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Interesting debate


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8 minutes ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

This isn’t an anti-Rieger observation (like VH, I will be discreet!), but I could nominate the Willis III (formerly Ingram) organ in St Giles’ Cathedral. Edinburgh.  I first heard it played by Herrick Bunney and thought it sounded splendid - very typically Willis and specifically Willis III.  It was on a later visit that Mrs Bunney told me they had wonderful news; they were to have a new organ by Rieger!  The Willis was scrapped, although I believe John Kitchen rescued several ranks from it, including the Tuba Magna, for the McEwan Hall, Edinburgh.

Quite independently, on a later occasion in conversation with a lady organist who spoke enthusiastically about the Willis, I have never forgotten her expression of utter dismay when I related its fate.

Crikey! The specification of the Willis on NPOR certainly supports your 'splendid' description, Rowland. How on earth did this come to pass?

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2 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

I played the old H&H at Christ Church a few times … and the instrument certainly sounded perfectly adequate …  The acoustic there doesn't do organs or choirs any favours.

I used to possess, alas no longer, a 45 record of Paul Morgan playing (as I recall) S S Wesley’s Larghetto in F sharp minor on the old Father Willis/ H&H organ.  This was on the Abbey label.  It must have dated from the mid-1960s when Paul Morgan was Organ Scholar at Christ Church.  The acoustic seemed totally ‘dead’ in that recording.

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1 hour ago, Martin Cooke said:

The specification of the Willis on NPOR certainly supports your 'splendid' description, Rowland. How on earth did this come to pass?

The Rieger was a generous gift.  As mentioned earlier, some of the Willis was salvaged, but I only knew about the McEwan Hall.  Some of the bottom pipes of the pedal 32’ open wood from the Willis were retained in the Rieger, becoming part of an ‘Untersatz’,  but essentially the Rieger was an entirely new organ.  

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3 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

The acoustic seemed totally ‘dead’ in that recording.

Not totally, but there's very little. That's why they mostly record their CDs elsewhere, e.g. the superb set of Eton Choirbook discs recorded in Merton College Chapel and Howard Goodall's Invictus, recorded in St John the Evangelist, Oxford.

The old organ can be heard in this broadcast evensong from 1976: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7iAmKgeyJM The sound quality isn't great, but it's enough to give a good impression and the organ sounds very well. The whole service is well worth hearing (although passing notes between the quarters of psalms should be a capital offence).

The Tuba (I assume) can be heard in the Tippett Canticles here: https://youtu.be/DSwj1MvXPAE?t=1106

 

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Pershore has just popped up on the British Pipe Organs facebook site - we have yet to see how the new instrument will turn out but the printed spec is certainly idiosyncratic. Will this be another case where a 'good pipe organ' has made way for something else? The old instrument's spec on NPOR looks most respectable but I know nothing of the circumstances or what it sounded like. I have formed the impression that the positioning of the old organ must have been an issue. Am I right? Was it too far from the choir? And one can't help but wonder if the old instrument couldn't have been retained but supplemented with a digital organ for some of the choral work, perhaps. (see my other post). But maybe that is just clumsy. (BTW, in suggesting a second (digital) instrument in some circs, I am certainly not advocating linking a digital organ to an existing pipe organ, though I believe this has been done.) Pershore has been written about elsewhere on this forum.

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27 minutes ago, Martin Cooke said:

Mmm... the Tuba certainly sounds a bit ropey unless that is just distortion on that discord.

I think it's not so much the stop itself as a combination of the recording quality (a microphone in front of speakers maybe?) and the beats created by the discordant semitones. Tippett famously had in mind the Trompeta Real at St John's, Cambridge, of course.

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11 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

I used to possess, alas no longer, a 45 record of Paul Morgan playing (as I recall) S S Wesley’s Larghetto in F sharp minor on the old Father Willis/ H&H organ.  This was on the Abbey label.  It must have dated from the mid-1960s when Paul Morgan was Organ Scholar at Christ Church.  The acoustic seemed totally ‘dead’ in that recording.

Sadly I've never been able to find a copy of that disk, the only one ever made of that organ played solo (the only other recording of it is accompanying Preston's 1974 recording of Dvorak's Mass in D, played by Nicholas Cleobury). 

A friend and I recorded Paul Morgan practicing for the Abbey recording, and the tape of that is in the British Library sound collection, as part of their collection of recordings by the late Michael Gerzon which were gifted to them on his death.  We also recorded Paul M playing through a number of hymns, as if they were being sung to, for a friend of his who was a missionary in West Africa and wanted to be able to have organ acct for hymns in his tent church!  Both those tapes are in the library, in spite of the fact that they both have my name written on them - I've not yet managed to get copies of them for myself.  Technically I have reason to believe they are better than Harry Mudd's recording for Abbey; for one thing, they were in stereo, and I don't think the Abbey disk was.

As for the organ itself, it was a reasonable example of the type and times (Willis with the H&H treatment, fairly lightly), and sonically, it could probably have stayed, but for the fashion of the time.  Sidney Watson told me shortly before retiring that the reason he never asked for it to be restored or replaced as it started to get cranky was so as not to limit the choice of his successor - which he certainly didn't!  However, the side extensions to the Smith case were a travesty, and the depth and weight of the chair case containing an enclosed choir including a 16' were actually in danger of making it collapse - so major changes were inevitable.  The pipework all vanished, except the bottom octave or so of the 32' violone (wood) which found its way to the Grove organ in Tewkesbury Abbey when John Budgen restored it, to complete the 32' rank there.

Paul

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6 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

Mmm... the Tuba certainly sounds a bit ropey unless that is just distortion on that discord.

The tuba was fine when I was a chorister there (55-59), and unlike many was enclosed.

The arpeggio figuration in the last section of Walton's The Twelve  was written to be played using it, and sounded very well that way (of course, Walton would have been familiar with it).  In the orchestral version performed a few days earlier than the Ch Ch premier, the figuration was given to a glockenspiel - a very different way of getting it to stand out!

Paul

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6 hours ago, pwhodges said:

As for the organ itself, it was a reasonable example of the type and times (Willis with the H&H treatment, fairly lightly), and sonically, it could probably have stayed, but for the fashion of the time.  Sidney Watson told me shortly before retiring that the reason he never asked for it to be restored or replaced as it started to get cranky was so as not to limit the choice of his successor - which he certainly didn't!  

Paul

Thanks for all your insight into this, Paul. So it was a reasonable instrument, but not up on the same level, as such instruments as Lincoln, Salisbury and Hereford which have all stood the test of time in a pretty much un-interfered with way? When one thinks that fashion 'did for' instruments such as this and St Giles, Edinburgh, and lots of others - presumably New College... I wonder if at Lincoln, Salisbury etc, (including Truro) there was EVER any debate about 'improvements' such as there have been at other cathedrals - eg Wells, York, Westminster Abbey, etc.

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8 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

I wonder if at Lincoln, Salisbury etc, (including Truro) there was EVER any debate about 'improvements' such as there have been at other cathedrals - eg Wells, York, Westminster Abbey, etc.

I think one cannot overlook the work of HW III on several of his grandfather's organs, the most notable exception being the RAH itself which transferred loyalties to H&H at an early date.  

Now I don’t wish to offend any Salisbury aficionados, as I am one of them, but it is simply a myth that the Father Willis has survived unchanged.  It may very well be true that Sir Walter Alcock prevented changes by insisting that pipework stayed in the Cathedral during the great 1934 rebuild (I’m sure there must have been a voicing machine on site!), but HW III’s alterations are fully documented on NPOR N10312: 10 new stops added and some re-arrangement of others resulting in a total increase of 14 stops.  I recall that under Christopher Dearnley the organ temporarily came under the care of Mander.  I am unaware which firm did the work mentioned on NPOR in 1969.  Since then H&H have looked after the instrument sympathetically.

After all of that, I’m sure that the integrity of the instrument has been kept, and it is deservedly famous.

Somewhere I possess a photograph of the original Father Willis 1876 console at Salisbury, incorporated into the case on the north side in the same position as then at Winchester and St Paul’s.  If I ever find it, I will try to publish it here (although I have yet to master the size restriction for photographs).  It was recognisably a ‘modern’ four-manual, but with thumb pistons (brass and larger than the modern style, three to each manual), larger stop knobs, these and the manual keys all in ivory, of course, and one unusual feature: a battery of ‘speaking tubes’ (I forget whether two or three of them) for the organist to communicate with others down below - possibly the precentor or senior lay vicars? - so I imagine there were corresponding ones in the choir stalls.

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2 hours ago, Dafydd y Garreg Wen said:

Eeek!

Wonder which of them was playing at that point.

I've no idea, but I thought the examples in the 1974 recording particularly tasteless. Sorry to be blunt, but IMO this sort of thing does nothing to enhance the words and nothing to enhance the music; it's just the organist saying, 'Hey! Look at me!' And I say this as one who is very much in favour of things like descants and colouring the mood of the words - but the accompaniment must never usurp the singing.

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3 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

Somewhere I possess a photograph of the original Father Willis 1876 console at Salisbury, incorporated into the case on the north side in the same position as then at Winchester and St Paul’s.  If I ever find it, I will try to publish it here (although I have yet to master the size restriction for photographs).  It was recognisably a ‘modern’ four-manual, but with thumb pistons (brass and larger than the modern style, three to each manual), larger stop knobs, these and the manual keys all in ivory, of course, and one unusual feature: a battery of ‘speaking tubes’ (I forget whether two or three of them) for the organist to communicate with others down below - possibly the precentor or senior lay vicars? - so I imagine there were corresponding ones in the choir stalls.

Somewhere, too, there is a photo of the 'new' ebonised (I think!) console when it was first moved to the south side. I think it is on an LP of Christopher Dearnley's. I think it's rather a shame that this finish has been done away with at Salisbury and at Truro. 

ps - Here it is... but I can't find one that I know exists of Truro's original 'new' console with David Briggs.

pps - but there is this one of Truro with John Winter

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I have no photo of the old console at Salisbury, but I found this quote in an article by Alcock in The Rotunda (March 1932, p29):

Quote

At Salisbury Cathedral some years ago one of the Choir pistons got out of order during a Sunday morning service, the jamming of the stops putting that manual out of action.  As soon as I was free I found that a centre of the fan operated by the piston had snapped.  I quickly dismantled the whole affair, and after a quick lunch turned up a new centre in my lathe and had all in working order before the afternoon service.

How many organists these days have a lathe to hand, I wonder!

Paul

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38 minutes ago, pwhodges said:

How many organists these days have a lathe to hand, I wonder!

Sir Walter must have been a practical man.  He had a steam railway layout in the garden of his house in the Close at Salisbury, the same house occupied by Richard Seal when I last visited it, and, as far as I know, still by his successors. From the front door there must be one of the most sensational views in England.

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On 07/08/2021 at 23:49, pwhodges said:

A friend and I recorded Paul Morgan practicing for the Abbey recording, and the tape of that is in the British Library sound collection  …

There are currently illustrations on Google of the Abbey disk E 7642 - A /B and sleeve.  Unfortunately the picture quality is poor, but they show the recordings as in stereo.  ‘Stereo’ looks like an added sticker on the sleeve.  However my admittedly vague recollection is that my copy was mono.  At that time 45s were widely available in either format and, e.g., I possess (or did) the Ryemuse 45 of Alwyn Surplice at Winchester Cathedral in both formats.  Like you, I haven’t located a copy of the Christ Church 45 for sale.  I suppose there’s a remote chance one might turn up one day.

I have since tracked down a clearer copy of the sleeve showing the publication date 1968, produced by David Lumsden and sleeve notes by Paul Morgan and John Mingay.  Paul Morgan’s CV relates that he held the Christopher Tatton Organ Scholarship at Christ Church, studying under Dr Sydney Watson.  A description of the organ includes the following “It is a particularly good example of the English romantic organ, with four manuals, 48 speaking stops and 16 couplers”.  My recollection of the Wesley Larghetto is confirmed, the other works being Herbert Murrill’s ‘Carrillon’ and JSB’s Fugue in E flat (‘St Anne’) - but I suspect you already know this!

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