Photos courtesy of Philip Wells, Ian Fox, Paula Rix and Jonathan McKecknie-Jarvis
Bowood and Calne – Gloucestershire Organists’ Association
About 15 of our members made the journey to Bowood House, near Calne in Wiltshire through beautiful Cotswold countryside in steady rain on Saturday 24th March. Bowood is a grand country house set in large gardens, and it would have been nice if the weather had allowed us to explore the grounds a little.
However the staff of the House were most welcoming and as we walked through the front door to the
Orangery the sight of a magnificent organ case straight at the end of the Chapel soon brought smiles to our faces!
Our Chairman=Elect, Ian Fox, had arranged these two meetings and had invited Dr Christopher Kent, a noted organological expert, to be our host at Bowood. Indeed, he had even managed to waive the entrance fee for the group.
Christopher proceeded to tell us something of the history of the instrument and then demonstrated with a few well-chosen pieces by Tunder, Homilius
This organ was the third in the Chapel, and the case behind the high altar was from the previous instrument and was stunning in its appearance, certainly not English, though opinion was divided as to whether it had a French or German influence, wrapping around at the ends to ‘include’ the organist. The present organ was built behind this case by Peter Collins in 2005 and voiced in the style of Trost, a prominent South German organ builder concurrent with Gottfried Silbermann. Several consultants had been involved, using Trost instruments at Altenberg and others as models. The case featured new pipes by Stinkens of Holland from 8 and 4ft Principals, and these looked magnificent.and CPE Bach.
The organ is quite small, having two manuals with a fairly complete Great chorus topped by a Tierce rather than a Mixture, a small three-stop Positive division and a two-stop Pedal. Though the previous organ had been much larger, the alcove behind the organ had been mostly filled in, so the present space was extremely shallow, keeping the size down but enhancing the tonal projection. The Viol di Gamba stop was transmitted across both manuals and some flute basses were shared between stops.
Tonally, it was immediately obvious that this was something special, firstly by being in Werkmeister III temperament, and for the freshness and beauty of the voicing. The Great Principal sounded warm and prompt, with just a hint of authentic German horniness. The 4ft Octave added considerably to the brightness and was quite a step up. The 2ft Superoctave had to provide the brilliance for the chorus, which it did most effectively, with the Quint filling in perfectly. The Great was topped off by a really tangy Tierce, which could be used in solo combinations, or, with restraint, to spice up the plenum. The second manual contained a beautiful Rohrflute at 8ft, more prominent than the Gedeckt on the Great, and a partnering 4ft Spitzflute which did not sound particularly tapered, but was more an open flute. The Viol di Gamba, was available on both manuals, being a lovely mild string, but with a particularly Germanic slow starting speech, inviting a more legato style of playing. The Pedal division contained flutes at 16 and 8ft which gave sufficient and prompt foundation generally, but benefited from a manual coupler to balance louder combinations. Unfortunately the pedal 8ft flute had some significantly mis-tuned notes (not even acceptable to Werkmeister), and one of our number offered to sort it, but when the extent of the physical contortions required to reach the pipes was realised, the offer had to be withdrawn!
The key action was suspended mechanical, which might suggest an over-light touch as is now becoming rather too common in new organs, but in fact it was perfectly weighted and a joy to play – a great practice instrument, this! The only point of potential discomfiture was the pedalboard to the German standard, which is not only straight and flat, but more widely spaced than is the English norm. Thus bottom and top C’s required a considerable extra stretch.
Overall, most of the group played this organ and came off the bench grinning broadly! Some fine music was played, including excerpts from the Bach St Anne fugue and the Piece d’Orgue, both from memory, and the Buxtehude Passacaglia amongst many others.
An excellent all-you-can-eat buffet lunch was provided in the nearby restaurant, which was relished by all.
Calne Parish Church, St Mary’s
Bowood and Calne – Gloucestershire Organists’ Association
The second visit of the day was a short drive away to the small town of Calne with its solidly built and castellated parish church, and could not have been more of a contrast.
The church is of medium size with the organ in the usual North Chancel position and rather brash carved and gilded case fronts to Chancel and Nave, and the four-manual console well tucked under the Chancel front.
The organist, David X, welcomed us to the church and informed us that the organ was built by Conacher of Huddersfield, originally as a five-manual, but it had since been reduced to a four, and the last significant maintenance had been carried out in 2002. The action was tubular pneumatic, exceptionally light, and he said that it was now in need of further work at a significant cost. He then played us Murrill’s Carillon to demonstrate, before handing over to us
The acoustic is not particular supportive to the organ, so it sounded quite coarse in the choir – the Great and Swell face that way – better balanced at the crossing, and fading fast down the Nave. Some Pedal stops and the Solo, including the Tuba, face the Nave. Though the sound would not have been ‘accurate’, another good listening position was at the console, though the organist would not hear the effect on the choir.
Some of our members started off by improvising to demonstrate the organ which was most successful, including a couple of improvised Mendelssohn movements, and many more pieces were heard. A highlight was one of our more distant members who had joined for the afternoon playing the Franck Chorale No 3 with real sensitivity and fire – we were all spellbound. The fact that the reeds were well out of tune due to the recent weather change only emphasised the French authenticity!
Tonally this organ was no great masterpiece, though having got past the brash primary Great chorus, there were some interesting quieter stops and choruses to be found. The action turned out not to be too over-sensitive, and most things worked although there was some random wind running noises going on the soundboards, sometimes with the music and sometimes in conflict, proving the need for urgent maintenance.
Another highlight was a rendering of the Stanford Magnificat from memory by an organist practising for the next day, when he sang along and two other good singers from our group came up and joined in – oh the joys of impromptu music-making!
The group repaired to the church hall across the road for a welcome cup of tea before setting off home again.
Thanks again to Ian Fox for arranging these visits, and to those others who contributed to the success of the day.