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The Finest Five Organs In The World?


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To follow the Carlo Curley cul-de-sac, he's clearly a fine player etc.

 

However, my own feeling is that the organ's serious problem is NOT a lack of 'popular' appeal.

I assume by this that you are not suggesting that the pitifully small attendances for organ recitals in many areas (whoever is playing) are indicative of the popularity of the organ but that lack of popularity is not the fundamental problem or the one requiring to be addressed first.

 

Rather, it's a perceived lack of profound/high-quality/worthwhile (insert adjectives as appropriate) repertoire.

 

Perceived by whom ? The non-attending audience or serious composers ? If the latter, is the problem not similar to that of the chicken and the egg ? Perhaps serious composers might be more interested in writing for the organ if it were more popular and their music thus got more exposure and earned them more in royalty payments as a consequence. If the former , where do they get their knowledge from concerning the shortcomings of the repertoire ? After all since they do not attend it cannot be from personal experience .

 

Audiences turn out in large numbers to hear difficult and complex art-music: Mahler, Bruckner, Nielsen and the like attract large and varied audiences. Historically-informed performances/festivals of early music are also extremely well-attended.

 

While this may well be true of where you live, I do not think it applies uniformly across the entire country. Moreover, as with those who love traction engines, many who like this type of music - I personally would not cross the road to hear a Bruckner symphony, though I quite like Mahler - tend to travel to where it is being performed. Thus, if you stick to large centres of population -London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool - you can generate "a large and varied audience" even though it represents  a tiny fraction of one percent of the population living in the area. I think it fairly unlikely that Mahler 8 is frequently performed in Inverness for example.

 

 

The organ's problem is in being taken seriously by intelligent, musically-cultivated people.

 

 

I presume you mean ENOUGH "intelligent, musically cultivated people"  NOW LIVING. After all J.S.Bach took it seriously, as did Elgar, Howells, Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner among composers(even if they did not write much for it in some cases), while presumably Dame Gillian Weir, Simon Preston, Thomas Trotter, Lionel Rogg, Daniel Roth, Olivier Latry etc, etc take it seriously and I doubt you think that those named are either lacking in intelligence or musical sophistication.

 

And this, I fear, is due to experiences of noisy third-rate music poorly played. The effect of this is serious: musical decision-makers, in the media and in concert-planning continue to ignore the instrument.

 

It is surely an interesting question why experience of "noisy, third rate music poorly played" should so affect these arbiters of taste that they not only wish to spare the public from that but also from first rate music (eg J.S. Bach) expertly played (pick your own favourite performer). They surely would not do that if  there was a huge demand , vociferously expressed, so perhaps popularity is a significant problem for the organ after all, though not of course the only one  Having said all that, I love the 'town hall tradition', the Edwardian organ etc. But I think it has quite enough champions already.

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Hmmm....I am not sure how you would classify Hector Olivera but as a serious organist?

 

http://www.hectorolivera.com/

 

I think I have a complaint about CC it is that he does not seem to have developed as a musician. He is playing the same repertoire today as he did 25 years ago. He may entertain his audiences but does he challenge them?

 

While I agree that CC does not seem to programme a huge repertoire . I wonder why it is considered that it is his responsibility to challenge his audience, unless playing to one composed entirely of masochists. A good many people do not want to be challlenged but entertained, reassured and comforted. They are perfectly entitled to want that and if that is what they pay for that is what they should get. It is the customer who is always right according to the saying: not the salesman !

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II think that we need to stop expending time discussing the merits of Messr Curley and Olivera and get back to discussing serious organists, such as Stephen and Paul,  who play serious music and not transcriptions of the Blue Danube and Beethoven 5.

 

 

It is quite simply fallacious to imply that serious organists do not play transcriptions. It is not true now and certainly was not true in the past. As to the here and now, Dame Gillian Weir, Simon Preston , Thomas Trotter, Nicolas Kynaston, David Briggs, Kevin Bowyer and John Scott Whitely have all recorded transcriptions, in some cases whole programmes of them, many still available or only recently released. So incidentally has Lionel Rogg whom most people would regard as a serious organist. In the past Thalben-Ball, G.D. Cunningham and Edwin Lemare also did just to mention names most here will know, and Lemare played to audiences which most people performing today would die for, especially if they were on a share of the ticket receipts ! And Marcel Dupre used to regularly feature a transcription he had made himself as the prelude to the Xmas Midnight Mass at St Sulpice.

 

Then there are the theatre organists like Reginald Foort and George Blackmore , both sufficiently serious to be holders of the FRCO diploma, and as MM has pointed out more than once Quentin Maclean' s training by Straube may fairly be taken as evidence that he has claims to be considered a serious organist too.

 

Lastly, most practising organists, including most on this board, quite regularly play transcriptions, often at Weddings when Wagner's Bridal March, Handel's Air from the Water Music and/or "Largo" and Mendelsssohn's Wedding March are called for, as they still often are. And what about "Nimrod" or Chopin's Funeral March ? Quite recently a member of this forum was enquiring about availability of a Brandenburg Concerto in transcription.

 

Serious organists do not play transcriptions ? They certainly do in this world.

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It is quite simply fallacious to imply that serious organists do not play transcriptions. It is not true now and certainly was not true in the past. As to the here and now, Dame Gillian Weir, Simon Preston , Thomas Trotter, Nicolas Kynaston, David Briggs, Kevin Bowyer and John Scott Whitely have all recorded transcriptions, in some cases whole programmes of them, many still available or only recently released.

 

good stuff snipped

 

Serious organists do not play transcriptions ? They certainly do in this world.

 

I would just add that the greatest organist and organ composer, JS Bach, made and played transcriptions.

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In the past Thalben-Ball, G.D. Cunningham and Edwin Lemare also did  just to mention names most here will know, and Lemare played to audiences which most people performing today would die for, especially if they were on a share of the ticket receipts ! And Marcel Dupre used to regularly feature a transcription he had made himself as the prelude to the Xmas Midnight Mass at St Sulpice.

 

Then there are the theatre organists like Reginald Foort and George Blackmore , both sufficiently serious to be holders of the FRCO diploma, and as MM has pointed out more than once Quentin Maclean' s training by Straube may fairly be taken as evidence that he has claims to be considered a serious organist too.

 

In former times this was quite understandable. In the days when radio reception was not particularly high quality and gramophone recordings were limited to somewhat scratchy 78 rpm records of severely limited duration there must have been added value in actually getting off your backside and going to hear music live. In places where visits by professional orchestras were few and far between the organist was an important figure. Also, there was less of a divide between the styles of popular and "serious" music. In this culture transcriptions had a valuable role to play.

 

In the days before the war Harry Moreton, the organist of St Andrew's, Plymouth, played weekly to large audiences in the Guildhall next door (four-manual Willis, destroyed in an air raid) and on the wireless. His programmes were a mix of proper organ music and transcriptions: anything from the Elgar sonata to Rossini and Spohr - fairly typical of the tastes at the time. Recordings of some of his broadcasts still exist and were collected on a CD a few years ago by the Plymouth and District Organists' Association. They are an interesting historical record, but, frankly, the sound quality does not pass muster, even after processing. Little wonder the live audiences were good. These days Plymouth won't turn out in droves for much other than the marine band and carol concerts. Visits by the Bournemouth Symphony Ochestra were discontinued several years ago through lack of interest.

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I didn't make my point clearly and simply enough:

 

Lots of 'the-type-of-people-who-go-to-art-music-concerts-in-London' are not hostile to the sounds made by the organ. Many organ recitals feature third-rate music.

 

Organ recitals often feature ill-prepared players (through no fault of their own, limited time on a strange instrument etc.) playing bad music badly. We (organists and organ-fanciers) tolerate a lower standard of public performance than is usual in other instruments/ensembles.

 

I am a 'young-ish' person (under 35). Art-music is attracting new audiences via Tavener, Part etc. In an age of 'spiritual questing' audiences are seeking profundity, depth and meaning. Anecdotal evidence: I've taken Philistine friends to hear music by Olivier Messiaen since my teens. It bowls them over. OM's music, even his organ music, is highly regarded by non-organophiles. Yet on this board, for example, much of his more 'difficult' music is dismissed.

 

Few people will any longer be attracted to the organ through youthful ecclesiastical experiences. They will not develop a love of music whose quality is limited by function (and yes, I love 'bad' hymns, anthems, chant too). They will not understand or be moved by 'liturgical' improvisation or last-verse harmonizations. They will need to be attracted to the organ by 'absolute' music, not ecclesiastical programme-music.

 

As to transcriptions, why this obsession with the bygone era of Lemare, Best etc? We all know the social-historical function of the town hall tradition and these kind of pieces. They're great fun, often deeply affecting, and have their place. But my guess is that they appeal chiefly to the nostalgically-inclined.

 

These are personal viewpoints, limited by my own experience. My days of preaching are in the past, and I was never very good at it. And I've bored myself rigid with all this... :unsure:

 

Oh, one more thing: I'm sure lots of the dead were indeed musically cultivated etc. But I'm not sure I've seen many attending concerts. Hold on tho'...

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Hmmm....I am not sure how you would classify Hector Olivera but as a serious organist?

 

http://www.hectorolivera.com/

 

I think I have a complaint about CC it is that he does not seem to have developed as a musician. He is playing the same repertoire today as he did 25 years ago. He may entertain his audiences but does he challenge them?

 

While I agree that CC does not seem to programme a huge repertoire . I wonder why it is considered that it is his responsibility to challenge his audience, unless playing to one composed entirely of masochists. A good many people do not want to be challlenged but entertained, reassured and comforted. They are perfectly entitled to want that and if that is what they pay for that is what they should get. It is the customer who is always right according to the saying: not the salesman !

 

A good many people do not want to be challlenged but entertained, reassured and comforted.

 

:unsure: Therein lies the problem. In a nutshell.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

CC may not play a different repertoire from that which he has performed in the past, but on recent personal experience, IMHO he is playing both more accurately and more musically. I have some of his CDs and can't bear to play them, but his live performance at Hull City Hall this year was an exhibition of real skill and I'm not ashamed to say this.

 

The question of performers with a limited repertoire is a serious one. In the old days (before money, energy and time ran out), I would still go and hear Simon Preston play his programme, even if I had heard it twice before - it was always electrifying. If people are as much at the top of their game as this, you get what you have gone for! There are cases where a famous player laboriously trots out the same few works that they have recently recorded....

... When the choice is to hear them on CD on a first-rate organ in the comfort of one's own home without effort, or to travel some distance to hear them fail to match these results on a less wonderful instrument I know which I'd choose.

 

I do think that performers who can't be bothered to find time to learn one or two fresh works on a regular basis are unnecessarily restricting the fare on offer to our public. Is this out of cowardice - they really believe that so little music is worthy of performance?

 

I heard an early evening recital last week given by a prominent Italian organist in a French Cathedral. He played three works (coincidentally, all in minor keys). He started with the Reubke Sonata; for light relief, he dallied a while with a very accurate but fast version of Variations on a Noel - Dupre and finished with Reger's Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue. OK he was expecting a lot of himself, but also an awful lot of his audience. Surely one little Italian piece would have gone down a treat - some Bossi maybe?

 

I started to write a paragraph here sharing my own list of recitalists I would always try to hear live but then realised such a list will always be invidious and incomplete. It's like favourite organs or favourite repertoire. On this site I have noted people who can't bear Cesar Franck....whereas he'd be the first composer I'd keep after Bach. We can't all like the same things, and why should we? Even so, why deliberately make organ music out to be duller and more restricted than it has to be?

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I heard an early evening recital last week given by a prominent Italian organist in a French Cathedral. He played three works (coincidentally, all in minor keys). He started with the Reubke Sonata; for light relief, he dallied a while with a very accurate but fast version of Variations on a Noel - Dupre and finished with Reger's Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue. OK he was expecting a lot of himself, but also an awful lot of his audience. Surely one little Italian piece would have gone down a treat - some Bossi maybe?

 

 

But we don't expect Dawn Upshaw to include 'My Old Dutch' in a recital of Schubert, Harbison and Barber, do we? Or Kissin, Brendel, Uchida or MacGregor to give us Scott Joplin? :unsure: Not that I'd include Bossi in those categories, of course. I think I may be alone in not feeling the need for light relief in a concert programme. Contrast yes.

 

No wonder the Westminster Cathedral summer series died the death; long programmes (with interval) of 'dull' music. Happy days!

 

Todd Wilson ended his Abbey recital last year with the Reubke. Wow. The applause was rapturous... Anything further would have been superfluous.

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I do think that performers who can't be bothered to find time to learn one or two fresh works on a regular basis are unnecessarily restricting the fare on offer to our public. Is this out of cowardice - they really believe that so little music is worthy of performance?
I should think the most obvious example of a performer with limited repertoire must be Pavarotti. As far as I know he sings nothing but extracts from opera. Just as well - I'd hate to hear him trying a Bach aria, or even a Schubert Lied. Perhaps opera is the only music he likes or perhaps he feels it is the only music that suits his voice - I don't know. It's easy to be sniffy about him having only one style (and even more so about the fact that he can't read music), but my goodness does he wow the masses. Like CC he knows where his niche is and when you're at the top of the tree and can pack a house with your limited repertoire, why should you takes risks? His public doesn't seem to mind. Is going for the umpteenth time to hear a top performer give an inimitable interpretation of a particular piece you love so very different from putting on one of your favourite CDs yet again?
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I should think the most obvious example of a performer with limited repertoire must be Pavarotti. As far as I know he sings nothing but extracts from opera.

 

No, sometimes he sings whole operas too, although not all by himself.

 

More seriously, singers have their instruments along too, so the comparison is not really fair. You're taking the performer and the instrument into account at the same time.

 

I could elaborate, but I'm quite sure everybody knows what I mean.

 

Cheers

B

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No, sometimes he sings whole operas too, although not all by himself.

 

More seriously, singers have their instruments along too, so the comparison is not really fair. You're taking the performer and the instrument into account at the same time.

 

I could elaborate, but I'm quite sure everybody knows what I mean.

 

Cheers

B

 

And to be fair, Pav is not a young man, and certainly not as fit as once he was.

 

His youthful accounts of bel canto roles on stage were tremendous. Have you heard his 'I Puritani' opposite Sutherland under Bonnynge? Incredible and unrivalled.

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Organ recitals often feature ill-prepared players (through no fault of their own, limited time on a strange instrument etc.) playing bad music badly. We (organists and organ-fanciers) tolerate a lower standard of public performance than is usual in other instruments/ensembles.

 

 

(snip)

 

 

As to transcriptions, why this obsession with the bygone era of Lemare, Best etc? We all know the social-historical function of the town hall tradition and these kind of pieces. They're great fun, often deeply affecting, and have their place. But my guess is that they appeal chiefly to the nostalgically-inclined.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

An organist (I forget who it was) said to me once, "They wouldn't tolerate poor performances at Brass Band concerts."

 

I've mentioned them before, but it is always something of a privilege to hear a brass band of the calibre of "Black Dyke," which is an "amateur" band at the cutting-edge of musicianship and virtuosity, as Andre Previn observed.

 

The brass band movement shares a great deal with the world of the organ, in so much as, the past is essentially that of the orchestral transcription, but to which has been added dedicated brass-band repertoire; often startlingly contemporary.

 

Herbert Howells, for instance, was one who had a foothold in both genres, and over the years, many fine organists have conducted bands, with such people as Roy Newshome FRCO conducting "Black Dyke" for many, many years, and covering the period when they were possibly at their greatest.

 

It matters little if the band movement tends to attract support from people who look more like football-fans than music-lovers, and it matters even less that each band-member possibly has a personal family fan-club.

 

The fact is, for the big event such as the National Brass Band finals or the World Finals , it is quite common to see an audience filling a huge venue such as the Albert Hall.

 

The repertoire may include anything from a Rossini Overture (always popular) to a crowd pleaser such as the solo cornet variations on "Carnical of Venice," but alongside this will be quite modern works of great rhythmic complexity; not unlike a number of contemporary organ-works.

 

Beneath the camaraderie and the almost sporting passion with ratings and results, there is real appreciation of the music, and I know that I have mentioned this before, but to witness a young lad jump and punch the air when he heard "Dyke" play a new work by Edward Gregson, when he had sat poe-faced through all the other performances, was not only to witness enormous enthusiasm, but very considered musical appreciation and discernment. It was definitely THE performance, and that lad knew it would be the winning one that it was.

 

I recall vividly a concert of theatre organ and big-band music, not so much rehearsed, as thrown togther. Bryan Rodwell had done the arrangements, and a few guys from the "Beeb" just happened to stroll in with their instruments at the last minute. There was the usual scrum as the band kicked over music stands and sheet music fluttered across the floor, but what followed was nothing short of astounding musically, and a rapt audience were as quiet as mice. It was one of those rare moments when everyone was walking on a cloud, and buzzing with excitement afterwards.

 

It may sound like a TV show, but there IS such a thing as the "X-factor" in music-making, which can lift the everday and the routine and elevate it to high-art status.

 

I also recall Carlo Curley performing live, when everything was more or less standard fayre. We had the "Pomp & Circumstance," we'd been pinned to our seats by his Bach Sinfonia and wallowed in the sentimentality of a very American rendition of the "Londonderry Air," and as usual, Carlo was on auto-pilot and delivering the usual patter. Then came Pierne, and Carlo looked more intense and more focused; even hesitating before launching himself into the music. It was utterly outstanding in every detail, and when the work finished, he noticed me sitting there open-mouthed at the neat dexterity and superb console control.

 

He took out a handkerchief, mopped his brow and nodded at me personally: verbal communication quite unnecessary.

 

Then there was a sound so exciting, it sent tingles down the spine. I was 14, I was there and the organist was some guy from Italy, to whom people had suggested I listen.

 

The "X-factor" was there before a note was heard, and it was the absolute silence of a large audience, who knew they were about to hear something very special indeed. That spine-tingling sound was the "thwump" of the slider-motors, as a certain Fernando Germani set up the registration for his opening Reger work, which then crashed into the room like an express train at Chicago Central.

 

I can't even begin to describe what the "X-factor" is in music. It can be heard and it can be witnessed, but not explained. It isn't about virtuosity, note accuracy to the n-th degree or whether it is "historically informed".......it's something else; at once elusive, spontaneous and mysterious.

 

The "X-factor" I heard from a 14 year old boy playing the Bach Chorale Prelude on the Passion Chorale. Never have I heard another performance better, and only rarely have I heard one half so good.

 

It may be witnessed at a Dolly Parton concert, never mind an organ-recital or a brass-band concert.

 

It's when a performer grabs you by the hand and takes you on a journey of discovery, and it is about passion and commitment, no matter how fleeting the moment or how transitory the pleasure.

 

If organists often fail to achieve this level of communication and heartfelt passion, it may be due to a number of factors, from a strange console, to a poor hearing position. Sometimes, a performance is note perfect but dull in the extreme, which I'm sure everyone has heard, even from distinguished organists in high places. Similarly, a recital with a few wrong notes can be thoroughly enjoyable musically.

 

Could it be that the answer lies in musicianship rather than scholarship?

 

I have the strange feeling that not one "Black Dyke" band member would recognise a chord of the diminshed minor 13th if it jumped up and bit them on the bum, but they can't half play!

 

I would like to think THAT'S the reason why people journey 200 miles to hear them perform in London.

 

MM

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No, sometimes he sings whole operas too, although not all by himself.

 

More seriously, singers have their instruments along too, so the comparison is not really fair. You're taking the performer and the instrument into account at the same time.

 

I could elaborate, but I'm quite sure everybody knows what I mean.

 

Cheers

B

 

 

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

 

 

:unsure::D:D

 

MM

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I can't even begin to describe what the "X-factor" is in music. It can be heard and it can be witnessed, but not explained. It isn't about virtuosity, note accuracy to the n-th degree or whether it is "historically informed".......it's something else; at once elusive, spontaneous and mysterious.

 

It's when a performer grabs you by the hand and takes you on a journey of discovery, and it is about passion and commitment, no matter how fleeting the moment or how transitory the pleasure.

 

Could it be that the answer lies in musicianship rather than scholarship?

I think MM is right. You don't know quite what to call it - the X factor, musicianship, who knows - but you can tell the real thing when you hear it. If people just go to hear the superstars, the Simon Prestons, DGWs, Thomas Trotters, John Scotts and David Briggs of this world, they will never encounter that fresh sense of discovery you get when you hear an unknown player reveal him/her-self for the first time to be a real talent.

 

Most Sunday afternoons used to find me going along to Westminster Abbey or Westminster Cathedral for the organ recitals. These were, and still are, a bit like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. You never quite knew what you're going to get. And so sometimes, you come across a real talent that you haven't heard of before, and the hairs stand to attention at the back of your neck. I still remember the first time I heard Martin Baker at the Abbey - I had never heard of this person, but his playing was full of belief and conviction, and I just knew I had heard a major talent for the first time. And lo and behold, it came to pass! :unsure:

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I am suprised that, on this thread, which is supposed to be about the finest five organs, there is so much criticism of Carlo Curley.

I well recall Carlo's concerts at Ally Pally in the 1980's (one of which was televised by the BBC) with his Allen organ, and he was able to

attract audiences of well over 1000, something which had not happened since the 1930's.

He puts bums on seats, and this is why i intend to book him to play in the unrestored Ally Pally Victorian theatre next year, with its wonderful acoustics.

If we were talking about finest organs in the past, surely the Willis in the Palace would have been a contender !

Colin Richell.

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Guest Paul Isom

I've just come back from North Netherlands/North Germany having played the organs at Uithuisen and the Martinikerk at Groningen. As a an unashamed romantic I would normally run a mile from such an organ. However, the sound of these organs was quite extraordinary - quite electrifying; although strangley English in tone. The two definitely get my vote. However, as a person of ample girth and height with size 11 1/2 feet, the mini-consoles were a nightmare. The nicely posed photos looked as if I were playing a lego Schitger console in Hamleys toy shop! I was lucky to meet Berhard Eskdes (ex-Metzler) who lived (unknown to our friends) two doors along the road. How lucky can you get!

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Guest Roffensis

St. Sulpice, Paris.

 

Sydney Town Hall :rolleyes:

 

St. Ouen, Rouen. :)

 

St. George's Hall, Liverpool. B)

 

St. Bavo, Haarlem.

 

 

And, if it ever gets finally and fully restored and sounding like it did, without a shadow of a doubt and rivalling the lot of them

 

Alexandra Palace.

 

Despite that, other favourites....

 

 

 

St. Mary, Rotherhithe.

 

Adlington Hall

 

Binham Priory

 

Romsey Abbey

 

Chichester Cathedral

 

:D

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

The problem about this topic is that we haven't all heard the same instruments. Even if we had, there are more being added, some of them very fine indeed. I don't think I could ever get it down to five by any method.....I could cheat of course.

 

I could tell you my two favourite for Bach - Martinikerk Groningen and The Westerkerk, Amsterdam.

 

I'm still looking for the right organ for Franck.

 

Mendelssohn - I have yet to hear a performance on the sort of organ he actually wrote for - a typical Hill/Gauntlett job of the 1840s/50s. Great Goerge Street Liverpool might have done, but it's gone now. maybe St.Mary at Hill? People will tell you that he wrote with Silbermann organs in mind, but the commission was from London publishers and his own written intentions are 'for his London organist friends'. I like St.Alkmund's Whitchurch, Shropshire very much in this repertoire, but 1. I'm biased and 2. few of you will know it.

 

Messiaen - almost any 1970-90 multi-purpose organ provided that it's in a whacking great acoustic. I really enjoy the early Preston recordings which were (in theory) on the worng organ altogether.

 

Buxtehude - Alkmaar?

 

Widor and Vierne (both) - Ste Sulpice.

 

Problem with some wonderful organs is the question what actual music ought one play on them? Some of the South German organs (Riepp etc.) are stunning in French repertoire. Only ten days ago, I found the best organ for this stuff without any question at all. It is the 1997 restoration by Pascal Quoirin of the Dom Bedos organ at Abbatiale Sainte-Croix, Bordeaux.

 

Reger - a big Sauer or Schulze, perhaps. For me, it's got to be big enough to have a 32' reed and not so big an acoustic that you can still hear the notes. Not an easy task sur le continent. Plenty of big English organs do Reger well IMHO.

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