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St. George's Hall, Liverpool


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Finally, some major work being carried out on one of the worlds finest organs, and not before time. As I gather, Nicholsons have been awarded the contract to releather all the reservoirs, which may well mean that the job will no longer sound like Niagra Falls.

One thing does sadden me, and that is that this organ is being done still, in phases. Given the very thorough rebuild of the RAH, and the very inferior tonal quality of that particualr instrument, one would have hoped that similar care would have been allotted to poor SGH (notwithstanding the fact that the RAH organ was in a far worse state requiring a whole new organ apart from the "shell", console and pipework) . But no, this isn't happening so it seems. The facade, which is still crumbling and whose facade pipes are still filthy, should have expert restoration, by the likes of Plowden and Smith, cf. Rochester, and the casework be sensitively restored. Then we have the little matter of the frying of the organ over several years, by overheating and lack of humidity. If the latter has been addressed somewhat, the organ remains a pale shadow of it's former glory, and certainly has not sounded the same since the halls closure in 1984 for three long years. The St.George's Hall organ club folded, and recitals since that time have been sparce, but still well attended. The interest is still there.

Make no mistake of the quality of this organ, and of the unique tone it has.

How on earth it will come out of this latest work is anyones guess, as it addresses only the winding as far as, but not including, the soundboards. Nor does it address the action, or the pipework, or the years of neglect and overheating. One hopes, but with a certain pessimism.

Still, hats off that the reservoirs are being done, and one hopes for still more......

R

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That the job is being done in phases is most likely Hobson's choice! I don't think that organ comes high on the spending priority list of Liverpool City Council, and from what I gather, it has been very hard work to get any money to spend on it.

 

I note with interest the choice of Nicholson. Are we to assume that its maintenance has passed into new hands?

 

dqb

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Guest Roffensis
That the job is being done in phases is most likely Hobson's choice!  I don't think that organ comes high on the spending priority list of Liverpool City Council, and from what I gather, it has been very hard work to get any money to spend on it.

 

I note with interest the choice of Nicholson. Are we to assume that its maintenance has passed into new hands?

 

dqb

 

 

I very much doubt that. I know the restoration work went out to competitive tender, and would hazard a guess that the decision as to which builder to have do the work was based on cost.

 

R

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Ah yes, inferior tonal quality.  If only Hill had built the instrument!

 

On the contrary, St. Georges Hall is probably one of FHW's best, on a par with Canterbury, Alexandra Palace and Herford to name a few.

 

Hill would almost certainly have made a good job of building a fine organ, but when you think of how much work of Harrisons is on the Albert Hall, and how much the original scaling had to be altered I know which instrument I'd prefer to spend the money on. No disrespect to the latest restorers but there can really be little doubt the the RAH organ has been hacked about in the past. Can the same be said for St. George's Hall? My bet would be SGH has the greater pedigree.

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On the contrary, St. Georges Hall is probably one of FHW's best, on a par with Canterbury, Alexandra Palace and Herford to name a few.

 

Hill would almost certainly have made a good job of building a fine organ, but when you think of how much work of Harrisons is on the Albert Hall, and how much the original scaling had to be altered I know which instrument I'd prefer to spend the money on. No disrespect to the latest restorers but there can really be little doubt the the RAH organ has been hacked about in the past. Can the same be said for St. George's Hall? My bet would be SGH has the greater pedigree.

 

All these value-judgements are very dispiriting. I much prefer Arthur Harrison to FHW and William Hill. As a Londoner, I get to hear the RAH organ in the flesh several times each year. From my point of view, I could describe SGH as 'tonally inferior', but I don't.

 

And as for Hereford, I don't think the additions of the 1970s really did any favours to the character or 'pedigree' of that particular instrument. And how about Canterbury...?

 

:)

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Guest delvin146
All these value-judgements are very dispiriting. I much prefer Arthur Harrison to FHW and William Hill. As a Londoner, I get to hear the RAH organ in the flesh several times each year. From my point of view, I could describe SGH as 'tonally inferior', but I don't.

 

And as for Hereford, I don't think the additions of the 1970s really did any favours to the character or 'pedigree' of that particular instrument. And how about Canterbury...?

 

:)

 

Actually I much prefer Arthur Harrison to FHW or William Hill, but I was simply trying to make a point that the RAH has a Harrison and Willis choruses and is not a pegidree organ, it has been mucked about. Having heard the RAH, personally I think it's ok, Manders did a good job with it, but what makes it so spectacular? As a Londoner, I find it wildly overrated and would rather go down and listen to St. Paul's quite frankly. Just because it's big, it doesn't necessarily follow that the RAH is of spectacular tonal quality, even FHW had off days. Then there's the question of acoustics, and of course personally I'd rather go and hear an organ in SGH than RAH. I hadn't realised the changes at Hereford were really that far reaching within the overall character, whereas I believe the Great Diapasons at the RAH were altered quite drastically. As for Canterbury, what's there is still wonderful, and there's a Stopped Diapason and something else which I can't recall which isn't original. A great pity it was cut back. Perhaps putting back what was there on 4 manuals and dividing the organ between 2 triforia North/ South to maximise speaking room might be a pretty good compromise there. New case on the Nave section perhaps? Personally, with Canterbury I'd put the organ back as it was, accept that it will never speak into the nave very well, and if more is needed in the nave add a couple of new ranks to the nave division. It really doesn't seem to require any more than that. Shame to spoil the original Willis organ, tinker about with a small nave division as a seperate entity. Even more economical to dispense with the nave division altogether, and invest in a couple of really good quality music microphones, have them professionally installed and relay the glorious sound to the nave - problem solved.

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And as for Hereford, I don't think the additions of the 1970s really did any favours to the character or 'pedigree' of that particular instrument.

I don't think the character of the Hereford instrument was very much altered by the rebuild in the late 70's. A mixture stop was added to the great and a few extra ranks on the pedals I believe, but nothing else was changed so if you don't use the new mixture its pretty much original Willis.

 

Re. SGH, it seems unlikely that Nicolsons would come in significantly cheaper than David Wells once you take travelling and subsistance costs into consideration.

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On the contrary, St. Georges Hall is probably one of FHW's best, on a par with Canterbury, Alexandra Palace and Herford to name a few.

 

Hill would almost certainly have made a good job of building a fine organ, but when you think of how much work of Harrisons is on the Albert Hall, and how much the original scaling had to be altered I know which instrument I'd prefer to spend the money on. No disrespect to the latest restorers but there can really be little doubt the the RAH organ has been hacked about in the past. Can the same be said for St. George's Hall? My bet would be SGH has the greater pedigree.

 

 

=================

 

 

It's interesting that St.George's Hall enjoys a reputation such at it never enjoyed originally; which is not to suggest that is not a fine organ.

 

Lest we forget (or don't know) Fr.Willis had to return to the organ to make it sound better, and Aristide Cavaille-Coll didn't like it at all.

 

Subsequently, the organ was messed around with by Willis 3, who did the usual thing of installing a heavy chorus and smoothing out some of the reeds; which was very much in the style of what others, like Arthur Harrison had done to many Fr.Willis organs.

 

I recall talking to an elderly gentleman about thirty years agom, who could remember the organ before Willis 3 got his hands on it.

 

He siad (and I quote) "The Tubas were ruined. The original Tubas were fiery and left quite an impact, but the revoiced ones are tame by comparison."

 

Tame?

 

Well that was the word he used, which may explain why he wore a deaf-aid.

 

I'm sorry, but St.George's Hall is only partially authentic Fr.Willis, and better examples of Fr.Willis' organs may be heard elsewhere.

 

That stated, it IS a fine instrument, but not absolutely perfect by any means.

 

MM

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I don't think the character of the Hereford instrument was very much altered by the rebuild in the late 70's. A mixture stop was added to the great and a few extra ranks on the pedals I believe, but nothing else was changed so if you don't use the new mixture its pretty much original Willis.
Also, I believe the Choir Bourdon gave way to a Mixture and the Piccolo to a Spitzflute.

 

Since the rebuild I've only heard it on Graham Barber's CD of the Howells Sonata ans 6 pieces, so can't comment other than to say that, on that, the Great Mixture sounds a disaster. It just doesn't blend; it sits there on top of the chorus, tinkling away like a Cymbelstern. I can't help wondering whether there was a mix-up in Durham and somewhere there's a neo-Baroque organ with a Mixture intended for Hereford.

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Pardon my Scouse, as I've never heard the organ in St George's Hall live, but from what I have heard on CDs recorded by Christopher Dearnley, Ian Tracey and David Briggs, I remain resolutely underwhelmed by what I have heard. I know, I know, you should never judge an organ by a recording, but to me it has sounded like a poor mans Lincoln Cathedral, with out of tune reeds and an insufficient supply of wind. Were there in fact ever the glory days when this organ was in full working order, and is there anybody still alive who can remember them. And finally, if this organ is such a gem, why haven't the famously generous people of Liverpool dug deep into their pockets (and I do mean the people, not the local authority) and raised the necessary funds to put the sparkle back in this so-called jewel in their crown?

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Actually I much prefer Arthur Harrison to FHW or William Hill, but I was simply trying to make a point that the RAH has a Harrison and Willis choruses and is not a pegidree organ, it has been mucked about. Having heard the RAH, personally I think it's ok, Manders did a good job with it, but what makes it so spectacular? As a Londoner, I find it wildly overrated and would rather go down and listen to St. Paul's quite frankly. Just because it's big, it doesn't necessarily follow that the RAH is of spectacular tonal quality, even FHW had off days. Then there's the question of acoustics, and of course personally I'd rather go and hear an organ in SGH than RAH. I hadn't realised the changes at Hereford were really that far reaching within the overall character, whereas I believe the Great Diapasons at the RAH were altered quite drastically. As for Canterbury, what's there is still wonderful, and there's a Stopped Diapason and something else which I can't recall which isn't original. A great pity it was cut back. Perhaps putting back what was there on 4 manuals and dividing the organ between 2 triforia North/ South to maximise speaking room might be a pretty good compromise there. New case on the Nave section perhaps? Personally, with Canterbury I'd put the organ back as it was, accept that it will never speak into the nave very well, and if more is needed in the nave add a couple of new ranks to the nave division. It really doesn't seem to require any more than that. Shame to spoil the original Willis organ, tinker about with a small nave division as a seperate entity. Even more economical to dispense with the nave division altogether, and invest in a couple of really good quality music microphones, have them professionally installed and relay the glorious sound to the nave - problem solved.

 

Pedigree is always tricky isn't it? The RAH is essentially a Harrison instrument. As I understand it from the copious amounts written about the RAH organ following its restoration, AH added to the organ and left most of the FHW stuff tonally unaltered (a generalization, but basically the case). Our hosts have made a cracking job of resoring the AH instrument (plus later additions). The uniqueness of this organ comes not merely from its size but from the variety of soft colours, the 'orchestral' division etc. The huge warm 'orchestral' sound is also pretty unique, I'd say. But as others have said repeatedly, you do have to hear the instrument from the right place in the Hall. The arena or opposite stalls will not do.

 

About St Paul's, I'd agree with an eminent contributor to this board, that the recital audience here hears the dome organ, a large echo division (chancel) and some west-end chamades. Very disappointing. This is an organ which only sounds intelligible as a whole in recordings.

 

As a fellow-Londoner, which would you rate as our finest instrument? I'd go for the RAH (it's a childhood thing). Notre-Dame de France is pretty wonderful, and often overlooked. And if you like big acoustics...

 

And for the most distressingly mutilated organ in London? Westminster Abbey. Very sad. (And how about St Margaret's next door...? B) )

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A moment of idle speculation caused me to wonder what would have been the result had the Royal Albert Hall been built in the 1920s or 30s. I wonder if we would have had Willis, or would Midmer-Losh have been brought over from America.... ;)

 

But in a sense that IS what happened! The 1933 Harrison re-build is the restrained British version... B)

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As a fellow-Londoner, which would you rate as our finest instrument? I'd go for the RAH (it's a childhood thing). Notre-Dame de France is pretty wonderful, and often overlooked.  And if you like big acoustics...

 

And for the most distressingly mutilated organ in London? Westminster Abbey. Very sad. (And how about St Margaret's next door...?  B) )

 

What's the Westminster Cathedral instrument like? I've always liked the sound of it in recordings, but never heard it live...

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I once played a note on the tuba stop on the four manual console in the east end. It took quite a while for the sound to arrive. Guess I can say I've played the organ at Westminster Cathedral!!! B)

 

 

What's the Westminster Cathedral instrument like? I've always liked the sound of it in recordings, but never heard it live...

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What's the Westminster Cathedral instrument like? I've always liked the sound of it in recordings, but never heard it live...

 

Stunning. B) If you like that sort of thing. It's at the West End, and speaks boldly into the widest nave in the UK. An eminent author described it as 'the supreme colourist's instrument'. The 32' reed is apocalyptic. It's really worth hearing live; I don't recall a recording that does it justice.

 

The late-lamented Summer Recital Series was the best in London: international performers, meaty programmes, even an interval. Lots of memorable occasions, including a great performance by one of this board's contributors, in his RCO performer-of-the-year year.

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Stunning.  B)  If you like that sort of thing. It's at the West End, and speaks boldly into the widest nave in the UK. An eminent author described it as 'the supreme colourist's instrument'. The 32' reed is apocalyptic. It's really worth hearing live; I don't recall a recording that does it justice.

 

The late-lamented Summer Recital Series was the best in London: international performers, meaty programmes, even an interval. Lots of memorable occasions, including a great performance by one of this board's contributors, in his RCO performer-of-the-year year.

Goldsmith, how very kind of you it is to say such nice things. I remember playing the Alain Trois Danses in the programme - one of my favourite works - and thinking that the organ was made for it. The softer reeds and flutes are stunning. Your choice of adjective for the 32' reed is entirely apt...

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"And for the most distressingly mutilated organ in London? Westminster Abbey. Very sad."

 

I would agree in so far as the 16/8/4 Bombarde reeds added in 1987 - they do not sit well with the character of the rest of the instrument. Otherwise, this has always been my favourite London organ. Perhaps not the most eclectic of instruments - I ecould listen to it all day in works by Elgar, Parry, Stanford, Whitlock, Howells, Healey Willan, Alcock et al, i.e. works by British composers, for which I believe it is ideally suited. The full Swell is such a sweet and rich sound, the Tuba Mirabilis is an utter delight and doesn't dominate the ensemble.

 

The RAH organ is a strange one. I've been fortunate enough to have played it twice in my life due to family connections. At the console you just have no idea whatsoever of the power of the instrument - it just goes completely over your head - and yet sit at the very back of the hall and full organ really knocks you sideways. Is it a Willis or Harrison? Ask yourself the same question about Durham, and you probably have your answer.

 

About St Paul's, I'd agree with an eminent contributor to this board, that the recital audience here hears the dome organ, a large echo division (chancel) and some west-end chamades. Very disappointing. This is an organ which only sounds intelligible as a whole in recordings.

 

Agreed, and yet I always found John Scott's recordings have had such a wide dynamic range, which makes domestic listening difficult. However, the sub-organist at St Paul's, Huw Williams, has just got a new CD out on the Guild label that for me is the best recording this organ has ever had. They have focused very much on the Chancel Organ and recorded it quite close so that the acoustic doesn't have a chance to muddy the waters, with the Dome organ very much taking a back seat, but still there, as you can hear when the Trompette Militaire gets an airing in the Meyerbeer Coronation March.

 

Although Westminster Abbey is my favourite London organ, I would arguably say that the greatest has to be the Grand Organ in Westminster Cathedral. This organ really can pack a punch, and yes, the 32ft reed is huge, but it also has some lovely soft registers. A truly heroic romantic organ on which I have been fortunate enough to hear some great recitals in the past. Nicolas Kynaston demonsrated he knows this organ better than anyone, a recital by a young Andrew Millington remains in the memory, as does a recital by Jean Langlais and most memorably, the UK premiere of Messiaen's Livre du Saint Sacrement by Jennifer Bate, with the composer present. Such great occasions today are rare if not non-existent.

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Stunning.  :D  If you like that sort of thing. It's at the West End, and speaks boldly into the widest nave in the UK. An eminent author described it as 'the supreme colourist's instrument'. The 32' reed is apocalyptic. It's really worth hearing live; I don't recall a recording that does it justice.

 

 

I shall have to try to get up there at some point. I'm interested to compare it to my own instrument, which, on paper, seems to share a common foundation.

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"And for the most distressingly mutilated organ in London? Westminster Abbey. Very sad."

 

I would agree in so far as the 16/8/4 Bombarde reeds added in 1987 - they do not sit well with the character of the rest of the instrument. Otherwise, this has always been my favourite London organ. Perhaps not the most eclectic of instruments - I ecould listen to it all day in works by Elgar, Parry, Stanford, Whitlock, Howells, Healey Willan, Alcock et al, i.e. works by British composers, for which I believe it is ideally suited. The full Swell is such a sweet and rich sound, the Tuba Mirabilis is an utter delight and doesn't dominate the ensemble.

 

 

The remaining AH stuff on the Abbey organ is delightful, esp the solo, as you say. But there's more to it than just the Bombarde division. The Large Open was removed, and the Trombas revoiced as Posaunes. The re-modelled great chorus, together with other additions/changes, leave an instrument which is an unsatisfactory hybrid. But I still go to hear it lots; there are echoes of former greatness...

 

You're spot on about the Cathedral, those Sylvestrinas are ravishing.

 

Cheers, I'll look out for the new St Paul's disc.

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The remaining AH stuff on the Abbey organ is delightful, esp the solo, as you say. But there's more to it than just the Bombarde division. The Large Open was removed, and the Trombas revoiced as Posaunes. The re-modelled great chorus, together with other additions/changes, leave an instrument which is an unsatisfactory hybrid. But I still go to hear it lots; there are echoes of former greatness.

Having spent my formative years playing a 1911 Arthur Harrison with 8 and 4ft Trombas, I would have welcomed having them revoiced as Posaunes. The Trombas were utterly useless as chorus reeds and they tended to be used most transferred onto the Choir manual in works like Couperin's Mass for the Parishes and John Stanley voluntaries. Not exactly what they were intended for, but what else can you do with them, when if you add them to Great to Mixture, they immediately obliterate the Great chorus. As for the 8ft Large Open Diapason, there was also one of those, and again you had to scratch your head a bit to find some use for it.

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HEREFORD.

 

I live here at Hereford and would like to correct 'Goldsmith' in his statement no 7 post. I will quote Roy Massey's remarks:

As in 1933 it was decided that restoration and conservation was the correct proocedure, and consequently there has been no re-voicing or alteration of the Willis pipeworkm although the opportunity was taken to provide a few additions to amplify the original tonal concept.

The Great organ gained one new stop - a 4 rank mixture 19,22,26,29, which carries up the brilliance of the Willis 4ft and 2ft ranks and acts as a bridge between the fluework and the wonderful family of 16,8, and 4 ft Trumpets. The original Willis Tierce mixture 17,19,22, remained unaltered.

The pedal organ gained independent metal diapason ranks at 8 ft and 4 ft pitch with a 4 rank mixture 19,22,26,29 to complete the chorus and give a degree of independence. A stopped flute 8ft Open flute 4ft and Schalmei 4ft were also added to give variety to the quiter pedal registers.

At our latest rebuild this Schalmei was altered to a trumpet 4 ft, maybe called a Clarion, I forget.

The Swell organ remained exactly as before although in order to improve tonal egress 2 additional shutters were added to the Swell front and a baffle board errected over the box to direct the sound forward.

The Solo organ gained a 2ft flute by the transposition of the old Hohl flute 4ft and the Glockenspiel gongs lost their swell shutters inh an attempt to make their charming tones more audible. The Tuba was moved to a commanding new position over the Great organ as its pipes formerly blocked the triforium arch and masked the tone of the Swell organ.

The Choir organ was moved from its rather buried position at the back of the chamber to a new position in the centre of the organ case where the old 1893 console used to be. This division was brightened by the addition of a tapered Spitz flute 2ft in place of the old Piccolo and a 3 rank mixture 15,19,22 replaced the Lieblich Bourdon 16 ft.

 

The Willis 1933 console, notable for the luxurious completeness of control which it offered the player was retained. Again this was retained at our latest rebuild suitably modernised with memory systems etc.

 

I was only talking to Roy yesterday and this came up. One doesn't have to use the new 4 rank mixture on the Great which remains exactly as Father Willis left it.

 

At the recent rebuild Geraint Bowen also decided restoration and conservation were the correct procedure.

 

We are now left with one of the finest organs in all the land.

 

Hope this information has been helpful.

 

M.S.

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