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Who Are The Best Organists You've Heard Live?


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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.

John, it was the Saito Kinen Orchestra directed by Seiji Ozawa. More information about this extraordinary orchestra can be found here.

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

 

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It's amazing how Germani's name comes up time and time again. Was he the greatest of his generation, I wonder?

 

He certainly left an indelible impression on me as a 15-year-old, when I first heard him. Oddly enough, I can still recall the feelings I had on the lengthy journey home. Before that, I just didn't realise how good organ-music and organ-playing could be: in a word, stupendous.

 

Sadly, I never heard his equal as a Reger exponent, the late Anton Heiller.

 

MM

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Many thanks for your collective comments, gents. No, I never attended St. Paul's school, I'm sorry to say. The year I heard FG would have been around 1960.

 

'It's amazing how Germani's name comes up time and time again. Was he the greatest of his generation, I wonder?'

 

He was refered to by a friend as the 'greatest in the world'. I heard him on two other ocasions, rather later, and by then that accolade was no longer justified, I'm sorry to say. He did play a Frescobaldi piece at one of those occasions that had the entire audience entranced - another great moment - but that is about it.

 

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

 

Now now!!

 

Regards to all

 

John

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Many thanks for your collective comments, gents. No, I never attended St. Paul's school, I'm sorry to say. The year I heard FG would have been around 1960.

 

'It's amazing how Germani's name comes up time and time again. Was he the greatest of his generation, I wonder?'

 

He was refered to by a friend as the 'greatest in the world'. I heard him on two other ocasions, rather later, and by then that accolade was no longer justified, I'm sorry to say. He did play a Frescobaldi piece at one of those occasions that had the entire audience entranced - another great moment - but that is about it.

 

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

 

Now now!!

 

Regards to all

 

John

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Sorry about the blank reply (haven't worked with computers for 30 years for nothing..... :o )

 

I was going to say I heard an unforgettable Franck Chorale I played by Germani in St Pauls.

 

I've also been listening again to my 1967 Selby Abbey Germani recording of the Chorales - they are well worth listening to - and the organ sounds fantastic - very convincing and musical sound!

 

Another famous organist, seldom mentioned in these pages, was Flor Peeters - his London recitals were full - I remember St Mary the Boltons and the Walker Organ in Ducan terrace Islington. At St Mary's I was astonished to see people turning up in taxis and ladies in fur coats!

 

Although appropriate to another thread on how to practice - I also remember a master class by Flor Peeters - he strongly recommended really slow practice.

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I was going to say I heard an unforgettable Franck Chorale I played by Germani in St Pauls.

 

I've also been listening again to my 1967 Selby Abbey Germani recording of the Chorales - they are well worth listening to - and the organ sounds fantastic - very convincing and musical sound!

 

Quite so, Douglas. It was Germani who first fired my interest in Franck Choral No 1 - in my case at Langham Place. Still remembering it after almost fifty years, it must have made quite an impression at the time and it introduced me to a composer whose works have given me great pleasure ever since.

JC

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Jean Langlais was also unforgettable - I remember at the RFH 5.55 - an incredible recital and improvisation.

I noticed how he sat so far forward on the edge of the seat it was amazing that he didn't slip off!

 

Another great London recital of his was at St Mary Magdalen Paddington - I remember how he did manual stop changes in the Carillon De Westminster - the stops were the Compton luminous stop touch!

 

A memorable feature of his playing was the final chord of pieces.... they lasted for ever....!

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Another famous organist, seldom mentioned in these pages, was Flor Peeters - his London recitals were full - I remember St Mary the Boltons and the Walker Organ in Ducan terrace Islington. At St Mary's I was astonished to see people turning up in taxis and ladies in fur coats!

 

Although appropriate to another thread on how to practice - I also remember a master class by Flor Peeters - he strongly recommended really slow practice.

 

I heard him play on the old organ at Winchester College in the late 1970s - the place was packed and as far as I remember, despite being fairly advanced in age (?) his playing was pretty good.

 

AJJ

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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

I have that recording. I was a probationer at the time, so didn't sing. Stephen Cleobury was the organist and he used the Trompeta Real in the last two chords of the Agnus Dei. It isn't available on CD, possibly because Christopher Robinson recorded it again soon after he got there.

 

The best organists for me that I have heard live are

 

John Scott - especially last year at the Royal Albert Hall.

 

John Pryer, formerly organist at Birmingham Cathedral now at Birmingham Oratory. His improvisations, especially in the french style are truly wonderful.

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Well, of those I have heard live, one of the best has to be David Briggs, he never fails to engage and command his audience as far as I am concerned. In line with another post I would also concur about Paul Derrett, always exciting, always superb, if only I had the technique! Another, but less talked about would be Andrew Fletcher. I cannot pick specific events/pieces for these people as I have never failed to be moved by most or all of their playing. One occasion however springs to mind, DB playing Liszt BACH at Gloucester, it wasn't a recital, he was just playing it, from memory, and I was on my way up the cathedral for a lesson, truly magical.

 

Ones I regret not having heard, Demessieux and Dupre, because I was too young when they died, and Germani and Danby, I never had the opportunity. I will always regret not hearing them live.

 

Jonathan :rolleyes:

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Thomas Murray is also a player of great depth and superbly polished technique - not flashy in the showing off sense. His playing always has something new to say - and you can't beat the combination of him and the amazing organ at Yale.

 

AJJ

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Thomas Murray is also a player of great depth and superbly polished technique - not flashy in the showing off sense. His playing always has something new to say - and you can't beat the combination of him and the amazing organ at Yale.

 

AJJ

 

 

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

 

Unfortunately, we hear very few American organists in the UK, but judging by recordings, I think I would be impressed if I heard him live.

 

Having played one or two BIG Skinners, and knowing that Yale is probably even better, I think that the combination of Thomas Murray and that superlative, but very romantic instrument, would be difficult to fault.

 

Coming from someone who plays a baroque organ and goes to Holland as often as possible, that's quite a statement, I guess.

 

MM

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I think that there are many organists who are outstanding, and I wouldn't be able to name any without leaving another out who was equally worthy. However, a few observations:

 

I greatly enjoy the playing of Simon Preston, Colin Walsh and Robert Sharpe. What I find interesting in particular is that it would appear that Sharpe studied with Walsh, who in turn studied with Preston.

 

Also, two recitals which I particularly enjoyed were given by William Whitehead and Clive Driskill-Smith, when they were both teaching on the Oundle course. These were particularly good amongst all the recitals I heard there.

 

Also I was fortunate to be able to sit in the loft during David Briggs' recital at Christ Church in Oxford. I was impressed not only by his playing but also at how relaxed he was while playing, as well as the fact that he was very welcoming and friendly to all of us watching up there.

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Best 'live' performance - Preston recording the Dorian Fugue for DG. I was priviledged to be turning pages and could barely speak when he finished.

 

Best recorded American organist - Todd Wilson playing the complete Durufle on Delos. Just so 'right'.

 

Best recorded UK organist - David Sanger playing Jongen's Sonata Eroica (Bath Abbey - SAGA label) - a towering performance.

 

As a youngster, I listened a lot to my parents' LP of Germani playing Bach at Alkmaar. The Fantasia & Fugue in G minor was especially thrilling.

 

H

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I think that there are many organists who are outstanding, and I wouldn't be able to name any without leaving another out who was equally worthy. However, a few observations:

 

I greatly enjoy the playing of Simon Preston, Colin Walsh and Robert Sharpe. What I find interesting in particular is that it would appear that Sharpe studied with Walsh, who in turn studied with Preston.

 

Also, two recitals which I particularly enjoyed were given by William Whitehead and Clive Driskill-Smith, when they were both teaching on the Oundle course. These were particularly good amongst all the recitals I heard there.

 

Also I was fortunate to be able to sit in the loft during David Briggs' recital at Christ Church in Oxford. I was impressed not only by his playing but also at how relaxed he was while playing, as well as the fact that he was very welcoming and friendly to all of us watching up there.

 

I wasn’t aware that Robbie ever studied under/with Colin Walsh. This web site makes no mention of it, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t.

 

Both Robby and Colin Walsh studied with Nicholas Danby, but I’ve no idea whether Simon Preston did. I’ve never heard Robbie give a recital, but the times I heard him at Lichfield I thought his playing was superb.

 

:lol:

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I wasn’t aware that Robbie ever studied under/with Colin Walsh. This web site makes no mention of it, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t.

 

Both Robby and Colin Walsh studied with Nicholas Danby, but I’ve no idea whether Simon Preston did. I’ve never heard Robbie give a recital, but the times I heard him at Lichfield I thought his playing was superb.

 

:lol:

Preston's main tutor at the RAM (and for a while after he went to King's) was C. H. Trevor. Of course he may have had lessons from others too. I have no idea whether it is true, but Trevor is rumoured to have said - in the most complimentary way - "There's nothing more I can teach him; he knows it all."
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I wasn’t aware that Robbie ever studied under/with Colin Walsh. This web site makes no mention of it, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t.

 

Both Robby and Colin Walsh studied with Nicholas Danby, but I’ve no idea whether Simon Preston did. I’ve never heard Robbie give a recital, but the times I heard him at Lichfield I thought his playing was superb.

 

:lol:

Oops! I probably did mean Roger Bryan, who was Colin Walsh's assistant for a few years at Lincoln

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Jean Langlais was also unforgettable - I remember at the RFH 5.55 - an incredible recital and improvisation.

I noticed how he sat so far forward on the edge of the seat it was amazing that he didn't slip off!

 

Another great London recital of his was at St Mary Magdalen Paddington - I remember how he did manual stop changes in the Carillon De Westminster - the stops were the Compton luminous stop touch!

 

A memorable feature of his playing was the final chord of pieces.... they lasted for ever....!

 

 

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

 

I seem to recall that the blind Jean Langlais did a lot of hand registration at Leeds PC many years ago, and that's not exactly a small instrument is it?

 

The other impressive feat of "triumph over adversity" was Paul Whittaker, the deaf organist, accompanying at York Minster.

 

You just have to admire them.

 

MM

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One of our best "cathedral" organist's to hear live in my very humble opinion, is James Lancelot of Durham, I have heard him many times over the years, and to see the amount of dedication he puts into a rehearsal at the given recital venue is amazing, wether its a large beast of an organ or a 2 man chamber organ. Of american organists, what about Michael Murray, his recordings for the Telarc label must be some of the best recorded cds avalble, his Zwolle and Hildsesheim Bach are worth looking out for, as is the Dupre Symphony from the Albert Hall, complete with a Kenneth James (H & H )interview

regards

Peter

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Oops! I probably did mean Roger Bryan, who was Colin Walsh's assistant for a few years at Lincoln

 

A good musician - he taught me organ for a while and ran a rather good choir - The Lincoln Chorale. He's now at St Mary, Newark.

 

AJJ

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Of american organists, what about Michael Murray, his recordings for the Telarc label must be some of the best recorded cds avalble, his Zwolle and Hildsesheim Bach are worth looking out for, as is the Dupre Symphony from the Albert Hall, complete with a Kenneth James (H & H )interview

regards

Peter

 

No argument with Telarc recordings - I've long been a fan. Jack Renner and Robert Woods are very skilled and produce some excellent orchestral recordings, too. I'd disagree about Michael Murray - careful but bland performances and registration that seems very '1970's' to me. Pick a nice chorus Prinzipal and then find the sharpest ScharffZimbelSpikythingy IXX and stick that on the top. Tasteless.

 

The Kenneth James 'interview' on the RAH disc was made after his departure from H&H and the programme of restoration he refers to was some pretty dubious work to the stop actions and console, which was probably unpicked with great satisfaction by our hosts here.

 

Having seen a variety of work by this now defunct outfit, I am puzzled that James's reputation as one of H&H's best voicer/finishers seems not to be endorsed by anything he left behind done on his own account ?

 

H

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No argument with Telarc recordings - I've long been a fan. Jack Renner and Robert Woods are very skilled and produce some excellent orchestral recordings, too. I'd disagree about Michael Murray - careful but bland performances and registration that seems very '1970's' to me. Pick a nice chorus Prinzipal and then find the sharpest ScharffZimbelSpikythingy IXX and stick that on the top. Tasteless.

 

The Kenneth James 'interview' on the RAH disc was made after his departure from H&H and the programme of restoration he refers to was some pretty dubious work to the stop actions and console, which was probably unpicked with great satisfaction by our hosts here.

 

Having seen a variety of work by this now defunct outfit, I am puzzled that James's reputation as one of H&H's best voicer/finishers seems not to be endorsed by anything he left behind done on his own account ?

 

H

I never had the chance to meet Mr. James. I did know one of "the Harrison " chaps tho, he was Bert Prested who along with quite a few other family members worked there during the 1950's and 60's I believe bert did a lot of work on the Festival hall organ. one of my fondest memories of him was, going to his house which was just round the corner from Hawthorn ave (where Harrisons used to reside) and sitting in his living room surounded by many clocks and watching some home 8mm movies of various "jobs" . I will always wonder what happened to those movies

Peter

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One of our best "cathedral" organist's to hear live in my very humble opinion, is James Lancelot of Durham, I have heard him many times over the years, and to see the amount of dedication he puts into a rehearsal at the given recital venue is amazing, wether its a large beast of an organ or a 2 man chamber organ. Of american organists, what about Michael Murray, his recordings for the Telarc label must be some of the best recorded cds avalble, his Zwolle and Hildsesheim Bach are worth looking out for, as is the Dupre Symphony from the Albert Hall, complete with a Kenneth James (H & H )interview

regards

Peter

 

I would add the name of Paul Morgan, Organist of Exeter Cathedral since 1969. He is modest and quietly unassuming but is a superb player. His service accompaniments are models of sensitivity, colour and carefully-judged excitement. His Psalm accompaniments are the best I have ever heard. He is also an excellent soloist, with a number of LP and CD recordings to his credit, one of which includes a stunning performance of the Willan Introduction and Passacaglia.

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Jennifer Bate's British premiere of Messiaen's Livre du Saint Sacrement was a very special occassion. The setting - Westminster Cathedral - was perfect for this music, as the incense still hung in the air and the iconography and decor of the building added to the mystery of and theological propositions suggested by the music. As icing on the cake, Messsiaen himself was there. I think that of all the organ recitals I have been to, this one will always be for me that which will never be superceded.

 

Peter

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