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At the organ scholarships open day in Cambridge earlier this year a Director of Chapel Music from another college described the King's organ as "a big, romantic slush bucket". I have no idea whether that was ungracious, harsh or spot on. So I thought I'd ask the assembeld experts ...

 

Which are your favourite Oxbridge organs, and which are you less keen on?

 

Justadad

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Queens College Cambridge (Frobenius)

Or Oxford, even...

 

A fabulous organ, but very focused. I prefer the Rieger at Christ Church, and the Metzler in the University Church, or in small doses the sheer row that can be heard at Exeter College (though it's not so convenient for accompaniment). The Willis in the Town Hall is pretty good, too (I regret the loss of the FHW/H&H that preceded the Rieger in the cathedral, though it was good rather than outstanding). Merton College is weedy.

 

Don't know the Cambridge organs.

 

Paul

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Or Oxford, even...

 

A fabulous organ, but very focused. I prefer the Rieger at Christ Church, and the Metzler in the University Church, or in small doses the sheer row that can be heard at Exeter College (though it's not so convenient for accompaniment). The Willis in the Town Hall is pretty good, too (I regret the loss of the FHW/H&H that preceded the Rieger in the cathedral, though it was good rather than outstanding). Merton College is weedy.

 

Don't know the Cambridge organs.

 

Paul

 

Oops - slip of the university while trying to do too many things at work - corrected at source!!

 

AJJ

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I prefer the Rieger at Christ Church ... or in small doses the sheer row that can be heard at Exeter College.

 

Paul

 

HUZZAH!!

 

The organ of Christ Church Cathedral is a superb instrument. Whilst it lacks the subtlety of some Romantic instruments, it has a raw honesty and integrity which I find to be unique. It also has an excellent, sensitive mechanical transmission - quite the best I have ever played. It is not remotely heavy or uncomfortable - and no electric coupling, either.

 

Exeter College is very exciting - but I would like to meet the person who decided to lower the impost by about two feet - it is fine if one is playing the instrument, but whilst page-turning, it is necessary to stoop in order not to hit the underside of the case. It is also necessary to be extremely careful when getting up from the bench - I forgot at least once; however, I understand that the chapel has now been re-consecrated.

 

I quite like King's, for all its faults (fat trombe, enormous Double Ophicleide, tuba....); it does make some lovely sounds. The Choir Organ is unique amongst Arthur Harrison organs - three mutations and a separate Twenty Second. Who could imagine this H&H organ without its Choir division?

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
At the organ scholarships open day in Cambridge earlier this year a Director of Chapel Music from another college described the King's organ as "a big, romantic slush bucket". I have no idea whether that was ungracious, harsh or spot on. So I thought I'd ask the assembeld experts ...

 

Which are your favourite Oxbridge organs, and which are you less keen on?

 

Justadad

 

 

You're trying to stir up more discord, aren't you!!

 

Yes, you're spot on, that comment was very definitely 'ungracious' and it tells you that the speaker has not got sufficient experience to see that more than one musical style might well be valid.

 

Each organ, inside or outside Oxbridge, ought to teach an intelligent player something. The variety at Oxbridge is perhaps the strongest point of being at either place - if your son has time to venture around (and this is by no means certain) he will find representatives from almost every style. In the case of Oxford (which I know rather better) not so long ago some lecturers in the Music Faculty regularly discussed the future of soon-to-be-replaced organs with the notion of deliberately trying to have different styles of organ installed, their influence has extended even to the smaller colleges where there are not often Music students! In a way, there is some sense in this.

 

However, I have written before about the tendency to replace good accompanimental organs with ones that aren't - IMHO it really matters where there is a tradition of fine choirs. You could accompany everything (pretty convincingly) on the old organs, often you can't on the new.

 

Several on this forum don't like the GD&B at New College Oxford. Now, I ought to be biased in favour of its precedessor. It was the first organ I had daily access to at the age of 12 and I was the last person to play it. Actually, I find the GD&B still very refreshing and brave. OK it's weird too. Before it was revoiced/regulated softer I considered it the most exciting organ I had ever heard. It has to be handled carefully.....mind you, you have to be pretty talented to get your hands on it!

 

If you're desperate to have organs named and shamed (and I think a little too much of this has gone on in recent weeks on this site) I'd plump for the Metzler at the University Church of St.Mary the Virgin. The case is very fine, the action is good, the voicing is good and it makes a superb sound in 18th century music and....

well, can it play anything else? Can it accompany? I remember hearing it played and thinking 'how fine' and simultaneously 'how inappropriate!' You couldn't design a more wasteful scheme for accompanying a choir if you deliberately set out to do it! These were not the considerations that mattered, obviously. As it happens, a former pupil of mine ended up directing music there for a bit, nice choir....pity about the organ!

 

I know, I know, people a good deal younger than me will rush in now and say what a wonderful musical instrument it is.. Yes, yes I do know. But (for me) it isn't a successful installation for the same reason that Queen's College is. Queen's College is a truly wonderful instrument for the Baroque but also much more. In its way it taught several people the lessons that The Festival Hall didn't. That Frobenius showed us that a new organ could be

1. utterly beautiful to look at

2. complete without being 40 stops plus

3. musically flexible while retaining integrity

4. built to a standard that few, if any, UK firms (at the time) could match.

It has electric light, electric blowing, non-pretentious stop names and a swellbox, because the chapel has a choir and because James Dalton did not only play Baroque Music! He was also not preoccupied with the notion of taking a step back in time.

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Fantastic post Paul. The problem seems to be about deciding what the organ is going to be used for. You can produce a fantastic instrument to accompany a choir, or a good recital instrument. The trick is to have a blend of the two. The problem is when those with influence try to move the organ in one particular direction.

 

B)

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Fantastic post Paul. The problem seems to be about deciding what the organ is going to be used for. You can produce a fantastic instrument to accompany a choir, or a good recital instrument. The trick is to have a blend of the two. The problem is when those with influence try to move the organ in one particular direction.

 

B)

 

Couldn't agree more.

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Or Oxford, even...

 

A fabulous organ, but very focused. I prefer the Rieger at Christ Church, and the Metzler in the University Church, or in small doses the sheer row that can be heard at Exeter College (though it's not so convenient for accompaniment). The Willis in the Town Hall is pretty good, too (I regret the loss of the FHW/H&H that preceded the Rieger in the cathedral, though it was good rather than outstanding). Merton College is weedy.

 

Don't know the Cambridge organs.

 

Paul

I've wanted to see, hear and play this one since I first read about it:

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=R00476

 

After discussion here of an organ with three Nazards this four-manual French-ish organ only has one 2 2/3 and that is a half-draw from the Sesquilatera on the same manual as the Cromorne. True, there is a Cornet on the Solo but is this organ appropriately designed for the French classical repertoire?

 

Anyone got first-hand experiences to share?

 

Michael

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Which are your favourite Oxbridge organs, and which are you less keen on?

 

Justadad

 

I'd like to place a vote for the Beckerath in Clare, Cambridge. Controversial I know, and maybe not without its problems, but I had a few lessons on it in the 80s. It was a complete revelation to me - the first time I'd played a decent tracker action - and I discovered how in for example a Bach fugue, it was so much easier to coordinate manual and pedal parts on such an instrument. Since then, I've never liked it where instruments have EP action to the pedals and tracker to the manuals - it feels all wrong. Are the feet so insensitive it doesn't matter?

 

Anyway, I reckon the Clare instrument has real character.

 

JJK

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I know only the Cambridge organs reasonably well, so forgive me for not mentioning Oxford instruments. It's not so much naked prejudice as the fact that I haven't visited Oxford much since living there 25 years ago, whereas I get back to Cambridge several times a year.

 

Yes, King's is a romantic slush bucket - and very wonderful it is, too. It is certainly my favourite Cambridge organ. It seems to be quite impossible to get one's hands on it though: Ann Page has tried several times to get permission for participants in her summer school to play it, but without success. I am green with envy that Philip Tordoff gave some recitals on it when he was organ scholar at Downing.

 

After King's I would rate the Metzler at Trinity College very highly. Quite a different style of instrument, of course. But why shouldn't one like more than one type of organ? To be honest, it suites my style of playing better than King's would.

 

Thirdly St Catherine's College (mostly Johnson of Cambridge, last work by Flentrop). This is a more general purpose instrument than King's or Trinity, and (I found) really good for Marchand, Dandrieu et al.

 

Fourthly, the recently restored Binns in Queens' College is rather fine. Not that big - and only two manuals - but everything blends wonderfully.

 

Another fine Cambridge instrument, but not in a college, is the Abbott and Smith (restored by Nicholson) in Our Lady and the English Martyrs. Its original specification was designed by C.V. Stanford. Nicholson's have restored it to this spec, with a Tuba added. At the console, it is very loud indeed; the first time I played it I almost jumped off the stool when I put the first chord down. On the floor of the church it sounds big but not excessively loud.

 

Moving on to instruments I am not so keen on - somebody mentioned Girton. I have to admit that when I heard this instrument it wasn't at its best because it needed tuning. On paper, this ought to be an instrument I would like, but I thought it was all top and bottom (mostly top, to be honest). And spreading so few stops across four manuals seems ... odd.

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Fourthly, the recently restored Binns in Queens' College is rather fine. Not that big - and only two manuals - but everything blends wonderfully.

 

Not that small, surely? When I was there it certainly had 3 manuals - and I'm sure it was tonally all original Binns. I agree, a nice instrument, and one of the few remaining romantic organs in Cambridge.

 

JJK

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Not that small, surely? When I was there it certainly had 3 manuals - and I'm sure it was tonally all original Binns. I agree, a nice instrument, and one of the few remaining romantic organs in Cambridge.

 

JJK

 

Yes, you are right, 3 manuals. Only 32 speaking stops though, and no 16' reeds. It has a lovely warm, firm sound. I think you are right about it being more or less original Binns. I am not sure what the NPOR means by saying both "restored to Binns style" and "no tonal changes" in respect of the restoration by Harrison's in 2002.

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At the organ scholarships open day in Cambridge earlier this year a Director of Chapel Music from another college described the King's organ as "a big, romantic slush bucket". I have no idea whether that was ungracious, harsh or spot on. So I thought I'd ask the assembeld experts ...

 

Which are your favourite Oxbridge organs, and which are you less keen on?

 

Justadad

 

I was there; I thought she was referring to Queen's college, which could be described in this way; in my opinion it's one of the best in Cambridge. I also like the Emmanuel College organ.

 

 

And btw girton's console is incredibly uncomfortable to play! (at least that's how i found it)

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
I was there; I thought she* was referring to Queen's college, which could be described in this way; in my opinion it's one of the best in Cambridge. I also like Emmanuel College organ.

And btw girton's console is incredibly uncomfortable to play! (at least that's how i found it)

 

 

The Plot thickens!!!

*Chercher la femme!

 

Anyone else going to give this pot a stir?

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The Plot thickens!!!

*Chercher la femme!

 

Anyone else going to give this pot a stir?

 

The comment was very much off the cuff as i remember it; indeed i would be surprised if anyone besides myself and Barry have remembered. I don't really think that this opinion represents people's thoughts in general about Kings/Queen's, it only represents one person's view.

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Indeed, I'm sure it was a light hearted comment laced with a modicum of awe and appreciation. (I really did not want to engender a whole lot of attitudes about who said it, why, and whether anyone should have reported it - I've found people can be really prickly about this sort of thing and it's the organs I'm interested in, not the personalities.)

 

Please, if I beg, can we keep away from the people and concentrate on the instruments - at least in this thread?

 

Beg beg beg.

 

Justadad

 

 

The Plot thickens!!!

*Chercher la femme!

 

Anyone else going to give this pot a stir?

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And btw girton's console is incredibly uncomfortable to play! (at least that's how i found it)

 

Hi

 

In contrast, I found Girton quite compfortable - no problem at all (except remembering that the Grande Orgue is on the bottom manual!)

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Back to the topic...

 

Most Oxbridge organs are good, and it really depends on what your tastes are. They all have a nice sound, and all the ones which I have played (at Oxford: New, Worcester, Magdalen, Queen's, St. Peter's and the Keble toaster; at Cambridge: Emmanuel, Girton, Pembroke, St. Cats, Peterhouse, Caius, Selwyn, Queen's, Robinson, Sidney Sussex and St. John's) I have really enjoyed, although playing Franck on the Robinson Frobenius was interesting to say the least!

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Yes, you are right, 3 manuals. Only 32 speaking stops though, and no 16' reeds. It has a lovely warm, firm sound. I think you are right about it being more or less original Binns. I am not sure what the NPOR means by saying both "restored to Binns style" and "no tonal changes" in respect of the restoration by Harrison's in 2002.

 

The instrument in Queens' is extremely effective and fits the chapel perfectly.

 

The specification is 100% original Binns and, as far as I know, there have been absolutely no tonal changes during it's entire life.

 

The original action was tubular pneumatic but it was electrified by Johnson's in the 1960's.

 

The restoration by Harrisons kept the electro-pneumatic action, but they restored the console to something more like the original Binns layout, with the couplers operated by a row of draw stops under the music desk (I believe that this is what the "restored to Binns style" comment refers to)

 

The lack of a 16' reed is rarely noticed, although I have to admit that if I could add just one stop it would be a 16' reed - probably a Contra Fagotto on the Swell duplexed to the Pedal (although from a historical perspective a 16' Pedal Trombone would be more authentic) - thankfully the college resisted all such temptations in the 2002 work and left the specification alone.

 

Overall it is a very fine instrument - so much so, in fact, that it has always seemed to me to be somewhat uncharacteristic of most of Binns' work. I assume that a Cambridge college would have been a prestige job for Binns and probably got special attention, but I have often wondered just what factors came into play to make the whole thing come out as well as it did.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
The instrument in Queens' is extremely effective and fits the chapel perfectly.

 

The specification is 100% original Binns and, as far as I know, there have been absolutely no tonal changes during it's entire life.

 

The original action was tubular pneumatic but it was electrified by Johnson's in the 1960's.

 

The restoration by Harrisons kept the electro-pneumatic action, but they restored the console to something more like the original Binns layout, with the couplers operated by a row of draw stops under the music desk (I believe that this is what the "restored to Binns style" comment refers to)

 

The lack of a 16' reed is rarely noticed, although I have to admit that if I could add just one stop it would be a 16' reed - probably a Contra Fagotto on the Swell duplexed to the Pedal (although from a historical perspective a 16' Pedal Trombone would be more authentic) - thankfully the college resisted all such temptations in the 2002 work and left the specification alone.

 

Overall it is a very fine instrument - so much so, in fact, that it has always seemed to me to be somewhat uncharacteristic of most of Binns' work. I assume that a Cambridge college would have been a prestige job for Binns and probably got special attention, but I have often wondered just what factors came into play to make the whole thing come out as well as it did.

 

There were a couple of Binns organs in the area where I grew up (at Great Missenden and The Lee, Bucks) and because these were the only examples of his work that I'd met, I thought he was a second- (or even third-) rate builder. Some years later, I was appointed to St.Mary's Shrewsbury where there is a four manual Binns of 60 stops or so. Interestingly, the less-sociable tonal qualities were apparent there too but in an instrument of some size they 'made sense'. Binns' speciality was imitating Schulze and his Diapasons are always pretty bold. When building a smaller organ, he rarely gave it much upperwork - a Flautina (for instance) might be your only Great stop above 4'. The swell mixture might well be pretty low-pitched...but then so were the Schulze examples he was copying.

 

That there are some truly first-rate Binns organs around I have no doubt now. St.Mary's (referred to above) is not his best - but the situation there (25 feet up and virtually without tonal egress) militates against that. The quality of his voicing is very fine and very consistent. Both reeds and soft fluework are outstanding. Similar jobs at The Albet Hall, Nottingham and Rochdale Town Hall are really superb and (in their own ways) as fine as anything by any other firm from the same period.

 

I only know one outstanding 'small' Binns; this is at Clungunford, a village near Craven Arms in Shropshire. This has been carefully restored but never altered and (although it is voiced very boldly throughout and therefore not to everyone's taste) I think it is an outright winner.

 

There is an equivalent Binns organ to your Cambridge example in Oxford - it is at Hertford College. Checking today on the NPOR the only one stop that appears to have been changed there since installation, viz. the Swell Mixture which would appear to be much too high-pitched to be by Binns - any one of several big names of the 70s could have substituted this in an attempt to make the organ suitable for playing Bach!!

 

Binns organs were certainly very long-lived. I used to maintain the Shrewsbury job and all essential parts seemed to be made of hardwood (Beech, particularly) or wrought iron. We had an adjustible piston system dating from 1912 which still worked without problems and although the key action was on the slow side, the only notes that ever gave trouble were on the Great - I put this down to a much greater exposure to dust and damp.

 

By all accounts, Binns had a chemist friend who devised a special treatment with which Binns pickled the leather for all his organs which seems to have prolonged its working life. Anyone poking around in a Binns can expect to see plenty of old leather (because it still works after nearly 100 years!!) and it is an unusual russet colour. Beware modern leathers, some don't last thirty years, never mind 100!

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I remember playing the Binns in Reading University (details here) when young. I recall it being very solidly built, but the style wasn't really what I liked in those days, so I probably enjoyed it less than it deserved.

 

Paul

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