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Haddington, Lothian - very impressive!


David Drinkell
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I was recently in the UK for a few weeks. Apart from my usual poking around East Anglian churches, I was in Scotland to see the in-laws (and give a concert and play on Sunday at St. Magnus Cathedral) and on the way down, I dropped in at St. Mary's Collegiate Church, Haddington, East Lothian. This is a very impressive cruciform church, known as the Lantern of the Lothians. The bare top of the central tower gives it a somewhat wild appearance, but the inside has been beautfully restored and set out. The organ, in a north transept gallery, is by Lammermuir Pipe Organs (1990) (

 

This is a very fine job altogether, in a stunning set of cases (Great, Chair and Pedal) by Neil Richerby. It has tremendous integrity in its own style. There are no concessions - the Chair drawstops are on the back of the Chair case behind the player, there is a flat pedalboard, no aids to registration and no swell box.

 

But - I was enormously struck by what it would do. Although built with the North German school in mind, it coped admirably with French classical sounds and - more significantly - the more out-of-the-box I tried, the more it played along with me. I think there are various reasons for this, amongst which are the fine reeds (better than St. Giles, Edinburgh, where I feel they don't help that otherwise wonderful organ), the assured and firm voicing and careful winding. Above all, though, I think it proves that an instrument which is a fine example of its type will nearly always manage a lot more than one expects.

 

Anyone in the area should visit this church with its friendly people and fine instrument.

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I understand that the instrument was originally conceived with just a Bourdon on the pedals at the rear of the organ. The Manager of the Royal Mail in Scotland was a keen musician and a significant grant was made for the development of a pedal chorus in side towers. They were nicknamed the Post Office Towers!

 

There are some interesting organs in the vacinity as well. St mary's Episcopal Church, Dalkeith 1845 hamilton 3M 23 stops still blown by water engine and Rosslyn Chapel an 1872 Hamilton 2M 13 stops sited in one of the architectural gems of Scotland.

 

PJW

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I understand that the instrument was originally conceived with just a Bourdon on the pedals at the rear of the organ. The Manager of the Royal Mail in Scotland was a keen musician and a significant grant was made for the development of a pedal chorus in side towers. They were nicknamed the Post Office Towers!

 

PJW

 

I think I remember this gentleman! He sounds like the same one who was very generous with money for commissions at the St. Magnus Festival when i was in Orkney.

 

I've been reading up on Haddington. I hadn't realized that the whole of the church east of the nave had lain open to the elements until the end of last century. And now everything looks beautiful, with the new organ and all. They've even got themselves a peal of bells! It makes one think. Just imagine Dunfermline Abbey with the nave connected up to the rest of it. Or St. Bees Priory with the Quire restored (or maybe that would mess up the acoustics for their glorious organ). Or Carlisle Cathedral with a nave, or Ardfert Cathedral in Ireland, or the old Cathedral on the Rock of Cashel, or Fountains Abbey....

 

Probably better not to speculate - one could go on for ever. All of it as likely as a decent organ in St. Peter's, Rome. Still, if the good folk of Haddington could do what they did, and those at Bury St. Edmunds build that wonderful quire and tower (and buy a new four-manual Harrison), who knows?

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Probably better not to speculate - one could go on for ever. All of it as likely as a decent organ in St. Peter's, Rome.

 

That made me think. Why have they never installed a large organ there? It surely can't be lack of funds!

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The scheme proposed by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll would have been entirely appropriate and aurally stunning. It is a great pity that it was never realised.

 

I wonder how tricky it would have been, had the organ been installed, to have produced a range of recordings such as we have from St Ouen and St Sulpice?

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The scheme proposed by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll would have been entirely appropriate and aurally stunning. It is a great pity that it was never realised.

Yes, I've seen that scheme. The organ would have been sited at the west end of the nave, which makes me wonder whether (however powerful) the sound might be lost to some extent under the large dome and beyond.

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