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David Coram

Portsmouth Cathedral

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Having just spent an entire day playing the 1994 Nicholson at Portsmouth, I thought I should find out other people's experience of it and try and find out why it's not more talked about. I thought the plenum was a match for mine at Romsey in terms of excitement (possibly greater, with the 32ft reed) and the flutes no less superb. The situation was wonderful to be able to hear the choir with no delay at all, see all that was going on around AND hear the congregation - all stuff I'm not really used to, as anyone who knows the position of the organ at Romsey will appreciate.

 

I found the console fantastically comfortable, I wasn't short of any of the sounds I wanted, thought it was quite the best 32' reed I have encountered for a long time - big presence, but a nice one you could hear in full organ and still use with lighter registrations - an EXCEPTIONALLY good tracker action (tho the Swell is a few millimetres shallower than the other two - perhaps to overcome coupling problems experienced in setting up?), tonally very bright and sensitively handled (I assume there is historic material within it as the case is certainly old). Just a sheer delight from beginning to end. Even a Cymbelstern, though why people don't put these things in swell boxes is a mystery to me. The "solo" (played from the choir) was lovely - a really big 4' open flute, and something called a Solo Ophicliede, which I thought was just fantastic. A lot more sociable and stable than the horizontal things at Wimborne but with just the same brightness.

 

The only bit I didn't like was the winding, which I have found on a lot of Nicholsons to be a bit snappy. Tremulants a little disappointing and very noisy, too. On two other local instruments of theirs I have seen this has all been down to rather too small and inappropriately shaped wind trunks (90 degree bends and square, rather than rectangular, in section). Much of the pedal was a bit boomy in the mid register, even the stopped flutes getting a bit "woody", and the upperwork lost wind when you started adding violones and stuff. There was some strange corner-cutting, too - the Ch Clarinet is tenor C, which I thought odd on an instrument with absolutely no other leanings to authenticity, and the Sw Clarion appeared to turn into Principal pipes from middle C upwards. Middle C! Found out to my cost trying to do a 4' reed pedal solo during the eucharist.

 

But apart from these small niggles it's as near to perfect as I've encountered for a while, although I don't believe I have ever read an article about it or heard it referred to as a fine example of work by a British builder, which is undoubtedly is. Anyone know better than I do?

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Well, I do not know it better, David - but I also spent a day on it playing for all the Sunday services a while ago.

 

It is a good instrument; although I doubt that you will be surprised to learn that I did not particularly like the Solo Ophicleide....

 

Have they owned-up about the Swell 16p reed and the Céleste yet? When I played it, both draw-stop shields were blank. Apparently the undulant was a 'secret' - hmmm.

 

Did you get chance to try the Nave section? Presumably from the console it was somewhat remote.

 

I would be interested to know whetner or not you used the electric coupling. Personally, I found it a little heavy without - especially for fast music.

 

I was interested to read your comment regarding the Cymbelstern - exactly the same point which I made to you last Friday, I believe....

 

:)

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It is a good instrument; although I doubt that you will be surprised to learn that I did not particularly like the Solo Ophicleide....

 

Have they owned-up about the Swell 16p reed and the Céleste yet? When I played it, both stop shields were blank. Apparently the undulant was a 'secret' - hmmm.

 

Did you get chance to try the Nave section? Although from the console it was probably somewhat remote.

 

I would be interested to know if you used the electric coupling or not? Personally, I found it a little heavy, especially for fast music, without.

 

I was interested to read your comment regarding the Cymbelstern - exactly the same point which I made to you last Friday, I believe....

 

<_<

 

Yes, electric coupling on throughout - why on earth wouldn't you? It's not Lent anymore, you know.

 

As any fule no, Cymbelsterns are better off in swell boxes; I believe this is one of the things we have long been in agreement about!!!

 

If I wanted a big shouty reed, and I didn't like Tubas and I thought many chamades were a bit too weak to use as solos, I would be very happy with that Ophicliede - it gave me everything I wanted. But hey...

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Yes, electric coupling on throughout - why on earth wouldn't you?  It's not Lent anymore, you know. 

 

Um - something to do with achieving absolute simultaneity of the claviers when coupled.... I know that it only has three claviers, but did the Swell speak at exactly the same time as the Choir, when coupled to (and played from) the GO?

 

For the record, I have never given up couplers for Lent - mine are all electric.

 

Tracker? Bah! Humbug!

 

<_<

 

Oh, and the Ophicleide - I suppose that it is OK - after a fashion. There, you have dragged that rather grudging half-compliment from me.... But I do like chamade stops, though....

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Um - something to do with achieving absolute simultaneity of the claviers when coupled.... I know that it only has three claviers, but did the Swell speak at exactly the same time as the Choir, when coupled to (and played from) the GO?

 

For the record, I have never given up couplers for Lent - mine are all electric.

 

Tracker? Bah! Humbug!

 

<_<

 

Oh, and the Ophicleide - I suppose that it is OK - after a fashion. There, you have dragged that rather grudging half-compliment from me.... But I do like chamade stops, though....

 

Don't think there's any such thing as absolute simultaneity of the claviers when coupled. As the plucks would normally be (and are here) arrayed just one after the other to keep action weight down, I would have thought it actually would be quicker with the electric assistance offering far more sustained and consistent weight than my poor fingers, rather like my Romsey Barker Lever machine for which I daily give thanks. I look forward to trying the similar system at Sherborne next week - I am told there is a difference of opinion as to whether this instrument is better with or without assistance.

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I found the console fantastically comfortable,

 

I took my choir down to Portsmouth for a week last Summer and really enjoyed playing the instrument (at very short notice - I should have been conducting, but that's another story...)

 

What I found most satisfying was that every stop seemed to be in just the right place - I reached out for something and there it was... and I normally play a 2 manual stop tab instrument.

 

I also left the electric coupling on (although I did experiment without it just to see what it was like!)

 

Steve

St Stephen's, Canterbury

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...I look forward to trying the similar system at Sherborne next week - I am told there is a difference of opinion as to whether this instrument is better with or without assistance.

 

I am told (by a previous organist) that the action is also disappointing - quite as heavy as the previous two attempts (since 1987).

 

I would be interested to try this instrument, too. Apparently, the main organ is also a little quieter - a second chorus Trumpet has been lost from the Choir (or 'Resonance') clavier. This seems to me to be a retrograde step - it was barely loud enough before. I would not wish to have to rely on the new Nave section too much - particularly for recital-work. This could have the effect of making the transept organ sound even more remote.

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I've got the Priory CD of Adrian Lucas playing the Portsmouth organ, and it sounds a fine instrument. Bonnet's Variations de Concert on the CD comes across magnificently - I really must get down to Pompey one of these days. It must be an optical illusion but the old organ case looks from a distance on the CD cover like the face of a monkey with its eyes shut. B)

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I am told (by a previous organist) that the action is also disappointing - quite as heavy as the previous two attempts (since 1987).

 

I would be interested to try this instrument, too. Apparently, the main organ is also a little quieter - a second chorus Trumpet has been lost from the Choir (or 'Resonance') clavier. This seems to me to be a retrograde step - it was barely loud enough before. I would not wish to have to rely on the new Nave section too much - particularly for recital-work. This could have the effect of making the transept organ sound even more remote.

 

I am pleased to report that the action of this instrument is an absolute delight. The beauty of playing without electric assistance is that the couplers are perfectly regulated and even throughout. The only uncomfortable bit really is the bass where there are two pallets. It's significantly better than the Portsmouth action and for comparison probably more comfortable than Christchurch Oxford and Westbury PC (though the latter is obviously 150 years older). Tonally I didn't find any surprises, though the tuning was a bit rancid tonight (only partially due to the weather I felt), and the pedal a bit disappointing - no 8p flute, no 8p or 4p reed, any of which to my mind would be more useful than the Quint 10.66p?

 

It's a shame the Romsey trick with the nave wasn't followed - I felt that putting it about halfway back in a triforium would have done it the world of good. As you know at Romsey both organs come together beautifully and can be used in dialogue, rather than just as a hymn machine.

 

You could always come and hear my August bank holiday recital on it :) and have a go afterwards... assuming you're not too far away, that is?

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It's a shame the Romsey trick with the nave wasn't followed - I felt that putting it about halfway back in a triforium would have done it the world of good.  As you know at Romsey both organs come together beautifully and can be used in dialogue, rather than just as a hymn machine.

 

This may have something to do with the fact that there is no triforium in Sherborne Abbey - the clerestory directly surmounts the Nave arcade.

 

You could always come and hear my August bank holiday recital on it :) and have a go afterwards... assuming you're not too far away, that is?

 

Thank you , David. If I am not in Liverpool, I may just do that.

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This may have something to do with the fact that there is no triforium in Sherborne Abbey - the clerestory directly surmounts the Nave arcade.

Thank you , David. If I am not in Liverpool, I may just do that.

 

 

Ah, well being an organ geek I didn't bother looking at the church. How dull. Still, I quite liked it. How are you getting on with Liverpool?

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Ah, well being an organ geek I didn't bother looking at the church.  How dull.  Still, I quite liked it.  How are you getting on with Liverpool?

 

 

You did not look at the church?!

 

Good grief! The interior is one of the best examples of Perpendicular ecclesiastical architecture in the country. it is stunningly beautiful. Speaking personally, just a glimpse of the expanse of fan-vaulting which this building possesses sends me into raptures of delight....

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I was interested to read your comment regarding the Cymbelstern - exactly the same point which I made to you last Friday, I believe....

 

:)

 

If you want to make some exciting music, fit the Cymbelstern, if powered by a D.C. electric motor, with a speed adjuster. Set the tempo of the bells to the tempo of the music and try playing some of the appropriate Bach Chorale Preludes.

 

FF :)

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Unfortunately my organ does not have a cymbelstern.

 

A former O&M of the C at Norwich Cathedral would probably like it. An organist who was once his assistant, drew the cymbelstern on the HN&B at Norwich during Evensong, in order to 'illustrate' the Psalm verse which runs 'My lot hath fallen upon a fair ground'. Apparently it was more like a fair-ground; this was, I suspect, the intention of the player.

 

Does anyone know how I can improve my Swell fan tremulant? At the moment it is about as useful as a chocolate tea-pot. It is positioned at 90° to the pipe-work (which seems slightly pointless) and is positioned quite close to the roof of the box.

 

Before I go to the trouble of cutting the suspension wires and re-positioning it so that it runs parallel to the pipes (and closer), can anyone tell me if it is likely to make any difference, please?

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Unfortunately my organ does not have a cymbelstern.

 

A former O&M of the C at Norwich Cathedral would probably like it. An organist who was once his assistant, drew the cymbelstern on the HN&B at Norwich during Evensong, in order to 'illustrate' the Psalm verse which runs 'My lot hath fallen upon a fair ground'. Apparently it was more like a fair-ground; this was, I suspect, the intention of the player.

 

Does anyone know how I can improve my Swell fan tremulant. At the moment it is about as useful as a chocolate tea-pot. It is positioned at 90° to the pipe-work (whish seems slightly pointless) and is positioned quite colse to the roof.

 

Before I go to the trouble of cutting the suspension wires and re-positioning it so that it runs parallel to the pipes (and closer), can anyone tell me if it is likely to make any difference.

 

Fan tremulants I have found to be a disaster. If sited too high in the box they are pretty (sorry, very) ineffictive, if lowered closer to the pipes they work after a fashion but the position of the fan, depending where it stops, can seriously affect the tuning.

 

I have never found one with the fan not being placed parallel to the pipework.

 

They can also affect access for the tuner to the pipes for tuning, especialy the mixtures, and if a keyholder accidently pulls the tremulant out during the tuning can clout the unfortunate tuner on the head.

 

Yet another reason that I am glad I have retired.

 

FF

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If you want to make some exciting music, fit the Cymbelstern, if powered by a D.C. electric motor, with a speed adjuster. Set the tempo of the bells to the tempo of the music and try playing some of the appropriate Bach Chorale Preludes.

 

FF  :)

 

 

An enclosed Cymbelstern? Surely the problem is that most modern (Anglo-American) Cymbelsterne are simply too loud and too fast. The best Continental examples - whether historic or modern reconstructions - tend to be very gentle. The stop at Roskilde adds a delicate shimmer to a couple of flutes rather than a noisy clang which tires even before the end of a Bach CP. Like others of its kind it is wind-driven and for that reason has tiny, lightweight bells (Schellen) of indeterminate high pitch.

 

JS

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Fan tremulants I have found to be a disaster. If sited too high in the box they are pretty (sorry, very) ineffictive, if lowered closer to the pipes they work after a fashion but the position of the fan, depending where it stops, can seriously affect the tuning.

 

I have never found one with the fan not being placed parallel to the pipework.

 

They can also affect access for the tuner to the pipes for tuning, especialy the mixtures, and if a keyholder accidently pulls the tremulant out during the tuning can clout the unfortunate tuner on the head.

 

Yet another reason that I am glad I have retired.

 

FF

 

 

Unfortunately, unless we have the entire wind system re-configured, a fan tremulant is all we have. At present the regulation is achieved (with varying degrees of success) by imitation Schwimmers, in which most of the springs have lost their tension and 'springiness'.

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Members might be interested to know that, on the 25th Anniversary of its installation we have now completed the cleaning of all pipework, improvements to the Console and the addition of West End Trumpet en Chamades. The enhanced instrument will be opened by Gordon Stewart tomorrow evening (Saturday 30 September) at 6.30pm for those near enough to come.

More information about the 2 years' work can be found on the Nicholson website. http://www.nicholsonorgans.co.uk/portfolio/portsmouth-cathedral-hampshire/

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