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Gone with the wind...
O magnum mysterium
CD & concert reviews

The 1878 Brindley & Foster in Dewsbury Methodist Church, now replaced by an electronic.

Gone with the wind...

Preserving our organ heritage is a key strategy of the association. Stuart Scrutton recalls two fine Dewsbury organs lost to posterity. Dewsbury Parish Church, now the Minster, had a fine musical tradition and a magnificent organ worthy of that tradition.

Father Willis himself built it in 1896 and after the Great War it was rebuilt conservatively by Harrison & Harrison. The action was tubular-pneumatic and there were 40 speaking stops. I played it a couple of times and it was a veritable Rolls Royce. It was slightly unusual in that the swell and great mixtures had the same composition (12.19.22) - similar to those Willis later provided at Lincoln Cathedral. Great, Swell and Pedal had high pressure chorus reeds although those on the Great were, unusually for Harrison, not transferable to the Choir. The soft effects were as beautiful as the louder ones were impressive.

When the church was re-ordered in the late 1970s, the organ was dismantled and stored in one of the transepts. Quotations were obtained from organ builders and a low quote accepted from an amateur. The latter became ill and moved away from the district, unable to complete the work.

The professionals were called in again and said that they would have to start afresh. A friend of mine rescued some of Father Willis's wooden pipes from a bonfire in the churchyard, but the fate of the Willis high pressure reeds is a mystery. Eventually a second hand instrument was installed by Michael Fletcher. This has since been replaced by a Bradford Computing organ in a further re-ordering of the Church.

At the Methodist Church the affluent businessmen of the town had paid for a magnificent Brindley and Foster, installed in 1878. The specification and voicing displayed French and German influence. Like the Parish Church, the organ had three manuals and 40 speaking stops, but there the similarity ended.

It was almost identical in specification to the organ which the builders later provided for Sheffield Parish Church (later the Cathedral) and could be seen as a scaled down and Anglicised version of Armley. Of particular note was the Great flue chorus - 16', 8', 8', 4' II (2 2/3' & 2'), III, V. In addition, there were 16', 8' & 4' Trumpets. The 3-rank Mixture was the builders' usual Sharp Mixture (15.19.22) but the 5-rank although called Cornet was very similar in composition to the famous Armley Mixture.

It contained no tierce ranks, starting at and included a 5 1/3' quint from quite low in the compass. The scaling and voicing of the mixture had the effect of almost doubling the power of the Great fluework. With all the reeds and mixtures, full Great was quite shattering. While the Swell was much quieter than the Great, it still gave a good account of itself. It originally had two Mixtures, one being 12.15 and the other 15.19.22 (called Sesquialtera) together with reeds 16', 8', 8', and 4' plus mild strings.

The 2-rank mixture was replaced by a Viol d'Orchestre earlier this century. There was no 8' flute but a 4' Zartflote which had a very delicate and piquant sound was present, as was a 16' Bourdon. The Choir included a family of Lieblichs complete from 16' to 2' plus a Dulcet Twelfth and 8' and 4' Salicionals. The concept was not too far from being a fusion of Schulze's Echo Organ and an English Choir Organ of the period.

The Pedal Organ had soft and loud 16' and 8' flues plus powerful 16' and 8' reeds, almost like French Bombardes. The action was Barker lever to Swell and Great, tracker to the Choir and tubular pneumatic to the Pedal Organ which consisted of three extended ranks. In the late 1970s water penetrated the apse above the organ and the high cost of reinstatement was cited as being a valid reason to get rid of what was undoubtedly one of the largest and finest Brindley and Fosters surviving in almost original condition.

This enabled the church authorities to install a false ceiling at gallery level, the organ being replaced by a cheap electronic, which has itself since been replaced by an American digital instrument.

Here are two clear instances where the BIOS could have at least tried to save both instruments, had they only the opportunity.

Summary specifications

Methodist Church:
Gt 16' 8' 8' 8' 4' 4' II III V 16' 8' 4'
Sw 16' 8' 8' 8' 4' 4' 8'* III 16' 8' 8' 4'
Ch 16' 8' 8' 8' 4' 4' 2 2/3' 2' 8'
Ped 16' 16' 10 2/3' 8' 8' 16' 8'
Usual couplers + Swell & Great Octaves
* Formerly 2 rank mixture

Parish Church:
16' 8' 8' 8' 4' 4' 2' III 8' 4'
16' 8' 8' 8' 8' 4' 4' 2' III 8' 8' Trem 16' 8' 4'
16' 8' 8' 8' 4' 2' 8' 8' Trem
16' 16' 16' 10 2/3' 8' 8' 8' 16'
Usual H & H coupler scheme.

O magnum mysterium

MYSTERY. Our secular, rational, scientific, fully costed, carefully researched, ready-answer society has little time for such dubious intangibles.

Who needs worrying, woolly imprecision as the world bites on a genetically-altered banana, or gazes at TV images of the structure of DNA? Nor are many clergy too comfortable with the concept these days. O Magnum Mysterium? Perhaps not. Let's, instead, have another rousing chorus of Colours of Day.

The reluctance to contemplate, let alone dwell, on the numinous, the transcendental, the unseen, is puzzling. Where would music - any art - be without the creative stimulus of mystery, atmosphere, myth, magic? These are the spur to - and the fruits of - the imagination.

Yet in much modern worship, notions of space and silence, of awe and contemplation, atmosphere and mystery, seem to puzzle and embarrass. Be still my soul? No thanks, not when activity, noise, participational bustle and a furious urge to get on with things appear to count for more. This may be age taking hold; but, as an itinerant, deputising organist I encounter different styles and approaches, some impressive, some less so.

Then I reflect on my days as organist at St Thomas the Apostle, Longroyd Bridge, where a sage and faithful and funny old parish priest, Fr Nichols, ordered his sanctuary like a benign drill sergeant. He knew that atmosphere, awe and quality of silence, came through faithfulness to detail in the liturgy. Slovenliness or casual thought had no place; quite the reverse.

Woe betide the thurifer whose incense did not appear on cue or the organist whose plainsong accompaniment admitted an alien harmony. He was, however, gentle to chide, quick to bless; quick, also, to appreciate the role of music and the organ in worship. Improvisations were encouraged during Mass and particularly while he meditated, with unsettling attentiveness, for the half hour before Evensong and Benediction.

His musical aptitude could lead him to criticism which could be provocatively candid, but delivered always with twinkling wit. He would disdain the meretricious, the lazy, the undisciplined. To him, atmosphere was not the product of an 8ft flute rambling incoherently over strings. It was the controlled application of creative thought. Sometimes the sounds would end in a rapt silence, the music, one dared hope, adding to its potency.

And then there would be a reward, a quiet "very nice, lad" delivered in that cultured drawl, acknowledgment that silence could, indeed, be golden.

CD & concert reviews

Daniel Pesa, of the Northern College, assesses the latest crop of organ and choral CDs.

Bairstow: The Complete Organ Works. Francis Jackson, Amphion PHI CD143. Mid-price.

FRANCIS Jackson has made many fine recordings, but perhaps none finer than this, first issued by Mirabilis in 1990. No tribute from pupil to teacher could be more intimate or sincere. This is Dr Jackson at his best: thrilling, vivid, authoritative, perceptive. He rips into some of the pieces with an urgency of someone half his years to penetrate the core of their drama.

Yet there is an unfailing grace and shapeliness to every phrase, the Minster organ ever eloquent in uniting two of its most devoted servants. The Prelude in C opens the recital with rolling grandeur and the Sonata closes it in a blaze of energy.

Will you hear an account of the famous scherzo of greater wit and incandescence? I doubt it. This is a disc that all organists, particularly young ones, could learn and profit from.

Performance XXXX
Recording XXXX

Harris: Faire is the Heaven. The Exon Singers, director Andre Carwood. ASV DCA 1015. Full price.

WHILE ever choirs sing, the memory of Sir William Harris will be kept burnished by his flawless double motet Faire is the Heaven to words by Edmund Spenser.

This disc, from the 30-year-old chamber ensemble The Exon Singers (not quite up to their mid-1980s peak), gives a chance to hear not only that work in a typically authoritative performance but some of Harris's less familiar choral pieces.

Like Stanford his teacher, Harris was a fastidious craftsman and the elegance of his writing can be appreciated in this intelligently assembled programme - though what he would have made of the ragged entry that heralds the first track is open to conjecture. Three of his organ pieces played by Patrick Russill give full voice to Tonbridge School's new Marcussen.

Performance XXXX
Recording XXXX

Weir's amazing grace
St Paul's Hall
Huddersfield University
Dame Gillian Weir, organ.

Dame Gillian came to Huddersfield 20 years ago to give one of the first recitals on the organ in St Paul's, newly-built by Wood of Huddersfield. In 1987 she returned with an all-Bach programme for the 10th anniversary recital. In November, she was the natural choice to celebrate its 20th birthday.

In an ambitious piece of planning, the extensive restoration work on the organ, funded by lottery cash, prompted not one but two celebratory recitals a week apart.

David Titterington's international celebrity is perhaps not yet adequately recognised by the town but Dame Gillian drew a large audience for a recital that demonstrated her peerless gifts.

Earlier in the day she had received from the university an honorary doctorate for services to the organ.

In case anyone was unclear of these attributes as performer, teacher and ambassador, she gave what amounted to a masterclass in technique and musicianship.

Her blend of authority and poise, rhythmic strength and grace of phrasing were evident in a programme that found something new and fresh to say in each piece, from Mozart's K608 to the Bach partita Sei Gegrusset and, finally, Jongen's Toccata, dispatched by this remarkable artist with astonishing elan.