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I never had the privilege of hearing GTB in recital. As good as he was cracked up to be?

 

 

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Unfortunately, I only ever heard GTB twice in recital, and he was getting on a bit.

 

I think he was certainly in his 80's, but the recitals were thoroughly excellent, and one included the Reubke Sonata.

 

I don't think either recital stick in my memory as utterly outstanding, and that's the bit I sometimes wonder about.

 

The logic dictates, that if he could play so well in his 80's, he was possibly a whole lot more brilliant in his 20's and 30's.

 

So whilst I feel priviledged to have heard him play live, I am left with the regret that I never heard him at the peak of his powers as a younger man.

 

MM

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Yes - I heard the great Sir George several times at Birmingham Town Hall, but as that was 30 years ago I can't comment about his playing - it certainly seemed very fine to me. He gave 1,000 recitals here, possibly one or two more.

 

One of his party pieces, I recall, was Toccata in Ab major - Adolph Hesse which I rarely hear played these days. A great pity. Exhilarating and uplifting, and makes a welcome and refreshing change from the eternal Toccata from Widor 5 which is trotted out at every opportunity.

 

Also, occasionally, on some Sundays I used to sit on the organ bench with him at the Temple Church, and could admire his sensitive accompaniment of his choir; even with the organ 'flat out' the Choir were soaring above it. (at that time I was working on the Railway ships at Dover and drove up to London in time for the service).

 

What a superb organ that was then. (it still may be) I haven't heard the organ since his days, but some successive organist decided he knew better than Sir George and, I understand, had the great trombas unenclosed. Quite mind boggling. Regarding this I clearly remember the saga of these reeds as told to me by Sir George himself. He went up to Glen Tanar castle to try the organ before it was removed to the Temple Church and instructed Harrisons to make the reeds double power. When the organ was being errected in the church and Sir George was trying it, he then had to make a hurried call to Harrisons saying 'No no don't make the reeds double power, make them half power'. He had, as he said, failed to take into account the curtains, carpets and sofas etc in the room where the organ was. This is referred to in Jonathan Rennert's excellent, and highly readable biography about him, which Sir George kindly autographed for me in 1979.

 

M.S.

 

.

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Yes - I heard the great Sir George several times at Birmingham Town Hall, but as that was 30 years ago I can't comment about his playing - it certainly seemed very fine to me.  He gave 1,000 recitals here, possibly one or two more.

 

One of his party pieces, I recall, was Toccata in Ab major - Adolph Hesse which I rarely hear played these days.  A great pity.  Exhilarating and uplifting, and makes a welcome and refreshing change from the eternal Toccata from Widor 5 which is trotted out at every opportunity.

 

Also, occasionally, on some Sundays I used to sit on the organ bench with him at the Temple Church, and could admire his sensitive accompaniment of his choir; even with the organ 'flat out' the Choir were soaring above it.  (at that time I was working on the Railway ships at Dover and drove up to London in time for the service).

 

  What a superb organ that was then. (it still may be)  I haven't heard the organ since his days, but some successive organist decided he knew better than Sir George and,  I understand, had the great trombas unenclosed.  Quite mind boggling.  Regarding this I clearly remember the saga of these reeds as told to me by Sir George himself.  He went up to Glen Tanar castle to try the organ before it was removed to the Temple Church and instructed Harrisons to make the reeds double power.  When the organ was being errected in the church and Sir George was trying it, he then had to make a hurried call to Harrisons saying 'No no don't make the reeds double power, make them half power'.  He had, as he said, failed to take into account the curtains, carpets and sofas etc in the room where the organ was.  This is referred to in Jonathan Rennert's excellent, and highly readable biography about him, which Sir George kindly autographed for me in 1979.

 

M.S.

 

Many thanks for sharing that memory, Michael. I enjoyed JR's book. Carlo Curley also tells us much abt GTB in his autobiography. Interesting in what you said abt GTB's accompanying the choir 'flat out'. In a recent interview in the FCM mag, Francis Jackson recalls Bairstow 'drowning' the choir to great effect.

 

 

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Hello Ed,

Glad you liked my little story. I don't want you to think that GT-B accompanied the Choir 'flat out' all the time, he most certainly did not. On occasions he might build the organ up, and I recall very well his calling to me for the Tuba on one or two occasions, and that would only be for the last chord. He certainly never drowned them, and, as I said, even with Full Organ the Choir always managed to soar above the organ. It was very exciting. By keeping the Trombas in a box he was better able to obtain his magnificent crescendo effects.

M.S.

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I once had the dubious pleasure of page-turning for GTB at a recital in the Colston Hall in Bristol in the late 1960s.

 

Whenever he came to Bristol, he stayed in the house where I had a bed-sit, as his then wife had lodged in the same house when she was a music student at the University a few years previously. (The landlady, incidentally, was the widow of a Cardiff music lecturer and had in her lounge a full-size Steinway which had reputedly once belonged to Rachmaninov!)

 

The last piece in the first half of GTB's programme was a big Reger fantasy (don't remember which - I was very young at the time). Towards the bottom of the first page, tenor G# on the Great stuck - with full organ drawn. Never have I seen fingers move so fast for pistons, but to no avail - he had to stop. My memory of the rest of the evening is a little hazy after nearly 40 years, but I know we took the interval early and he successfully played that piece again after it, without a hitch. Rumour had it that Harrison's man spent the 2nd half sitting in the swell box with his finger over something or other. Don't know how true that was.

 

Quite an evening.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Guest Barry Williams
I once had the dubious pleasure of page-turning for GTB at a recital in the Colston Hall in Bristol in the late 1960s.

 

Whenever he came to Bristol, he stayed in the house where I had a bed-sit, as his then wife had lodged in the same house when she was a music student at the University a few years previously. (The landlady, incidentally, was the widow of a Cardiff music lecturer and had in her lounge a full-size Steinway which had reputedly once belonged to Rachmaninov!)

 

The last piece in the first half of GTB's programme was a big Reger fantasy (don't remember which - I was very young at the time). Towards the bottom of the first page, tenor G# on the Great stuck - with full organ drawn. Never have I seen fingers move so fast for pistons, but to no avail - he had to stop. My memory of the rest of the evening is a little hazy after nearly 40 years, but I know we took the interval early and he successfully played that piece again after it, without a hitch. Rumour had it that Harrison's man spent the 2nd half sitting in the swell box with his finger over something or other. Don't know how true that was.

 

Quite an evening.

 

George Thalben-Ball had a superb piano technique, (piano was his first study,) so the top end of the repertoire held no horros for him. Equally, he had a superb photographic (ideographic) memory, along with an equally strong analytic and muscular memory. The result was that the notes were incidental to his interpretation. He did not have to struggle technically and could concentrate on interpretation.

 

Nowadays, less attention is given to correct fingering and footing, with the result that some performances are technically rather shaky. This, inevitably, reduces the power of the interpretation. One cannot interprete until the notes are under perfect control.

 

A generation of organists is growing up without adequate piano technique. The results are shockingly unmusical.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Barry Williams

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George Thalben-Ball had a superb piano technique, (piano was his first study,) so the top end of the repertoire held no horros for him.  Equally, he had a superb photographic (ideographic) memory, along with an equally strong analytic and muscular memory.  The result was that the notes were incidental to his interpretation.  He did not have to struggle technically and could concentrate on interpretation.

 

Nowadays, less attention is given to correct fingering and footing, with the result that some performances are technically rather shaky.  This, inevitably, reduces the power of the interpretation.  One cannot interprete until the notes are under perfect control.

 

A generation of organists is growing up without adequate piano technique.  The results are shockingly unmusical.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Barry Williams

 

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

 

I blame Franz Liszt!

 

MM

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No one has mentioned GTB's set of variations for pedal solo - I heard him play these several times - and they were quite a show piece! He also frequently included the Reubke sonata in his programmes.

 

PS its hard to believe anyone could call Liszt's monumental organ works unmusical...

 

Dupre also had a virtuoso piano technique...

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No one has mentioned GTB's set of variations for pedal solo - I heard him play these several times - and they were quite a show piece! He also frequently included the Reubke sonata in his programmes.

 

PS its hard to believe anyone could call Liszt's monumental organ works unmusical...

 

Dupre also had a virtuoso piano technique...

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Guest Roffensis
I never had the privilege of hearing GTB in recital. As good as he was cracked up to be?

 

 

An old collegue of mine heard him several times at Alexandra palace, and said he was stunning in his heyday. Of course as a Choirmaster he was unrivalled, and still is, particularly today....... :ph34r:

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No one has mentioned GTB's set of variations for pedal solo - I heard him play  these several times - and they were quite a show piece! He also frequently included the Reubke sonata in his programmes.

 

PS its hard to believe anyone could call Liszt's monumental organ works unmusical...

 

Dupre also had a virtuoso piano technique...

 

 

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Well, I'll mention them just to make you feel happy. I heard GTB play the pedal variations at Huddersfield Town Hall, and I heard him play the Reubke at Clitheroe PC when I was all of 15.

 

The performance of the former was lacking a little, but the latter was really very, very good for someone in his late 70's at the time, but I don't feel that I ever heard GTB at his best by any means, judging by what people have said about him.

 

MM

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I heard GTB play Birmingham Town Hall before the last rebuild and the 32' reed would'nt stop playing and remember GTB hammering away at the stop jam whilst continuing the playing with the other hand. From what I remember he seemed quite unflappable and continued as if nothing happened (like so many church organists have to cope with every Sunday on instruments in dire need of repair)!

 

What I liked about his playing was that he was more interested in playing pieces in a musical way than bowing to musical trends which is probably why he was such a brilliant choir trainer. I have heard a recording of Bach's Toccata in F major and he uses a gradual crescendo with full swell which would have so many of todays so called Bach experts and purists cringing I'm sure. Nevertheless, after recently hearing one of Britains most eminent organists play Bach with perfect use of the latest thinking on ornamentation and 'authentic' registration I'm not sure whether the current thinking is sound. The playing I heard bored me from start to finish very few registration changes and little emotion.

 

To all Bach purists - feel free to bash me into submission over my uneducated views!!!

 

GTB reputedly gave the first live performance of Rachmaninov 3 (other than the composer) in England at the age of 19 which was supposed to have been witnessed by Parry and Howells who rated the performance highly, confirming his legendary technique.

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I'm not sure how old GTB would have been in the late 1960's, but I heard him play the Reubke 94th in Salisbury Cathedral then when I was but a mere youth.

Perhaps I was just young and impressionable, but his playing seemed to me to be nothing short of astounding. I still have the programme somewhere, must go look up what else he played.

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I'm not sure how old GTB would have been in the late 1960's, but I heard him play the Reubke 94th in Salisbury Cathedral then when I was but a mere youth.

Perhaps I was just young and impressionable, but his playing seemed to me to be nothing short of astounding.  I still have the programme somewhere, must go look up what else he played.

So????

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