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Who Are The Best Organists You've Heard Live?


MusingMuso

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I wonder "what turns people on" musically?

 

I'm looking for those "creeping flesh" moments, when everything which has gone before seems second-best.

 

It can cross all boundaries and all styles of music, so it's really very easy, isn't it?

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I wonder "what turns people on" musically?

 

I'm looking for those "creeping flesh" moments, when everything which has gone before seems second-best.

 

It can cross all boundaries and all styles of music, so it's really very easy, isn't it?

 

Some of Simon Preston's complete Bach.

 

AJJ

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Guest Barry Oakley
I wonder "what turns people on" musically?

 

I'm looking for those "creeping flesh" moments, when everything which has gone before seems second-best.

 

It can cross all boundaries and all styles of music, so it's really very easy, isn't it?

 

This will always be a subjective subject, but these names spring to mind amongst a large number of fine organists I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to hear in the flesh.

 

From the distant past:

Fernando Germani

Jeanne Demessieux

 

In more recent times:

John Scott

Roy Massey

David Patrick

Clive Driskill Smith

Jonathan Vaughn

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Interestingly, the performances I have heard which really made my hair stand on end, could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

 

Subjective it may be, and being in "listening mood" is an advantage, but actually the very rare "road to Damascus" experience can even transcend those.

 

In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that, at any recital, it is seldom more than one piece which most elevates and inspires.

 

Twice I have been blown away by Dr Francis Jackson when he was at the height of his powers as the incumbent at "the Minster."

 

The first was a performance of the Willan "Introduction, Passacaglia & Fugue" which Jackson really made his own, and which has probably never been bettered by anyone else.

 

The other occasion was a performance of the "St Anne - Eb - Bach" at Leeds PC, which was so perfectly judged and controlled, it somehow overcame the restrictions of that fairly appalling acoustic.

 

Another remarkable experience, on an organ not best suited to the music, was hearing Jane Parker-Smith perform the Toccata from Suite Op.5, by Durufle.......a work I admire enormously, whereas many other French works leave me cold. This was at Wakefield Cathedral, on the "big" Compton, but it was made even more remarkable by virtue of the fact that Miss Parker-Smith changed the programme, due to suffering illness which curtailed her practise-time. Well, curtailed or not, she just tore into that work and gave the most thrilling performance.

 

I've mentioned this before, but hearing Germani play Reger when I was 15, changed my whole musical life.

From that moment on, I loved the music of Reger, and still do. His performance of the "Hallelujah! Gott zu loben" was nothing short of sensational on the organ of Leeds PC.

 

Perhaps the most consistently brilliant performances have been those I have heard played by Jos van der Kooy at Haarlem, who knows that wonderful instrument inside out. Whether Bach, Reger or something less well known, he always seems to have the edge over all the rest, which possibly explains why he sits at that console.

 

The Netherlands organist Bas de Vroome also impressed with Reger, but for the life of me, I cannot recall which work he performed; though the big B-A-C-H is a distinct possibility.

 

There are two others which were astounding. The first was an improvisation given by a very young Michel Lecerc, at Bradford Cathedral. Not an organ I especially like, what she produced off the cuff was utterly amazing.

 

Lastly, a single work during a recital played by Jennifer Bate at Halifax PC, and the ONLY time I've ever heard the work played in public. Her performance of the "Pastorale" by Duccasse was absolutely extraordinary

 

It's amazing to think, that at the age of 57, only those performances spring immediately to mind, even though I have heard so many very good recitals. I would have included hearing Jiri Ropek at Leeds PC, but apart from his own rather fine variations on "Victime Paschali," I simply cannot recall what else he played, even though I know it was all very, very good.

 

It's a bit more than the fingers of one hand, at around 8 or so, but it perhaps demonstrates how rare are those very magical moments.

 

MM

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I wonder "what turns people on" musically?

 

I'm looking for those "creeping flesh" moments, when everything which has gone before seems second-best.

 

It can cross all boundaries and all styles of music, so it's really very easy, isn't it?

 

Daniel Moult's recital at the Abbey of Maria Laach during the IAO Congress in Germany.

 

On the same trip, Daniel Hyde playing Bach Trio Sonata V absolutely perfectly.

 

Andrew Millington playing the "wedge" at Halifax two years ago.

 

Outside the organ world, a concert in the Free Trade Hall where Edward Downes conducted the BBC Phil in Shostakovich 7. The applause went on and on and on; eventually he took the leader off with him or they would have been there till midnight.

 

Opera North's production of Peter Grimes in November. I had never seen it performed before, but just knew it from Britten's recording. Absolutely stunning.

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Guest Roffensis

Paul Derrett takes a lot of beating, superb technique, and his many CDs are all worth seeking out, partly for the obscurities he plays, and also for sheer musicality.

 

Richard Lea at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral never fails to come up with interesting programmes, and also has a great repertoire and technique.

 

Apart from these guys, well!.......ME!!!! <_<

 

R

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Colin Walsh live is (when I’ve heard him at least) very good. Although it doesn’t count because these are both recordings, Andy Lumsden and Andrew Nethsingha both play with a great deal of insight and flair. The Lumsden recording is from Westminster and contains the best rendition of Master Tallis Testament I’ve heard. The Nethsinga recording is from Truro and it’s hard to choose any track as the best, so good is the whole cd.

 

<_<

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Daniel Moult's recital at the Abbey of Maria Laach during the IAO Congress in Germany.

 

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

 

Ooops! Almost forgot until Nick mentioned the IAO, but the Reubke 94th Psalm, performed by Roger Fisher at Chester many years ago, was the "let's crawl out on our knees" performance to end all performances.

 

Penitence took on a whole new meaning after that!

 

MM

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Thanks for raising this most fascinating of subjects.

 

I quite often draw up my list of desert island discs, but had not thought up to draw a list of desert island performances.

 

The direct answer to the best organist I have heard live is probably Thomas Trotter. Whenever I have heard him play, it has been utterly stunning without the slightest flaw or bar lacking in inspiration. Hearing him play one day when I had been 'off' the organ for almost a year was unforgettable. I wrote to him afterwards to express my appreciation and received the most charming reply.

 

I would place John Scott in the same category. Every performance is sensational. I remember him playing The Wedge in a lunchtime recital in St Paul's Cathedral which left me speechless - hearing Bach at its most sublime was a spiritually changing experience.

 

I can think of a couple of other well known organists who are always rivetting to listen to, but perhaps lack that same level of consistency.

 

Particular performances, though, that will never leave me are as follows -

 

Dame Gillian Weir - Messiaen 70th birthday recital at the RFH.

 

Simon Preston - Reubke Sonata at the RFH. The one performance above all that determined me to play the organ as well as I possibly could.

 

Wolfgang Stockmeier - Reger 'Inferno' at St Mary's Woodford.

 

Graham Barber - Demessieux 'Octaves' at the RFH. Simply unbelievable (despite a registrational snag).

 

These all date from the 70s and 80s when I went to a lot of organ recitals. Nowadays, circumstances are such that I just cannot get to them so readily, but I am sure there are equally fine players around.

 

I can think of a lot of piano performances that fall into the same category, particularly Mitsuko Uchida playing Schubert B flat sonata at the RFH.

 

Other performances on the desert island would have to include -

 

Bernstein conducting Mahler 5 with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Proms the year before he died. This is probably my ultimate desert island performance that trumps all others. Even the bars that in other performances just seemed like getting from A to B suddenly took on the most profound sense. I turned to my friend and said 'I will tell my grandchildren about this performance'. The next day, the Times review started by saying 'This is the sort of performance you tell your grandchildren about'.

 

The first time I heard 'Ariadne auf Naxos' - never, ever wanting the music to end in the opera house and living in a dream for the next month that music could be that beautiful

 

Mozart clarinet quintet played by Michael Collins and the Chilingirian Quartet at my local music society.

 

Singing the Victoria Requiem in my first year at Oxford - a piece that I have sung several times since then and just cannot get out of my head and bloodstream.

 

I was pleased that Musing Muso allows us to cross all boundaries because my love of classical music is matched by my love of a lot of rock and pop music, although here there have been far fewer live performances in this field. One, though, that stands out was hearing Genesis at Wembley in December 1980 playing 'In the Cage' from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Not just staggering virtuosity, not just colossal emotional power, but also sheer joy in music making - not something that distinguishes every organ recital we may go to.

 

M

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I was pleased that Musing Muso allows us to cross all boundaries because my love of classical music is matched by my love of a lot of rock and pop music, although here there have been far fewer live performances in this field. One, though, that stands out was hearing Genesis at Wembley in December 1980 playing 'In the Cage' from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Not just staggering virtuosity, not just colossal emotional power, but also sheer joy in music making - not something that distinguishes every organ recital we may go to.

 

M

 

 

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

 

Yes, I forgot I had included everything!

 

On that basis, I think I would have to include a stunning concert I heard with the Late Bryan Rodwell playing theatre-organ, with a "big band" comprising of BBC session musicians. With only brief practise-time, they pulled something really special out of the bag, and to hear Bryan Rodwell playing Hammond electronic, in his inimitable jazz style, was also wonderful. Oddly enough, my mother had been a close friend of his in her youth....how close I cannot say.....but it seems odd that THE most local musical celebrity, and one so close to the family, should make such an impact on me.

 

Another surprise was to be wowed by a piano-recital which should have been an organ-recital, but due to illness at the last moment, there was last moment substitution.

 

The pianist was (I hope I spell this correctly) Genina Fielkowski, who played one of the Liszt "Transcendtals."

Musicianship and virtuosity at the highest level, and a remarkable experience.

 

MM

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Two real spine tinglers for me:-

  • the first entry of the "Pickled Boys" singing Alleluia in Britten's St. Nicolas
  • the last pages of Elgar's Apostles when the semi-chorus are singing the words of the ascended Christ ("I have done thy commandments" etc.) and the chorus ladies singing alleluias

In church/cathedral repertoire:-

  • "and the watchman strikes me with his staff" - Rejoice in the Lamb
  • "and to be the glory of thy people Israel" - Stanford in A Nunc Dim
  • Kyries (particularly those after the Christes) in Vierne Messe Solennelle
  • Vaughan Williams Mass in G Minor

On the question of organists, I was glad to see the earlier mention of Roy Massey, who I think is vastly underrated. David Briggs scores heavily on sheer panache.

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In church/cathedral repertoire:-
  • "and the watchman strikes me with his staff" - Rejoice in the Lamb
  • "and to be the glory of thy people Israel" - Stanford in A Nunc Dim
  • Kyries (particularly those after the Christes) in Vierne Messe Solennelle
  • Vaughan Williams Mass in G Minor

 

Does anyone also remember the recording of the Langlais Messe Solonnelle by St John's Cambridge/Guest on LP when Jonathan Rennert brings on the Trompeta Real for the final chord of one of the Hosannah sections - is this available on CD?

 

AJJ

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The Lumsden recording is from Westminster and contains the best rendition of Master Tallis Testament I’ve heard.

 

He's a genius, especially live - lots of life in his playing.

 

David Coram and I took him to Romsey a few months ago - he just sat down, never having seen the organ before, and hand registered a stunning performance of the Bridge Adagio, from memory. Not the trickiest of pieces, but he was constantly changing the colours - really rather special.

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I wonder "what turns people on" musically?

 

I'm looking for those "creeping flesh" moments, when everything which has gone before seems second-best.

 

It can cross all boundaries and all styles of music, so it's really very easy, isn't it?

 

The greatest moments are :

1. Marcel Dupré's last concert in Notre Dame de Paris (october 1969) : an incredible improvised symphonie with a lot of mistakes due to his arthritism but plenty of essential music.

2. All the yearly concerts by Pierre Cochereau in NDP (with special mention of the 1970 one!!)

3. J.Guillou in early 70's in Saint Eustache (Visions cosmiques)

4. Pierre Pincemaille interprting the 4th of Widor and Dupré's symphonie passion in St Sulpice (2003)

5. D.Briggs in Notre Dame playing his transcription of Cochereau's Scherzo symphonique: one would have said Pierre was at the loft!

6. Michelle Leclerc in Notre Dame playing "berceuse à la mémoire de Louis Vierne" transcribed by Frédéric Blanc: unforgettable!!

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Hmm, Gaston Litaize in Haarlem: showing the other jurymembers how one improvises on the organ, John Scott with Messiaen's Nativité in St.Paul's (2004&2005): unforgettable. Arie Keijzer in Dordrecht Grote Kerk many times.

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Simon Preston opening a recital somewhere in London c.1968 with a Frescobaldi Ricercare which led straight into the Fantasia from Hindemith's Sonata #1 almost without a break. A most imaginative piece of programming and totally rivetting.

 

Philip Ledger playing the Schübler chorale preludes at the RFH somewhen around the same time. A breathtakingly sparkling account. The whole recital (which I think was all Bach) was equally brilliant and I was by no means the only organist to comment thus afterwards.

 

Jean Guillou, also at the RFH, playing his own Sinfonietta. Such colour, such technique, such projection: completely spellbinding.

 

An "ordinary" parish church organist, Wynn Turner, demonstrating his organ at St Mary Abbotsbury, Newton Abbot, to our local organists' association with a faultless, jaw-dropping performance of the Reubke. Completely unexpected. Afterwards I asked him where he'd learnt to play like that, but he was very coy and would only say, "It was a long time ago"!

 

An equally gripping account of the Liszt BACH at St Andrew's Plymouth by its organist John Knight. The best performance I have ever heard anyone give of this piece. He even managed the virtually impossible task of making it sound like music!

 

Great performances are not necessarily the preserve of the great names.

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On the question of organists, I was glad to see the earlier mention of Roy Massey, who I think is vastly underrated. David Briggs scores heavily on sheer panache.

 

 

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

 

I quite agree. Roy Massey has inspired me a couple of times, at Halifax PC and at Leeds PC. I put him on my short-list, but personally, there were others who just had a slight personal edge. Can't fault what I've heard from Roy Massey though, and some of his old broadcasts on the "beeb" were wonderful.

 

Sadly, I've only heard David Briggs ONCE in live concert, at Leeds Town Hall, but you just knew from the first detached-fire of the opening "Water Music" (What DO they call that D major movement with the fanfares? Mental block!)....this was a special performance, and his improvisation was totally stunning.

Again, he was there on the short-list, just on the basis of that one performance.

 

MM

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Carlo Curley at the Colston Hall in Bristol had me on the edge of my seat throughout the whole concert. I know many find him toe-curlingly naff, but when he tackles the 'serious' repertoire he can be really good.

 

Peter Hurford, also at the Colston Hall, but just one work - JSB's Passacaglia in C minor. He played the opening pedal motif on full organ, 32ft Double Ophicleide et al, something I had never heard anyone else do, and it had my hair standing on end!

 

First time I heard Martin Baker play at Westminster Abbey. Without knowing who he was, I immediately recognised that here was an immense talent.

 

Colin Walsh sending his audience at Westminster Abbey home with a syncopated skip in their step with a scintilliating performance of the Final from Vierne 6.

 

John Scott playing Bonnet's Variations de Concert at Symphony Hall, Birmingham. His pedal technique was just astonishing.

 

Nicolas Kynaston at Westminster Cathedral - he made this beast of an organ sing like no one else I had heard before or since.

 

Malcolm Archer playing Carillon de Westminster at Liverpool Cathedral. The wall of sound he sent crashing down on the poor audience at the climax was truly terrifying.

 

And from non-organ performances:

 

Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting the LSO and LSO Chorus in Walton's Belshazzar's Feast at the Barbican. This was the first time I had heard this work, and what with extra brass bands at either side of the Circle, it just blew me away.

 

Bernard Haitink conducting the LPO at the Festival Hall. In the first half, a stunning performance of the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 with Nigel Kennedy the soloist. I later heard that Haitink sent Kennedy a bottle of vintage champagne to thank him for such a great performance. The second half was if anything ever better, with a staggering performance of the Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony that you can hear on their subsequent EMI recording which won the Gramophone Record of the Year award. Peachy!

 

Sir Colin Davis conducting Berlioz's La damnation de Faust at the Barbican with the LSO and LSO Chorus. I had a slightly different viewpoint here as at the time I was a tenor in the LSO Chorus. I just thought Sir Colin's conducting and the playing of the LSO was immense.

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I wonder "what turns people on" musically?

 

I'm looking for those "creeping flesh" moments, when everything which has gone before seems second-best.

 

It can cross all boundaries and all styles of music, so it's really very easy, isn't it?

 

Thomas Daniel Schlee, rehearsing for a concert in Zürich Fraumünster, unaware that my late sister and I were present and believing that the titulaire, Alex Hug, was his only listener. Without the pressure of it being a public performance, he played through the 20th Century French programme with inspiration and passion - simply stunning. We just slipped quietly away at the end. Known more as a composer and director of various music festivals in Austria, Schlee is an outstanding organist. A pupil of Langlais and, I believe, Messaien. Nice organ too - 4P/92 with a separate 2P choir organ driveable from the main console. Currently being refurbished during the restoration of the church interior, which has wonderful stained glass by Chagall and Giacometti.

 

JC

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Carlo Curley at the Colston Hall in Bristol had me on the edge of my seat throughout the whole concert. I know many find him toe-curlingly naff, but when he tackles the 'serious' repertoire he can be really good.

 

Peter Hurford, also at the Colston Hall, but just one work - JSB's Passacaglia in C minor. He played the opening pedal motif on full organ, 32ft Double Ophicleide et al, something I had never heard anyone else do, and it had my hair standing on end!

 

John Scott playing Bonnet's Variations de Concert at Symphony Hall, Birmingham. His pedal technique was just astonishing.

 

Nicolas Kynaston at Westminster Cathedral - he made this beast of an organ sing like no one else I had heard before or since.

 

 

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

 

 

I recall being deeply impressed with Carlo's performance of the Gabriel Pierne "Scherzo" on the touring Allen Digital. I was not only on the seat of my chair, I was actually scared for him! He played it to perfection, saw my gaping look, raised his eyebrows, rolled his eyes and wiped his brow! It was a magical moment, and demonstrated the awesome ability that lurks just beneath "the entertainer."

 

Virgil Fox used to start the Passacaglia on full organ, which still makes for compelling listening, with that curios combination of detached fingering and incredible rhythmic-drive. Not for the faint of heart or the purist though!

 

Actually, I don't think I would have been over-impressed by the Bonnet, because it isn't actually very difficult. Now I WOULD have been impressed if I had heard him play the middle-section of the other one.....the "Etude de Concerte".....which is wickedly difficult to co-ordinate with the LH. I spent ages learning that and played it at a recital, but I don't think I would ever dare repeat it again. Possibly because I am a bit short in the leg department, I find that a monumental challenge. In the usual manner of expressing inadequacy, "I leave it to others" these days.

 

Nicholas Kynaston COULD play that darned Etude to perfection, and I blame him for even wanting to learn it in the first place.

 

A wonderful organist, even though he was once alleged to have said that "I don't understand Bach's music."

 

MM

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Fernando Germani, many years ago in St. Paul's school. The first recital I ever attended. His performance of the 'Dorian' thrilled me, and I have loved the piece ever since, and I can't understand why it doesn't get an airing more often. Or have I missed something? I only wish I could play it!

 

Simon Preston, again years ago, RFH. Don't recall the whole progamme, but it concluded with Liszt's B.A.C.H and then the Vierne Finale from Symphony 1 - stunning.

 

Non Organ. A couple of years ago a Japanese Orchestra (Seiko Keinan - not sure how it's spelled or if that's even the right name) gave a performance at the Proms of Brahms 1 which was one of the most thriiling things I have ever heard. Even hearing it again when the recorded concert was re-broadcast later left me totally unprepared for the final brass entry.

 

Emma Johnson playing Debussy in the heats of the Young Musician of the Year that she went on to win. It was so spellbinding it even stopped the kids fighting for five minutes! And after her final performance I was unable to speak for several minutes - a strange experience.

 

Regards to all

 

John

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Guest Andrew Butler
Fernando Germani, many years ago in St. Paul's school. The first recital I ever attended. His performance of the 'Dorian' thrilled me, and I have loved the piece ever since, and I can't understand why it doesn't get an airing more often. Or have I missed something? I only wish I could play it!

 

Simon Preston, again years ago, RFH. Don't recall the whole progamme, but it concluded with Liszt's B.A.C.H and then the Vierne Finale from Symphony 1 - stunning.

 

Non Organ. A couple of years ago a Japanese Orchestra (Seiko Keinan - not sure how it's spelled or if that's even the right name) gave a performance at the Proms of Brahms 1 which was one of the most thriiling things I have ever heard. Even hearing it again when the recorded concert was re-broadcast later left me totally unprepared for the final brass entry.

 

Emma Johnson playing Debussy in the heats of the Young Musician of the Year that she went on to win. It was so spellbinding it even stopped the kids fighting for five minutes! And after her final performance I was unable to speak for several minutes - a strange experience.

 

Regards to all

 

John

 

I think I would find Emma Johnson pretty spellbinding even if she couldn't play a note!! :D

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Fernando Germani, many years ago in St. Paul's school.

Were you ever a pupil at the school by any chance? I heard about Germani giving a concert on the old father Willis many years ago. Sadly the Willis was removed to Dorset when the school buildings moved across the river. When the school is rebuilt soon the Father Willis will be coming back again!

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