Review of recent Meetings
After a warm welcome by Rev. Peter Adams, the Rector, the Organist of St. George's, James Gillespie, introduced us to Simon Clarkson, Director of Music at St. Lawrence College, who gave an excellent demonstration recital on the fine four manual William Hill organ of 1854. The music chosen on this occasion was very appropriate to the style of the instrument and comprised: John Ireland Sursum Corda and Alla Marcia, John E. West Sonata in D minor (1st movement), ending the recital with Hugh Blair's Short Sonata in G major (1st movement) and as an encore, more John Ireland.
This was followed by an illuminating talk by Miss Jennifer Smith, Churchwarden at St. George's and a member of the Ramsgate Local History Society, on the history of St. George's Church and the town, which boasts many local and national celebrities including the eminent architect August Pugin 1812-1852 who built St. Augustine's Abbey Church at his own expense. After a delicious tea, members had the opportunity to view the magnificent crypt and play the fine William Hill organ. Our thanks are due to John Hurd for organizing such a varied and interesting meeting and to those who played their part on the day.
The interior of this mid-1870s church, which we visited in February, remains, alas, rather unprepossessing, with a chancel dominated by a heavy dark wooden reredos and high church accoutrements, and an atmosphere tinged with a lingering hint of last Sunday's incense.
But then, set in its South transept, is an imposing 1877 three-manual organ by Father Henry Willis, with its plain pipe metal "Double Diapason" front pipes extending the full width of the transept. The organ was restored and the action electrified by Henry Willis 111 in 1927 and it is suspected the Great organ's large Open Diapason may date from this period.
The organ is devoid of any mixture or mutation stops, the Great organ extending only to a Fifteenth and the Swell to a 2ft Flageolet. However, the renowned "Willis" voicing, especially of the reed stops, convinced many listeners that "mixtures" were present, so rich and colourful was the sound.
Our visit on 9th February had been arranged for us to hear a demonstration recital by Jonathan Garland, the Organist and Choirmaster of the church, who had chosen a programme especially to demonstrate this fine organ. Chaconne by Louis Couperin splendidly highlighted the Great 8ft and 4ft chorus reeds, with Meditation from the Suite Laudate Dominum by Peter Hurford demonstrating the Swell strings and flutes topped with a poignantly singing Choir organ Corno di Bassetto.
Voluntary in A Major by William Selby, 1738-1798, gave us a convincing 18th century chorus and, in contrast, Lloyd Webber's Tranquillament from five Versets for organ, used the Swell strings and flutes balanced against the Great solo stops, a piece rather "Dom Gregory Murray" in flavour. The recital concluded with two J. S. Bach Choral Preludes from Orgelbüchlien: Wer nur den lieben gott lässt walten and Wenn wir in hochsten Nöthen sein. Jonathan Garland's playing was superb, his fine technique conveying a delicate musicality throughout.
Tea was provided in the church hall where
we heard an entertaining and informative talk by Mr.
James Clinch on "Dr. Henniker", who was at the
Royal Academy with Arthur Sullivan and was music master
of Maidstone Grammar
However, upon arrival at the Radnor Park United Reformed Church, a warm welcome awaited the members. Mr. Adrian Perry, Church Treasurer, gave a short introductory talk about the history of the church. The church has been altered in recent years in order to accommodate a new Community Centre and toilet block but is of a very attractive design, keeping much of the original spirit of the interior. The organ is a fine 3-manual Conacher of 1898 with tracker action, but with slight alterations by Wood Brown Ltd. in 1982. In the absence of Mr. Michael Foad, the Organist of the Church, the organ was demonstrated by John Hurd with a stirring performance of J.S. Bach 's Prelude in C major BWV 547, following which, members were allowed to play.
After a very welcome tea provided by the ladies at Holy Trinity, Folkestone, Choral Evensong was sung by the Choir of Holy Trinity, directed by Tim Parsons and accompanied by John Hurd. The music included the Thomas Morley Canticles and Responses, and the Anthem The King of Love my Shepherd is by Sir Edward Bairstow. The final voluntary was J.S.Bach's Chorale Prelude Es ist das Heil uns kommen her BWV 638 from the Orgelbüchlein. The music was sung very expressively by the Holy Trinity Choir with equally expressive singing by Rev. Anton Muller, Curate of Holy Trinity, who conducted the service in the absence of Rev. John Tapper, the Vicar, owing to his attendance at Diocesan Synod that day.
Following Evensong, there followed an opportunity for members to play the fine 3-manual J. W. Walker organ, which is often used for concerts and recitals. The Association expresses its gratitude to all those who participated in the visit and to John Hurd who organised it for us.
Methodist Church & Sidcup St. John
The Parish Church of St. John, Sidcup is a vast Victorian Italianate brick building and during the tour, provided by their organist, Mr. Frank Roddy, our members were guided around its many outstanding features. The font, reredos, pulpit and lectern and a fine painting were presented in detail. Judging by the comments made during the excellent tea (also provided by Mr. Roddy and the Vicar's wife) this tour was much appreciated. During this latter part of the meeting our President introduced us to Mike Addison, a member of the Cleveland Association. Mr. Addison's son was undergoing intensive ca
re in the nearby hospital; we were glad to be able to wish him well and present Mike with a copy of our journal. The Willis 111 instrument in St. John's is positioned in the north chancel with Swell and Great speaking down the north side of the nave, the handsome nave front pipes using pipework from both Great Open Diapason stops. This instrument is tonally very English as one would expect of this period, the restored Pitman chests giving a very responsive action. Our meeting closed with a fine recital by Mr. Peter Litman, organist of St. Martin and St. Paul, Canterbury. Peter (who has a very impressive string of qualifications for one born in 1978) played a recital containing 19th and 20th century pieces all ideally suited to this instrument. His playing showed off a brilliant technique and, at one point in the music, the setting sun poured through the great west window giving a beautiful warming appearance to the rather sombre interior of the church.
For this coach outing in May we were joined by members of the Bromley and Croydon and the Oxford and District Associations, and the day started with the usual pickup points at Charing and Wrotham. As we went further west the grey weather of Kent was replaced by sunshine in Reading, where we were welcomed at the Town Hall by Philip Bowcock, a member of the Berkshire Organists' Association who has been closely connected with the restoration of the Father Willis organ and is co-editor, with the Reverend Peter Marr, of the superb book on the history of the instrument.
The organ was originally installed in the old Town Hall, but rebuilt and enlarged for the elegant new Concert Hall in 1882, which has a glass clerestory and superb acoustics. After lying silent for ten years the organ was restored in 1999 by Harrison and Harrison, the original sharp pitch c=540) being re-instated, due to the condition of the pipework, and also the trigger swell mechanism. The specification of this least altered of all Town Hall organs is: Great 16 8 8 8 4 4 22/3 2 111 8 4, Swell 16 8 8 4 2 111 8 8 8 4, Choir 8 8 8 4 2 8 8 Solo 8 4 8 8, Pedal 16 16 16 8 16, with mechanical action. Our President, Andrew Cesana, demonstrated the full range of the organ in an improvisation and Pièce Solennel by Jacques Ibert. A number of members also played this thrilling organ, which has all the Willis characteristics from brilliant fluework to fiery reeds and beautiful soft voices. The Town Hall itself has recently been refurbished with help from the Heritage Commission and is well worth a visit apart from the attraction of the organ.
During the short journey to Eton, we followed part of the Queen Mother' s favourite route to Windsor through Datchet and were met at the entrance to the College by the Organist Alastair Sampson. Henry v1 founded the college in 1440, and the magnificent Perpendicular Gothic chapel was finally completed in 1482. The present organ was built by Thomas Hill in 1885 and completed in 1902. Manders carried out a major restoration in 1986 returning it to the characteristics of 1885/1902 in terms of specification, action, wind pressures and voicing. Alastair Sampson spoke very amusingly and interestingly about the history of the organs in the Chapel, and mentioned that some four miles of lead tubing from Germany was used to renovate the pneumatic action in 1986. An electric blower was not installed until 1919. At one time it had been blown by water drawn from a reservoir which in turn was supplied by the Thames. This was fine until a boat passed through the locks, the water pressure dropped and the organ faded away during a hymn! It is now a four manual instrument with 59 speaking stops. The case with 32ft towers is magnificent beyond belief!
Mr Sampson, who has been organist since 1968, explained that Michael Phillips had taken part in an evening concert where pupils had recorded their A level pieces. Michael was the last player and his recorded performance was missing, so the occasion of our visit was being used to remake the recording as well as demonstrating the organ to us. Michael then introduced himself, complete with name of school and candidate number, and played his programme - J S Bach Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, Jongen Minuet-Scherzo, Liszt Fugue from "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam" and Eben Moto Ostinato from Sunday Music. It was a first class demonstration from a very gifted player, who will surely have no difficulty in passing A level and will go on to greater things. The organ is extremely impressive and by no means lacking in power and colour - on the contrary - but there was an interesting contrast between the brilliant Willis sound heard earlier and the more mellow choruses of Hill.
Lower Chapel was built in 1890 to accommodate the increased number of boys at the College, and it now contains a fine new organ built by Kenneth Tickell in 2000. We were privileged that Mr Tickell was present to introduce the organ to us. It has been built inside the 1925 case provided by W G Tapper, the design of which was based on the Father Smith case which originally stood in the main Chapel. The prospect pipes now all speak, pipemouths have been realigned and the whole effect is very handsome. The new organ has tracker action with mechanical coupling, electric stop and combination action, and 41 stops spread over three manuals and pedal. The specification is biased towards the French romantic school, but Mr Tickell played some Couperin, which showed that it is well able to produce the authentic sounds for this earlier period of music. The main demonstration was given by James Sherlock, who gave a stunning performance of the Dupré Variations on a Noël showing every aspect of this very cohesive organ which has been so skilfully voiced to suit a rather dead acoustic.
A walk along the charming High Street brought us to the Eton Tea Rooms and we then continued across the Thames and up the hill to the glories of Windsor Castle and St. George's Chapel. Evensong was sung by the choir of the Chapel under the direction of the Assistant Organist Roger Judd. The setting for the canticles was Murrill in E, the anthem O Clap your hands by Vaughan Williams. Needless to say, everything was beautifully sung, long musical phrases being particularly pleasing.
As the culmination of a wonderful day, we
then had the privilege of a private demonstration of the
organ by Roger Judd. He first spoke of the history
of the organ, which contains pipework by Samuel Green
(1790) Gray and Davison (1852) and Rothwell/Walker
(1930), when two consoles were installed on the choir
screen at the instigation of Sir Walford Davies. Harrison
and Harrison carried out a major rebuild in 1965 to the
design of Dr. Sidney Campbell. At Easter, Harrisons
completed a further overhaul, which included upgrading
the console, but the tonal scheme remains
In Mr. Judd's superbly comprehensive recital we heard music by Bach, Widor and Hollins. The lightly registered A Fancy by Sir William Harris was particularly appropriate and Howells' Master Tallis's Testament fitted the organ and the acoustics like a glove. The recital ended with Reger's Siegesfeier (Thanksgiving) Seven Pieces op. 145 No.7. Written in 1916, in grand Reger style, it introduces the German National Anthem (Austria) towards the end, on the assumption that Germany would win the First World War. This caused great embarrassment to his publishers Breitkopf and Härtel, and it was not until after the second war that the full set of seven pieces was issued. During the recital members were able to walk round free of crowds of tourists and to quietly contemplate the beautiful chapel in the north quire aisle where Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother now lies buried with King George v1.
As we returned home on the coach, Andrew told us that he had written to HM The Queen on behalf of the Association to offer our condolences on the loss of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother and congratulations in her Golden Jubilee Year. This letter had been graciously acknowledged and best wishes were sent by the Queen for a successful visit to St. George's Chapel.
Andrew had put a great deal of effort into arranging such a full and remarkable day which went so smoothly and Robert Cripps thanked him warmly on behalf of us all.
St. Mary's Church, originally a 12th century building, reeked of history with its unusual cruciform design. Interestingly, through some historical quirk, the chancel is under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Rochester, although the church resides in the diocese of Canterbury. As Rochester pays for the upkeep of the chancel the arrangement is quite mutually acceptable.
The organ, built by Hunter of Clapham in 1910, is in a West End gallery allowing it to speak clearly and musically into the building. Malcolm Hall, who kindly arranged the afternoon for us, demonstrated the organ as part of a competition for members. We were required to guess the organ's complete specification whilst he played. Even though two professional organ builders were present, and with only a handful of stops on each manual, no one gave a completely correct answer. However, members did have great fun trying and it enabled us to hear the organ in its entirety, with its delightfully English diapasons, flutes and reed stop. Walter Lewis, who has been organist of Teynham for sixty years, gave us an informative résumé of the church's history before we set off to Preston for tea.
St. Catherine's Church, Preston, originally Norman, has undergone many changes, the most recent in 1867, but we had come to hear the organ and there were two front-pipe displays in a small West-End gallery. What we heard was not a pipe organ but an electronic instrument installed some three years earlier by Copeman Hart. This was in full voice, played by Walter Lewis, as we entered the church and it boasted some twenty-seven speaking stops and a two-manual and pedal console. The pedal Sub Bass 16ft and Principal 16ft laid a firm and full foundation, but with a noticeable electronic "bloom". Softer voices did have a little character but still retained an overall "electronic" veil.
Mixture stops produced a sharp artificial edge to the organ's ensemble which, sadly, did nothing to relieve the electronic "sameness", with each note over the complete manual compass an identical clone of its neighbour, lacking any individuality. Also, as more stops were added, the sound became confused and mushy, which was not aided by the "volume control" Swell and Great expression boxes. It would seem there still remains a yawning chasm between electronics and real pipes but, much to our surprise, one stop did stand out in its realism - a set of tubular bells. What will they think of next?
Mary's & AGM
We enjoyed a quite sumptuous tea organised by Janet Tollerfield in St. Mary's Church rooms preparing us for an inspiring organ recital by Julian Collings, who played: J. S. Bach's Fugue in E flat "St. Anne", Olivier Messiaen's L'Ascension, concluding with Jehan Alain's Le Jardin Suspendu, Litanies. Julian, who has just graduated from Christ's College, Cambridge, gave us a thrilling and faultless performance.