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Royal Albert Hall Proms recital


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Many members of the forum will have listened to today's recital given by Peter Holder. It was fascinating to hear this organ (with over 9.000 stops, according to the announcer! ) being revealed in so many ways. I am writing to enquire (1) if anyone can make an informed comment on the sound engineering, and (2) if there is any CD recording which gives a faithful and accurate picture of the tonal resources of the instrument? Incidentally, the announcer did not suggest we were listening to an untouched Father Willis, as have some of her colleagues.

Edited by Denis O'Connor
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I have it on reasonable authority that the organ is one of those difficult instruments to record (like the 2 Liverpools, and St Pauls) for reasons that those who know more about it than me can say . To close a recording and the different Divisions are not heard in context, and to far, and the sound gets less direct and the room/acoustics spoil it. There are a number of recording about, most sound different, like the Bates /Liszt, Weir and Simon Preston > There are many others

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Hi

I was amused, like Denis, to "discover" that the RAH organ has 9,999 stops!  The mind boggles.  I was also surprised to hear that it's not been changed from when Father WIllis built it (presenter attributed that comment to the organist).  Surely we can expect the BBC to get basic facts right?

Every Blessing

Tony

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56 minutes ago, Tony Newnham said:

Surely we can expect the BBC to get basic facts right?

Once upon a time, pretty much. These days, not so much.  A presenter's personality is now more important than learning. What a contrast with the simple, factual; presentations of old: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdNjQbtiGOA. That said, errors apart, I did think the presenter of this prom had a much better style than some.

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Does it really matter? So the presenter mixed up the words 'stop' and pipes'

But, of course, nitpicking is what we are good at! Why not just celebrate that the BBC Proms featured an organ recital of quality given by a distinguished player. I notice that not one of the previous comments on the quality of a) the playing or b) the chosen repertoire.

No wonder organists have such a bad reputation!!!

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S.L. asks "Does it really matter?" I think mis-information broadcast does matter.

We are very pleased that the organ of the Albert Hall is getting a decent recognition after some time of being ignored by the BBC. It is a pity that presenters do not do their homework--they are professionals, after all!

 

 

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On 04/09/2021 at 15:20, Denis O'Connor said:

I am writing to enquire (1) if anyone can make an informed comment on the sound engineering, and (2) if there is any CD recording which gives a faithful and accurate picture of the tonal resources of the instrument?

Let it be said right away that I'm no organ expert, a very amateur onetime player but a devoted listener. I'm also a very occasional audience member in the RAH when I can make it over for the odd Prom. That said:

1. The sound engineering of this particular Prom seemed marginally better to my ears than in the past, but I was wearing headphones for it where usually I listen through speakers. The big Solo orchestral reeds were identifiable but very toned down. Some of the Pedal sounded very forward indeed, and the Great flues seemed equally big compared to the rest.

(However, as more knowledgeable members have mentioned, not just in this thread but in others in the past, there is really no 'one sound' to the instrument even when you sit in the hall itself. I was seated in the stalls in approximately the 9 o'clock position for a performance of the Vaughan Williams Sinfonia Antartica in 1994 and the instrument's supposedly fortissimo entry in the Landscape movement was underwhelming. I was in the 6 o'clock position in a loggia box at the back of the stalls when Cameron Carpenter performed (after the restoration) and it was very impressive but rather unfocused. You could hear that yes, that was the Tuba Mirabilis, and yes those were the big Solo reeds, but there wasn't much real fire, nor much real immediate presence from the Pedal.

However, I was in the circle (level 3, just below the gallery at the very top) in the 7-8 o'clock position for a performance of The Planets, and the immediacy and clarity, oh my goodness. The entries in Mars were like hot coals, and the big glissando in Uranus was simply devastating. I got a huge and physically shocking impression of the big reeds and mixtures all at once there, and lots of people in the vicinity physically reacted to the volume, so it wasn't just me. In the quieter movements, the pp Pedal entries were present, and had focus and gravity.

All that said, I've no idea where it's best to sit, or whether there is such a place in fact.

2. I have Christopher Herrick's Organ Fireworks II, which is great but recorded long before the restoration. The Tuba Mirabilis has one notable outing, during which it sounds like the microphone must have been bang in front of the pipes themselves. The big Solo orchestral reeds aren't really big here, but the quieter stops are well explored. Simon Preston's post-restoration CD, to my ears, has some of the problems you get as a listener in the hall but I think does seem realistic. Gillian Weir's CD on Priory was the first post-restoration recording and while Gramophone made much of its undoubted musicality, I felt the recording was a disappointment, very distant, and although you knew the big reeds from their timbre, they were underwhelming in impact. Much use of the volume control was needed. Again, important to say that this isn't a criticism of Priory. They use one microphone I think, and they were doing their best with where they could place it. For my money, Thomas Trotter's Grand Organ Prom disc is the clear winner so far in terms of organ sound alone, and I think they must have miked it in several locations around the hall because the different divisions are really well represented, clear, focused and musical. You won't hear it like that in person, I think!

I'll stop blathering now!

Edit: links to the CDs mentioned... 

https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA66258

https://signumrecords.com/product/royal-albert-hall/SIGCD084/

https://www.prioryrecords.co.uk/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=2134

https://www.regent-records.co.uk/product_details_215.htm

Edited by peterdoughty
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10 minutes ago, Denis O'Connor said:

S.L. asks "Does it really matter?" I think mis-information broadcast does matter.

I agree. We all make mistakes and even the presenters of old time could make them, but it's the general sloppiness that bugs me. In the days when the BBC was a public service provider and a standard setter, high standards mattered. Now that the focus is on entertainment and ratings, they don't so much. We now have Radio 3 announcers who, without the slightest respect for the listening experience, think it cool to barge in before the last chord has died away, who talk over the music, who apparently think that we long to heard their voices, and who behave generally like DJs. It's awful. Sorry. End of rant.

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15 hours ago, Peter Allison said:

I have it on reasonable authority that the organ is one of those difficult instruments to record (like the 2 Liverpools, and St Pauls) for reasons that those who know more about it than me can say . To close a recording and the different Divisions are not heard in context, and to far, and the sound gets less direct and the room/acoustics spoil it.

True.  I have an LP of St Paul's demonstrating just about every section of the organ.  Bearing in mind such widely separated divisions as the Positive organ, the Dome Tubas and the West-end Royal Trumpets, and how each was reproduced so clearly, there is no way that all of these could possibly have been recorded using the same microphone(s) located in a central position!  I'm sure they must have been moved around for the best effect.

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1 hour ago, Denis O'Connor said:

S.L. asks "Does it really matter?" I think mis-information broadcast does matter.

We are very pleased that the organ of the Albert Hall is getting a decent recognition after some time of being ignored by the BBC. It is a pity that presenters do not do their homework--they are professionals, after all!

 

 

but that is what the BBC does best (being slightly political for a second) mislead, mis represent, give mis- information 🤣

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