SOME PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF THE IAO CONGRESS
CAMBRIDGE, 24 – 29 JULY 2008
2008 is the 100th anniversary of Messiaen’s birth and his music was prominently featured throughout.
Thursday 24 July was occupied in travelling to the Marriott Hotel, delegates’ registration and, following dinner, a coach ride to the beautiful St Neots Parish Church to hear Fransesca Massey give a recital on the Bishop and Son organ. The organ was built initially by a George Holdich in 1855. It has been cared for by Bishop and Son since 1895 and finally overhauled, with tonal alterations, in 2007.
Fransesca Massey’s recital commenced with a robust performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E Major BWV 556 followed by a Choral Prelude and a thoughtful interpretation of Prelude and Fugue in G Minor by Brahms. We had our first taste of Messiaen, Offrande au Saint Sacrement, with the usual profusion of discords but a quiet and relaxed work. This was followed by an intriguing piece, Fantasmagorie, by Alain. The recital ended with a splendid performance of Ebon’s Homage a Dietrich Buxtehude.
The recital was followed by a
reception in the church giving us the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine with
old friends. It was an enjoyable conclusion to a full day and an auspicious
start to Congress.
St. Neots Parish Church
Friday 25 July was a busy day. We first visited St Mary the Less in the heart of
Cambridge to hear a new tracker
organ built by the Kenneth Tickell & Company. The bright clear voices of the
organ were amply demonstrated by Daniel
Hyde in a well articulated Bach Prelude
and Fugue and, in complete contrast, Rhosymedre
by Vaughan Williams.
We then walked to the Emmanuel United Reform Church for another short demonstration by Daniel Hyde on a Henry Willis organ, modified extensively since its installation in 1880 and finally restored to the Willis stop list in 1992 by Harrison & Harrison. This was the only near-original Willis we were to hear.
Kenneth Tickell Organ
Little St Mary
Kenneth Tickell Organ
The next recital was by Simon Hogan in Queen’s College chapel. This was the first University chapel we had visited. The architecture was most striking as was the disposition of the organ. Many of the existing organs in the college chapels are rebuilds of organs provided many years ago and Queen’s is no exception. The original organ was built by James Binns in 1892 and after passing through a number of transitions was finally overhauled by Harrison and Harrison in 2002.
Simon Hogan gave a thoughtfully planned recital of complementary pieces commencing with a quiet Berceuse, (24 pieces in free style) by Vierne, Berceuse a la memoir de Louis Vierne by Cochereau, no doubt originally an improvisation and Vierne’s Fourth Symphony in G Minor. Some clarity was lost in the final piece but overall it was an enjoyable recital.
It was a long, hot, walk from Queen’s to Selwyn College where Colin Walsh was playing. In the event we decided to give this recital a miss, although by all accounts Colin Walsh played splendidly. We sat on a wall in the delightful grounds for a while and the last piece of his recital, Toccata in B flat minor by Vierne was loud enough to be heard quite clearly outside the Chapel.
One delegate remarked that the tracker organ, built by Orgues Letourneau of Quebec, was far too loud for the chapel.
Organ by Orgues Letourneau of Quebec
Organ by Orgues Letourneau of Quebec
College Chapel is visited once a year through the medium of television for
the service of Nine Lessons and Carols. Sitting in that wonderful building, with
the soaring fan vaulting complemented by the windows and the perfect
proportions of the organ case, all constructed without the use of a single
computer or modern construction equipment, is an experience in itself.
The Chapel was built to the glory of the Monarchy perhaps, but not to the satisfaction of hundreds of displaced inhabitants when, apparently, a significant portion of the existing town was demolished to make way for it.
Kings College Organ
Saturday 26 July.
Following our by now familiar bus journey to Cambridge we walked from the drop-off point to Emmanuel College to hear Peter Yardley-Jones’ recital on the organ built by Kenneth Jones of Bray, Ireland in 1988. Apparently the organ case is something of a hybrid, the great and chair cases originating from different sources. However, the two have been combined to form a satisfying whole incorporating the new organ.
Peter Yardley Jones gave a varied recital commencing with Prelude and Fugue in B Minor BWV 544. The dry acoustic of the building emphasised a possible lack of rhythmic precision in the fugue. He continued with music by Purcell, Stanley, Wesley, Tallis and Howells which although delightful did not perhaps do full justice to the organ.
Emmanuel College Organ
The next recital on the list was by Robert Houssart at Our Lady and the English Martyrs on the 1890 Abbot and Smith organ, rebuilt by Nicolson and Co in 2007. The recital consisted of works by Oliver Messiaen, L’Ascension and Messe de la Pentecote. Having tried to come to terms with Messiaen for some 50 years without success it was decided to give the recital a miss and the break was spent exploring Cambridge, bustling with tourists and overseas students, and enjoying a picnic with friends by the river.
We arrived at St John’s College in the afternoon for a rehearsal by members of the Bach Choir conducted by David Hill. After a short introduction David Hill gave some useful tips on the preparation of the singers before a rehearsal or concert which would have been of interest to the choir masters amongst us.
He prepared the choir first by a series of physical exercises and then vocal exercises, aaa’s and mmm’s rising in volume and pitch. He then proceeded with the rehearsal of the music proper with the assistance of a versatile organist (Jane Watts), out of sight from where we were seated, but within earshot of David Hill’s instructions.
As the rehearsal progressed there
was a tangible improvement to the combined sound of choir and organ, although
the professionalism of singers and organist was such that the difference was
not particularly marked.
As a hostage to fortune David Hill left the rostrum for the organ loft and accompanied the choir in Vaughan William’s Lest There be Silence.
Overall choir and organ produced a glorious sound enhanced by the acoustic of the building. For some, the discomfort of the choir stalls in which we were seated detracted a little from the enjoyment of the music.
We returned to St John's College later to hear a wonderful performance by the Choir of Faure’s Requiem, this time seated just outside the entrance to the chapel on a substantial bench.
Organ Ely Cathedral
On Sunday afternoon we were driven from Burghley House to Ely Cathedral for Choral Evensong and a recital by David Hill. Following Choral Evensong with works by Stanford and Leighton we moved from the choir to the body of the church where seats had been thoughtfully reserved for IAO delegates under the crossing. David Hill performed a splendid recital included Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue in C, two pieces by Bach, two movements from La Nativity du Seignior by Messiaen, Reger’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor/D major and finally a memorable performance of Listz’s Fantasy and Fugue on the Choral; Ad nos, ad Salutarem Undam. Although much of the detail was lost in the resonant building the last piece utilised all the resources of the instrument concluding a veritable feast of organ music.
Monday 28 July. After yet another drive to Cambridge we arrived at Jesus College for a recital by Daniel Hyde. Following a short introduction from David Hill, the Managing Director of Kuhn Orgelbau of Switzerland spoke about his thriving company and expressed his pleasure at being able to provide an organ for a Cambridge College Chapel. Daniel Hyde then gave a dissertation on the organ specification explaining, amongst other things, the apparent proliferation of 8 ft stops. In summary the Romantic style of the organ fulfilled the many different needs of the chapel music programme, not only accompanying the choir but also as a world class instrument on which to train organists of the future.
Monday afternoon found us again at
St John’s College to hear a lecture
by the legendary John Rutter
entitled ‘Confessions of a Composer’. In the event he confessed to little if anything
but gave an enthralling talk covering the historical musical tradition of
Cambridge. His own contribution to this history was unique. He had recorded
live interviews with George Guest, who had actually met Vaughan Williams and
Herbert Howells. These interviews were eventually to be released in CD format.
Conclusion. Congress concluded with a reception and dinner in the hotel. The guest speaker, expanding at length on the contribution of Albert Schweitzer to organ music, was Past President Catherine Ennis. It was good to see her again in typically ebullient mood following her recent illness.
David Ball. August 2008
Bexley and District Organists’ and Choirmasters’ Association
BDOCA Web Site. www.bdoca.myzen.co.uk