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Winchester Cathedral Organ recorded 90 years ago

Rowland Wateridge

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This is such an unusual and rare recording that, in spite of the slightly quirky introduction and the inevitable scratching and crackling sound from a 90 years-old 78 record, I felt it deserved its own separate thread.  In particular I think it should be of interest, and perhaps something of a surprise, to Vox Humana and pcnd5584 from their experiences of Winchester Cathedral organ as quoted on earlier threads.  

Dr William Prendergast was organist of Winchester Cathedral from 1902, dying while in office in 1933.  This makes me feel decidedly ancient as I met three of Dr Prendergast's choristers, knew two of them quite well, and heard anecdotes about the great man and the organ in the early decades of the 20th century.

When Dr Prendergast arrived, the organ was wholly the Father Willis of 1851/54, restored and enlarged by the same firm in 1897/98.  That, I suspect, is the sound which we largely hear in this recording.

In 1905, Hele's of Plymouth were called in to greatly enlarge the sound, primarily to provide for nave services.  Their additions included a battery of enormously powerful diapasons on the great, a döppel flute which Tim Byram-Wigfield told me was capable of flooding the cathedral with sound, and a huge-scale 32' and 16' pedal bombarde [NPOR 11462].  I don't know whether they did anything to other reeds, but tend to think that unlikely for reasons below. Their work lasted 81 years, and with the exception of the pedal bombardes was largely discarded in the most recent and very major rebuild by H&H in 1986/88.  Incidentally, whilst the choice of Hele's might seem surprising, it was almost certainly influenced by their then recent 1904 restoration and enlargement of Chichester Cathedral organ which was judged to have been done successfully and sympathetically.

I think a significant value of this recording is in providing a comparison with the sound of the Harrison & Harrison rebuild of 1938.  That strongly reflected the influence of Arthur Harrison, although he was not directly involved, having died before the work was carried out.  As examples: re-voicing the great reeds to give more power (suggesting that Hele had not interfered with them), adding harmonic trebles to chorus and solo reeds, enlarging the pedal organ by extension and borrowing (although, paradoxically, reducing the compass from 32 to 30 notes) and controversially removing the Father Willis vox humana and tuba clarion from the solo organ.  Tierce mixtures were retained on the great and swell, but they were recast in the next 1986/88 rebuild.  But, that's another story.  

On this record I believe we hear the beautiful Father Willis flutes and swell reeds - (probably with the tierce mixture) much as they would have sounded originally.



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