - but has Walter Hillsman playing. This is, for me, the definitive recording of this work.

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

 

 

Oh yes! The You Tube clip of Thomas Murray playing Schumann is just extrordinary, and you're right there at the console watching him.

 

 

Of course, another very good exponent of thumbing down is Jelani Eddington playing theatre organs, but for clever tricks, Cameron Carpenter not only thumbs down, he fingers up at the same time; using three manuals with one hand.

 

MM

Clever tricks do not a musician make. Techniques like Francis Jackson and Melville Cook, which are very nearly transcendental (Germani), or in our own time, David Briggs, have produced great, great music. CC enjoys a reputation on this side of the pond that has almost nothing to do with art and the pursuit of the beautiful and expressive. One flees before his very destructive madness. MM, trust me, it's a scary thing. Dr. Freud's couch would catch fire by just being in the near vicinity. The public will pay money to witness the unspeakable. But if they only knew !

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Actually, on reflection, I think that the recording I mean is at Coventry - but has Walter Hillsman playing. This is, for me, the definitive recording of this work.

I'm not surprised that YOU like this. He plays nicely, eh ?

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This jolly good fun picture shows Carlo Curley playing on 4 manuals at once!! :( :(

Of course, nothing real here, just a posed snap pretending to convey serious artistic intentions. A title of "Fantasia" would be fitting.

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Clever tricks do not a musician make. Techniques like Francis Jackson and Melville Cook, which are very nearly transcendental (Germani), or in our own time, David Briggs, have produced great, great music. CC enjoys a reputation on this side of the pond that has almost nothing to do with art and the pursuit of the beautiful and expressive. One flees before his very destructive madness. MM, trust me, it's a scary thing. Dr. Freud's couch would catch fire by just being in the near vicinity. The public will pay money to witness the unspeakable. But if they only knew !

 

 

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

 

I almost blew a fuse when I read this, because I know Carlo Curley quite well.......then I realised my mistake! :lol:

 

"He to whom you refer" is, without doubt, quite disturbing at so many levels, and whether there is real madness or not, (something for which I have a great deal of empathy), there is absolutely no doubt that the text-book has been re-written in terms of technique.

I'm quite confident that similar labels were attached to Franz Liszt, and he too must have been extremely disturbing to even very gifted performers.

 

Being a "man of the world" so-to-speak, I think I am aware of certain things, and yes, I detect a certain manic drive and perhaps a certain detached intensity, but if art is the nearest thing to life, then the music perhaps proves this.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that even at the purely technical level, there are things of which we need to take note, because the boundaries have been stretched for all time, simply because someone has shown that it is possible.

 

The improvisations I find fascinating and disturbing in equal measure, and the old saying that genius is next to madness, springs readily to mind.

 

MM

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Of course, nothing real here, just a posed snap pretending to convey serious artistic intentions. A title of "Fantasia" would be fitting.

 

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

 

 

There was a time when he could play five-manuals at once: one of them inadvertently.

 

This reminds me of the lady organist in America, who often played "tone-clusters" on the Swell organ, while playing normally on the Solo manual.

 

She wasn't drunk, but let's just say that she had a bit of a constant hangover.

 

MM

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This reminds me of the lady organist in America, who often played "tone-clusters" on the Swell organ, while playing normally on the Solo manual.

 

She wasn't drunk, but let's just say that she had a bit of a constant hangover.

The Lady Chapel in Ely Cathedral has one of those continuo organs that you have to stand to play. Not so long ago, during a rehearsal for a concert by a visting choir, the accompanist became very disconcerted when the organ started making occasional, random, discordant "toots", apparently all of its own accord. Eventually he discovered the reason and thereafter made sure that he kept the instrument at a sensible distance, while cursing the builder for placing the keyboard at belt height.

 

I am far too embarrassed to name the organist... :lol:

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

 

I almost blew a fuse when I read this, because I know Carlo Curley quite well.......then I realised my mistake! :lol:

 

"He to whom you refer" is, without doubt, quite disturbing at so many levels, and whether there is real madness or not, (something for which I have a great deal of empathy), there is absolutely no doubt that the text-book has been re-written in terms of technique.

I'm quite confident that similar labels were attached to Franz Liszt, and he too must have been extremely disturbing to even very gifted performers.

 

Being a "man of the world" so-to-speak, I think I am aware of certain things, and yes, I detect a certain manic drive and perhaps a certain detached intensity, but if art is the nearest thing to life, then the music perhaps proves this.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that even at the purely technical level, there are things of which we need to take note, because the boundaries have been stretched for all time, simply because someone has shown that it is possible.

 

The improvisations I find fascinating and disturbing in equal measure, and the old saying that genius is next to madness, springs readily to mind.

 

MM

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear !

 

What a stupid blunder on my part. I was NOT referring to Carlo. Although we are not exactly friends, we know and respect each other. Carlo is not exactly an organist after my heart, although we would probably agree about many more things than we would disagree about. Whatever reservations I've had about Carlo were put to rest forever on the day that I, quite but accident, found a you tube of him playing the Dupre g minor P&F at Chester. Simply marvelous, brilliant even. Hard to imagine it better. I know I can't play it that well !

 

No, the person to whom I referred is the much younger and slimmer CC. Carlo is a tower of mental health, a virtual Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm compared to the other one.

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Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear !

 

What a stupid blunder on my part. I was NOT referring to Carlo. Although we are not exactly friends, we know and respect each other. Carlo is not exactly an organist after my heart, although we would probably agree about many more things than we would disagree about. Whatever reservations I've had about Carlo were put to rest forever on the day that I, quite but accident, found a you tube of him playing the Dupre g minor P&F at Chester. Simply marvelous, brilliant even. Hard to imagine it better. I know I can't play it that well !

 

No, the person to whom I referred is the much younger and slimmer CC. Carlo is a tower of mental health, a virtual Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm compared to the other one.

 

 

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

 

 

Fortunately, I'd worked it out by the second line, and placed the cruise-missiles back in the garage.

 

As for the other CC, I'm always intrigued by people who are skinny and interesting; like they worry all the time. :lol:

 

It's the same with people like me who smile most of the time. If you have any sense or a cynical disposition, you're inclined to wonder what they've been up to. ;)

 

MM

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  • 2 months later...

I received my set of the "Great Cathedral Organs" on Thursday, having ordered it after I read the lively exchange on the topic. I never knew of the set before I heard from the board. I just submitted my review to the editor of the Fonoforum, hoping that it will be out sometime soon.

 

To cut it short, I was blown away by the music. Noel Rawsthorne at Liverpool: What a player! Christopher Robinson at Worcester (of all organs!) with Bach's 9/8: Such grandeur and elan, a real classic and new favourite of mine! And so on -- there is so much brillant music making here.

 

There was only one organ-player combination that sounded like constant struggle of man, machine and high-pressure reed attack, and all three, in my ears, are exonerated by a later Priory recording that is simply brillant (GEO 9).

 

Speaking of which. Did anyone mention what Germani did with his feet in the first measures of Reger's "Halleluia"? That's not unlike the solo violin's entrance in the Brahms concerto. I had to play and replay it several times until I believed it. Some music!

 

Thank you all for discussing it, and making me aware of this treasure box.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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Muso wrote: '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 was a pupil of Garth's when he made that recording. He was quite nervous about it, but pleased with the result. Garth could play brilliantly when he could be bothered, but that didn't always happen. He was then - this was the mid-seventies - very much 'old school' and my contemporaries tended to write him off, but for some reason he seemed to take to me, and lessons (and post-lesson yarning, which often took longer) were fun. Pupils weren't supposed to make a lot of noise, so one tended to keep to the Choir and Solo Organs (which, as most people will know, are miniature Great and Swell departments apart from the Tuba). If Garth thought you were doing well, he would say, 'Move onto the Great' and would start adding stops. This could be disconcerting if there was a tricky bit ahead. Sometimes, Garth would be called away at short notice to examine for the Associated Board. This resulted in a few funerals to play for, or arriving at Redcliffe to find a note on the console, 'Can't make it today. Do some practice. Don't worry about keeping it quiet all the time.' There was a Welsh verger there at the time called Clive, who used to complain (good-naturedly) if you played loudly. After Bristol, when I did my teacher training at Cambridge, my teaching-practice school choir sang Evensong at Ely (a hairy experience for me - RVW's Antiphon with the choir under the Octagon, not in the stalls). Practising beforehand, there came an irate Welsh voice from the Quire, 'You don't get any bloody quieter!' It was Clive.

 

Garth offered me a lunch-time recital, then changed his mind and put me in the evening series which was otherwise quite prestigious. I have a photo somewhere of the poster outside the church. The other players were Francis Jackson, Dom Sebastian Wolff and George Thalben-Ball. I have rarely figured in such a pantheon since.

 

Philip Rushforth - I took the senior Belfast Cathedral boys to Chester for a week once. Philip was at that time in his early-mid teens and was stunningly good even then. Apart from church music, his passions were Tony Hancock and the Titanic. Back in Belfast, I found a paperweight made from an off-cut of the dado rail in the grand saloon of the Titanic, with a discarded rivet for a handle (maybe that's why it sank) and sent it to him - 'Here is your very own piece of the Titanic'. Incidentally, my great-grandfather was a military policeman and stationed in Belfast in 1912. My grandmother and her sisters saw the Titanic being launched and described the scene (and the surrounding area) in great detail. Eighty years later, I was accompanist for the Harlandic Male Voice Choir, founded at the shipyard. If there was a particularly bum note at rehearsal, someone at the back would pipe up something along the lines of, 'No wonder that bloody ship sank!'.

 

Gathering notes - I think George Guest must have been one of the last to use these. John Dallas, who ran a very good choir at Cregagh Presbyterian Church, Belfast (despite an organ described by Simon Preston as the worst he'd ever played), was a devout GG disciple and also used gathering notes. One had to remember that when playing for him.

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I received my set of the "Great Cathedral Organs" on Thursday, having ordered it after I read the lively exchange on the topic. I never knew of the set before I heard from the board. I just submitted my review to the editor of the Fonoforum, hoping that it will be out sometime soon.

 

To cut it short, I was blown away by the music. Noel Rawsthorne at Liverpool: What a player! Christopher Robinson at Worcester (of all organs!) with Bach's 9/8: Such grandeur and elan, a real classic and new favourite of mine! And so on -- there is so much brillant music making here.

 

There was only one organ-player combination that sounded like constant struggle of man, machine and high-pressure reed attack, and all three, in my ears, are exonerated by a later Priory recording that is simply brillant (GEO 9).

 

Speaking of which. Did anyone mention what Germani did with his feet in the first measures of Reger's "Halleluia"? That's not unlike the solo violin's entrance in the Brahms concerto. I had to play and replay it several times until I believed it. Some music!

 

Thank you all for discussing it, and making me aware of this treasure box.

 

Best,

Friedrich

 

 

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

 

 

Well I'll metion it, because when I learned this work, this was one small section which caused a few headaches, I can tell you.

 

In the end, I just threw accepted technique to the wind and re-invented it. In the process, I think I discovered how Germani got that ultra-smooth sweep from the bottom of the pedal-board almost to the top. I can't really describe it, but it involves keeping the right foot pointing to the right, and using the heel where one would normally use the toe. The secret, I found, was that angling of the right foot, which then lands on exactly the right notes very comfortably, and makes for an ultra-smooth, accelerating flourish.

 

It's one of those rare moments where you do something unique....perhaps bespoke.....which just happens to work better than accepted convention.

 

Another work like this, is the "Lebhaft" Fugue in BACH by Schumann, which also caused me a few headaches, because in spite of the speed, there has to be enormous elasticity in the timing to bring out the passion of this extraordinary piece.

 

I suffered learning these two bits of repertoire, I can tell you. :unsure:

 

MM

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I was a pupil of Garth's when he made that recording. He was quite nervous about it, but pleased with the result. Garth could play brilliantly when he could be bothered, but that didn't always happen.

 

 

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

 

 

A man after my own heart!

 

When it comes to practice, I soon become bored and I'm easily diverted. I then get even more bored with the diversions, and decide that that which is least boring is more acceptable to me than that which is most boring.

 

So with an almost manic intensity, I periodically "go bananas" and with fiendish intensity and energy, learn or re-learn something really difficult.

 

I'd be no good in an orchestra, would i? :(

 

It reminds me of the later Robert Andrews, when I commented about a forthcoming recital he had lined up.

 

I said, "I didn't know that you played the Jongen."

 

He replied, "Well I don't.....yet. If I don't put these things in the programme, I'll never get around to learning them."

 

 

MM

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  • 1 year later...

Actually, on reflection, I think that the recording I mean is at Coventry - but has Walter Hillsman playing. This is, for me, the definitive recording of this work.

 

Walter Hillsman made two fine records of music by Durufle and Alain at Coventry Cathedral in the 1970s, on the Vista label (Michael Smythe). I was a nineteen year old student at the Birmingham Conservatoire at the time and was asked by one of my tutors, (Stephen Daw, a friend of Hillsman), if I and another student would be prepared to spend several evenings at Coventry assisting with the recordings. So it was that I spent many hours turning pages and manipulating stops and pistons for the recordings. It was quite an experience in many ways. The cathedral was in darkness apart from the console lights, so in the fortissimo passages, there was this massive wall of sound coming out of pitch blackness! What impressed me about Hillsman was the way in which he made that technically demanding music look so easy. I still have the two LPs which Michael Smythe gave me at the time. I wish the recordings could be released on CD as well, as with various other recordings from 30-40 years ago, because the superb performances certainly deserve a new audience! Michael Smythe was also a master of his 'trade' and the recordings are worth hearing for that reason too.

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Walter Hillsman made two fine records of music by Durufle and Alain at Coventry Cathedral in the 1970s, on the Vista label (Michael Smythe). I was a nineteen year old student at the Birmingham Conservatoire at the time and was asked by one of my tutors, (Stephen Daw, a friend of Hillsman), if I and another student would be prepared to spend several evenings at Coventry assisting with the recordings. So it was that I spent many hours turning pages and manipulating stops and pistons for the recordings. It was quite an experience in many ways. The cathedral was in darkness apart from the console lights, so in the fortissimo passages, there was this massive wall of sound coming out of pitch blackness! What impressed me about Hillsman was the way in which he made that technically demanding music look so easy. I still have the two LPs which Michael Smythe gave me at the time. I wish the recordings could be released on CD as well, as with various other recordings from 30-40 years ago. The superb performances certainly deserve a new audience! Michael Smythe was also a master of his 'trade' and the recordings are worth hearing for that reason too.

 

 

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

 

 

Walter Hillsman clearly fell below the radar for me in the 1970's, yet I have a number of Vista recordings from the era, including that stupendous disc from Blackburn, played by Jane Parker-Smith. (The definitive "early" version of the Durufle Toccata IMHO).

 

I thought I might find something out about Hillsman, and thought I'd struck gold on the internet, only to discover that Walter Hillsman had found his wife in bed with a local church minister, and promptly shot her to death. Fortunately, when I read the date, it was around the 1870's, so the crime of passion we can pass on.

 

Hillsman did record American music at Southwark Cathedral, so I guess he may well have been living and working there, but that leaves the field wide open.

 

As for his recordings, the nearest library stocking any or all of his LP's appears to be 5,800Km away, which is pushing the boundaries of dedication and research.

 

So what do we know about the great man?

 

Best,

 

MM

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My memory may be quite wrong but do I remember the name in connection with the GDB organ at New College Oxford in the late 1960's early 1970's

 

A quick 'google' has yielded a French website which says that Walter Hillsman was elected organ scholar at New College, Oxford, in 1964, so his time there pre-dates the GDB instrument.

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

 

 

Walter Hillsman clearly fell below the radar for me in the 1970's, yet I have a number of Vista recordings from the era, including that stupendous disc from Blackburn, played by Jane Parker-Smith. (The definitive "early" version of the Durufle Toccata IMHO).

 

I thought I might find something out about Hillsman, and thought I'd struck gold on the internet, only to discover that Walter Hillsman had found his wife in bed with a local church minister, and promptly shot her to death. Fortunately, when I read the date, it was around the 1870's, so the crime of passion we can pass on.

 

Hillsman did record American music at Southwark Cathedral, so I guess he may well have been living and working there, but that leaves the field wide open.

 

As for his recordings, the nearest library stocking any or all of his LP's appears to be 5,800Km away, which is pushing the boundaries of dedication and research.

 

So what do we know about the great man?

 

Best,

 

MM

 

I'm afraid I don't know a great deal about WH. He was a friend of the late Stephen Daw, (a teacher at the B'ham Conservatoire who was an acknowledged authority on J S Bach); it was through SD that the request for two assistants came, for the recordings at Coventry. All I knew at the time was that Hillsman was an American who, (if my memory serves correctly), said he had some lessons from Marie Claire Alain, amongst others. This fact came up in discussion with Michael Smythe during a 'break' one evening. Hillsman and Smythe were discussing various points of interpretation and registration in Alain's 'Litanies'; Hillsman's performance was very much informed by what Marie Claire had taught him.

 

He was a pleasant unassuming man, as I remember. On the odd occasion when one of the assistants mistimed a stop change or made some other slip, there were no tantrums; he remained perfectly calm and collected, even if another 'take' was required as a result. He was not quite 100% happy with the organ: I remember there was one note on a reed which clearly needed attention to the voicing/regulation. I've forgotten which piece it featured in (as a solo), but the 'rogue' note drew scathing comments and whenever I hear the recording now, it brings back memories of WH's mutterings! The other thing I recollect was the creaky (adjustable) organ bench. At the end of each 'take', the three of us at the console had to remain as still as statues until Michael Smythe's voice came over the speaker to say we could move; the bench was the most likely culprit in terms of unwanted noise (apart from the traffic outside). After each piece had been recorded, there was a trip down to a room below to listen to that particular 'take' before moving on to the next. We must have been there from 5 or 6 pm until quite late (10 or 11pm?) for 3 or 4 evenings.

 

We made two LPs at Coventry, called something like, 'Organ Music by pupils of Paul Dukas.' The two LPs were made in two different years; each one required several evenings' work for those involved, including rehearsing with we two young assistants in the late afternoon before starting the actual recording. Smythe was not well at the time and was in significant pain. I learned later that he was suffering with cancer. One of the finest recording engineers we have ever had in the organ world, sadly the poor man did not have much longer to live.

http://www.colinsmyt...istarecords.htm

 

Sorry about the ramblings.... writing about Hillsman has brought back all the memories. Here is a picture of WH as I remember him:

http://www.google.co...ved=0CDAQrQMwAw

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I wish the recordings could be released on CD as well, as with various other recordings from 30-40 years ago, because the superb performances certainly deserve a new audience! Michael Smythe was also a master of his 'trade' and the recordings are worth hearing for that reason too.

 

I agree that it would be very good indeed if Michael Smythe's Vista recordings could be remastered to CD. Does anyone know the whereabouts of the master tapes?

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A quick 'google' has yielded a French website which says that Walter Hillsman was elected organ scholar at New College, Oxford, in 1964, so his time there pre-dates the GDB instrument.

 

He was later organist at Manchester College Oxford - returning to the USA in July 1993.

 

A

 

PS Later.......'found this....

 

http://orgues.chartr...fr/hillsman.htm

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The main information I have found is here: http://www.colinsmyt...istarecords.htm

 

Thanks - I had found the site, as my link attests. Michael's brother, Colin, says there that he donated the Vista Records files and a set of all the recordings that he had to the University of Ulster while he was a Visiting Professor at that institution, and that is now housed at the University’s Magee Campus. Soon after Michael’s death, he had also filled in gaps in the collection of what is now the British Library Sound Archive. This is all very good, but it doesn't confirm whether or not the deposited material (i.e. "set of all the recordings") was the master tapes.

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Looking at the list of Vista recordings I find VPS 1006 - a recording made by Raymond Sunderland at Bridlington Priory in, i suspect, about 1972. Raymond played me the recording at his home, I was the first person to hear it, prior to its release. He was enormously worried about it and wanted to know what I thought of his playing. I remember thinking, at the time, how fine it was but I do wonder how it has stood the test of time.

 

The programme included his own Bridal Fanfare and March written for his daughter, Susan (played at the wedding by Peter Goodman - and also used at my wedding!) and the following:

 

Siegfried Karg Elert Legend

Chorale Improvisation Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele, op. 65, no. 5

Chorale Improvisation In dulci jubilo, op. 75, no. 2

Chorale Improvisation O welt, ich muss dich lassen, op. 65, no. 21

 

Healey Willan Chorale Prelude on Urbs Heirusalem beata

 

Garth Edmundson Apostolic Symphony

(i) Chaos and Prophecy

(ii) A Carpenter is Born

(iii) Crucifixion and Fruition

 

I wonder how many here remember Raymond Sunderland. He was an organist of the 'old school' and also a real gentleman, hugely kind and generous with his time, efforts and energies. Sadly he died on Christmas morning, I think 1977, in the Vestry at Bridlington having just played the organ for the Midnight Mass.

 

I would love to obtain a CD of the above if one were available.

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