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Bristol Cathedral Vs. St. Mary Redcliffe


DaveHarries
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Hi all,

 

Bristol Cathedral vs St. Mary Redcliffe? In your opinion, which sounds better when you hear it played?

 

Historywise, according to NPOR:

 

Cathdedral:

1515: Abbott Newland was "buried in the South side of our Lady Chapell (....) by the dore going into the loft going to the organs"

1629: Dallam

1685: Renatus Harris

1786: Brice and / or Richard Seede

1821: John Smith

1861: WG Vowles

1905: JW Walker

1970: JW Walker

1989/90: NP Mander

2005: Unknown (but I understand this to be NP Mander. Will double-check)

 

Redcliffe:

1726: Harris & Byfield

1867: WG Vowles

1912, 1932, 1947, 1974, 1990: all Harrison & Harrison

 

I know which one my favourite in Bristol is out of those two. But for those who have heard one or both of those instruments then which did you prefer?

 

Dave

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Hi all,

 

Bristol Cathedral vs St. Mary Redcliffe? In your opinion, which sounds better when you hear it played?

 

Historywise, according to NPOR:

 

Cathdedral:

1515: Abbott Newland was "buried in the South side of our Lady Chapell (....) by the dore going into the loft going to the organs"

1629: Dallam

1685: Renatus Harris

1786: Brice and / or Richard Seede

1821: John Smith

1861: WG Vowles

1905: JW Walker

1970: JW Walker

1989/90: NP Mander

2005: Unknown (but I understand this to be NP Mander. Will double-check)

 

Redcliffe:

1726: Harris & Byfield

1867: WG Vowles

1912, 1932, 1947, 1974, 1990: all Harrison & Harrison

 

I know which one my favourite in Bristol is out of those two. But for those who have heard one or both of those instruments then which did you prefer?

 

Dave

 

I understood the 2005 work to be Percy Daniel or whatever they were called at that time. I played it immediately after the 1990 work, and several times since, and thought it a sensational instrument. Redcliffe I've never warmed to - too lardy for my taste - so I know which I'd prefer.

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Guest Andrew Butler

Redcliffe is very much an Edwardian Harrison Child of its time. it would be wrong to make it otherwise. later work has, i feel, been in keeping.

 

The disposition of accompanimental and solo stops takes a bit of getting used to - eg a number of stops you would expect on the Solo are on the Swell, and some of the softer accompanimental stops are on the Solo - I believe this was for reasons of space.

 

I haven't heard or played the Cathedral since the Mander work. Even in its less-than-reliable latter days (I remember being present at a live broadcast of CE when Chris Manners of daniels', who'se son was a chorister I think, spent the service inside the organ literally holding the swell/great coupler mechanism together!) the 1907 Walker incarnation sounded wonderful.

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The disposition of accompanimental and solo stops takes a bit of getting used to - eg a number of stops you would expect on the Solo are on the Swell, and some of the softer accompanimental stops are on the Solo - I believe this was for reasons of space.

 

Indeed - at the time of the rebuild in 1912, a new stone chamber was built (as a result of an anonymous donation) in the angle of the North Choir Aisle and the North Transept. In this chamber, Harrisons placed the Swell Organ - which included the orchestral reeds and fluework. The Echo Organ (with the mild strings and quiet flutes) was placed with the main organ, in order to be closer to the singers.

 

I haven't heard or played the Cathedral since the Mander work. Even in its less-than-reliable latter days (I remember being present at a live broadcast of CE when Chris Manners of daniels', who'se son was a chorister I think, spent the service inside the organ literally holding the swell/great coupler mechanism together!) the 1907 Walker incarnation sounded wonderful.

 

Bristol Cathedral organ wins hands down for me; partly because, for my taste, it hangs together better as a musical instrument. I also find it more versatile in the sense that there are less sharp contrasts between the divisions. For example, the Swell and G.O. reeds and the Swell and G.O. fluework. In addition, whilst being perfectly adequate, Bristol lacks the over-heavy, booming 16p wood rank. I think that this instrument has a dignity and a freshness quite unique in our cathedral organs. The quiet effects of etherial beauty are many and varied - I even like the Swell Dulciana! The console, too, retains much of its Edwardian dignity. A superb instrument in a good acoustic.

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I too much prefer the cathedral. Its far more comfortable and easy to play apart from anything else. Managing the two swell pedals at SMR takes a bit of getting used to, and the console layout, particularly with regard to the spacing of the expression pedals and the toe pistons, is distinctly odd. SMR is also somewhat overpowering at the console.

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Tricky, this one.

 

Despite singing Choral Evensong in the Cathedral with a visiting choir and having been given a demonstration of the organ up in the cramped organ loft, the Bristol Cathedral organ did not make an impression on me as being anything other than a run of the mill cathedral instrument. Older and wiser, I still don't understand fully what all the fuss is about.

 

St Mary Redcliffe, which I have played and on which I gave my one and only recital on, is a pig of an instrument to play for the reasons already outlined by Andrew Butler and others. However, taking a step back to appreciate the instrument as a whole and ignoring the difficulties the player has to overcome, I have to agree with Arthur Harrison who towards the end of his life indicated he regarded this organ as his "finest and most characteristic work".

 

When you couple this assessment with its magnificent setting - the church is in my opinion a far superior building to the architecturally ordinary cathedral (Elizabeth I is reputed to have declared during a visit to Bristol in 1574 that St Mary Redcliffe was the "fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England" - then in my humble opinion Redcliffe leaves the Cathedral out for the count.

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I've not played either very much and the cathedral organ not since the early 80s. Then at least I thought it a very fine and satisfying instrument - of its type, of course.

 

Redcliffe I have never much liked, being too think and heavy for my taste. But I do find myself wondering whether the acoustic is mainly to blame - it's rather drier than you would expect in such a building. If the reverberation were as big and rolling as the organ I think the aural experience might possibly be altogether more edifying.

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Guest Andrew Butler
I've not played either very much and the cathedral organ not since the early 80s. Then at least I thought it a very fine and satisfying instrument - of its type, of course.

 

Redcliffe I have never much liked, being too think and heavy for my taste. But I do find myself wondering whether the acoustic is mainly to blame - it's rather drier than you would expect in such a building. If the reverberation were as big and rolling as the organ I think the aural experience might possibly be altogether more edifying.

 

Yes - I'd forgotten about the acoustic at Redcliff. I wonder if it's anything to do with the box pews....?

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
Yes - I'd forgotten about the acoustic at Redcliff. I wonder if it's anything to do with the box pews....?

 

 

Bits and pieces:

I think the recent work at Bristol Cathedral (pistons etc.) was carried out by Tony Cawston. Indeed, I'm pretty sure it has already been covered elsewhere on this site.

 

To ask us to choose between your two instruments is a bit harsh - since none of us are about to be offered either job, why should we choose? It's like being offered Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska for a single menu choice. [We'll be wasting time setting up Westminster Abbey vs. Westminster Cathedral next!] Your Bristol jobs are surely not 'either/or', I like them both. Tonally they're completely different but both very fine indeed, in both solo and accompanimental roles. Mechanically, (for all that it hasn't been rebuilt as recently) Redcliffe has it for me. At Bristol Cathedral one gets the impression that the divisions do not quite play in time with each other. Maybe it's a false impression, but one I have formed over several visits.

 

As far as acoustics go, Bristol Cathedral is a fantastic place for music and Redcliffe's OK. If I had to choose between buildings that one's easy.

 

Actually, David, you're giving the whole thing away pretty proudly with your little blue by-line at the bottom of each one of your posts. We know you prefer The Cathedral! This leaves out, of course, Clifton Cathedral and a number of other instruments (all fine in their own ways) how about the Willis at St.Monica's? At least you didn't put forward Clifton College Chapel, which I always found a pretty blunt instrument....mind you, I bet it works well with a hearty congregation.

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At least you didn't put forward Clifton College Chapel, which I always found a pretty blunt instrument....mind you, I bet it works well with a hearty congregation.

Aw, Paul! You had to go and spoil it at the end with a heartless comment about the 4m Harrison in Clifton Chapel. :P No, seriously, I have a soft spot for this instrument as it was my constant refuge for four or more years whilst a boarder at Clifton. Hidden away up in the organ loft, it helped me to retain my sanity. However, you are not far off the mark with your comment about it being a blunt instrument.

 

The huge 8ft Large Open Diapason on the Great is situated just above the organists head and once drawn, it was impossible to get any sense of balance, something always difficult in any case in attached consoles. And then there were the Great 8ft and 4ft Trombas which I never really found any use for, apart from as largeish solo trumpets in voluntaries by John Stanley and William Walond. Chorus reeds they were most definitely not. However, the 8ft Stopped Diapason (Choir) and 8ft Lieblich Gedackt (Swell) plus the strings on both Swell and Solo were a real delight and the organ really showed its quality in the more reflective works by composers such as Whitlock and Stanford. But my abiding memory is of accompanying 600 boys in Crown Him With Many Crowns (their favourite) - as you say, it worked well in leading the school in hymn singing.

 

Incidentally, it was on this organ that Andrew Nethsingha learnt his trade before going off to bigger and better things at Windsor, St John's, Wells, Truro and now Gloucester (ah well, you can't have everything!). :blink:

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I think the recent work at Bristol Cathedral (pistons etc.) was carried out by Tony Cawston. Indeed, I'm pretty sure it has already been covered elsewhere on this site.

Yes, I meant to say that in my earlier post, I'm sure it was Tony Cawston and was remedial maintenance work rather than a full blown restoration or rebuild.

 

I too find the action poor at the cathedral, we've discussed this before on these discussion boards, its just about impossible to get all of the divisions to speak together, but tonally it remains a gem albeit not the most versatile or eclectic of instruments.

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When you couple this assessment with its magnificent setting - the church is in my opinion a far superior building to the architecturally ordinary cathedral ...

 

 

Ah. Well, the wonderful thing about the cathedral is that it is (I believe) the only cathedral with the same ceiling height from front to back. This accounts for its absolutely stunning acoustics.

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Guest Andrew Butler
Aw, Paul! You had to go and spoil it at the end with a heartless comment about the 4m Harrison in Clifton Chapel. :P No, seriously, I have a soft spot for this instrument as it was my constant refuge for four or more years whilst a boarder at Clifton. Hidden away up in the organ loft, it helped me to retain my sanity. However, you are not far off the mark with your comment about it being a blunt instrument.

 

The huge 8ft Large Open Diapason on the Great is situated just above the organists head and once drawn, it was impossible to get any sense of balance, something always difficult in any case in attached consoles. And then there were the Great 8ft and 4ft Trombas which I never really found any use for, apart from as largeish solo trumpets in voluntaries by John Stanley and William Walond. Chorus reeds they were most definitely not. However, the 8ft Stopped Diapason (Choir) and 8ft Lieblich Gedackt (Swell) plus the strings on both Swell and Solo were a real delight and the organ really showed its quality in the more reflective works by composers such as Whitlock and Stanford. But my abiding memory is of accompanying 600 boys in Crown Him With Many Crowns (their favourite) - as you say, it worked well in leading the school in hymn singing.

 

Incidentally, it was on this organ that Andrew Nethsingha learnt his trade before going off to bigger and better things at Windsor, St John's, Wells, Truro and now Gloucester (ah well, you can't have everything!). :blink:

 

Err - stanley; Walond....... TROMBAS :o

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Ah. Well, the wonderful thing about the cathedral is that it is (I believe) the only cathedral with the same ceiling height from front to back. This accounts for its absolutely stunning acoustics.

 

I think you'll find it's the only medieval cathedral with the aisles the same height as the nave, rathe than the same height end to end.

 

As far as the Organs are concerned, I've heard both played and like them both. The Cathedral has the better acoustics, St. Mary's being very dry, and the better seating. The pews in St. Mary's are the most uncomfortable seats I've ever sat in.

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I think you'll find it's the only medieval cathedral with the aisles the same height as the nave, rathe than the same height end to end.

And I think you'll also find that its the only medieval cathedral nave not built until 1868.

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And I think you'll also find that its the only medieval cathedral nave not built until 1868.

 

Absolutely right, but the chancel dates from medieval times and has side aisles the same height as the centre aisle; the Victorian architect (forgotten his name) simply continued what he was faced with. The chancel vault is also, I believe, the earliest Lierne vault in the country, and one of the few without a ridge piece. Unfortunately the Victorians didn't continue this part of the design, and the nave vault is IMHO less interesting as a result.

 

Regards to all

 

John

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Guest Andrew Butler
Absolutely right, but the chancel dates from medieval times and has side aisles the same height as the centre aisle; the Victorian architect (forgotten his name) simply continued what he was faced with. The chancel vault is also, I believe, the earliest Lierne vault in the country, and one of the few without a ridge piece. Unfortunately the Victorians didn't continue this part of the design, and the nave vault is IMHO less interesting as a result.

 

Regards to all

 

John

 

Haven't checked but sure architecr was G E Street. (I should know without looking, I was a Cathedral guide there until moving away!! B)

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Actually, David, you're giving the whole thing away pretty proudly with your little blue by-line at the bottom of each one of your posts. We know you prefer The Cathedral! This leaves out, of course, Clifton Cathedral and a number of other instruments (all fine in their own ways) how about the Willis at St.Monica's? At least you didn't put forward Clifton College Chapel, which I always found a pretty blunt instrument....mind you, I bet it works well with a hearty congregation.

Yes, perhaps that by-line is a bit of a giveaway.

 

I had lessons both on Clifton College Chapel (where by permission I had a nice two mornings with the H&H crew who did it up in 1994) and on CLifton RC Cathedral's organ as well. The organs I have used for lessons in Bristol (plus the tutors as far as I can remember):

 

- Clifton College Pre. Hall (Robert Fielding, who branded this organ "a squeezebox")

- Clifton College Chapel (Robert Fielding again, much nicer instrument than the one in the Pre. Hall)

- St. Mary's, Stoke Bishop, Bristol (only twice, whilst Clifton College was in recess)

- Clifton Cathedral (first Richard Jeffery-Gray, then Ian Ball)

- Great Hall, University of Bristol (nice organ behind that grille. Three manuals.)

 

Sometime ago, someone within the University of Bristol expressed a desire to replace the pipe organ in that hall with an electronic instrument which, IMO, would have been a travesty. My Dad managed to persuade the university that an electronic organ would be a very bad idea.

 

I also remember that after the restoration of Clifton College Chapel's H&H organ, my number on the General piston system was number 13.

 

Dave

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All this talk about the many fine organs to be found in Bristol - enough, I would have thought, for a half-decent organ festival - and yet no mention of the H&H in the Colston Hall. This was built about the same time as the RFH organ, and yet is very different. Having played both, I would unhesitatingly chose the Bristol instrument over its more famous brother on the South Bank. I have heard both Peter Hurford and Carlo Curley produce wondrous results on it - Bach works surprisingly well, probably in part due to the really quite spicy diapason chorus on the Great, which has a nice edge to it.

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All this talk about the many fine organs to be found in Bristol - enough, I would have thought, for a half-decent organ festival - and yet no mention of the H&H in the Colston Hall. This was built about the same time as the RFH organ, and yet is very different. Having played both, I would unhesitatingly chose the Bristol instrument over its more famous brother on the South Bank. I have heard both Peter Hurford and Carlo Curley produce wondrous results on it - Bach works surprisingly well, probably in part due to the really quite spicy diapason chorus on the Great, which has a nice edge to it.

 

And the Solo strings are fantastic. One can 'have a go' by ringing them up and finding a time when no one is using the hall - make sure they have wheeled the console out of it's cupboard and there you are - easy!

 

AJJ

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  • 7 months later...
Having had lessons at St. Mary Redcliffe I'd have to say I'd prefer the Cathedral Organ any day. The fine Walker organ is superb has a lot of character. There is a good recording of it made by Regent Records.

 

I enjoyed playing Redcliffe, but being slightly different, of the organs in Bristol one of my favourites to play is actually the cathedral...at Clifton!

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I enjoyed playing Redcliffe, but being slightly different, of the organs in Bristol one of my favourites to play is actually the cathedral...at Clifton!

Hear, hear! Doesn't sound so good away from the console though. A lot of the sound goes straight up into the roof.

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Hear, hear! Doesn't sound so good away from the console though. A lot of the sound goes straight up into the roof.

 

 

It records well, however.

I very much enjoy Nicholas Kynaston's Bach LP made on the Clifton Cathedral organ.

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It records well, however.

I very much enjoy Nicholas Kynaston's Bach LP made on the Clifton Cathedral organ.

 

 

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

 

 

It is a splendid recording, and all the more remarkable in view of what Nicholas Kynaston said to me at a party.

 

"I don't understand Bach!"

 

:huh:

 

MM

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