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:The Elusive English Organ
Reviews
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The Elusive English Organ - A documentary film and recording featuring Daniel MoultChoir and Organ Magazine

The Elusive English Organ follows on from Fugue State Films’s lavish Martinikerk Rondeau film as part of Boeijenga’s Pronkjuwelen multimedia presentation of the extremely rich organ culture in the Dutch province of Groningen. This latest DVD is a more modest affair, focussing on a more modest subject. Daniel Moult proves to be an excellent presenter and performer in a film about the ‘elusive English organ’, surveying representative examples of the key stages in the development of the English organ prior to William Hill. Moult infuses an engaging film with a fascination for his subject, amply illustrated with beautifully played musical examples. It walks the tightrope between specialist film and documentary designed to enthuse a broader public, only occasionally missing the mark: John Mander joins the fray at Adlington Hall without having been adequately introduced to those not ‘in’ on the organ world, while Moult’s (too?) lengthy, and more or less unscripted analysis of the Thomas Dallam organ at Ploujean disrupts the film’s narrative as a whole. These are minor complaints in the context of a (once again) extremely accomplished film about a subject every bit as elusive as the title suggests.

Moult has picked his organs well; in addition to the anonymous organ at Adlington and the Dallam organs at Ploujean and Lanvellec, the film features the Handel-designed organ at Great Packington, the Renatus Harris organ at St Botolph, Aldgate, and the sublime sounds of the recently restored Bishop organ in the warmly embracing acoustical environment of St James, Bermondsey. Here, Moult appropriately demonstrates the extra keyboard at the bass end of the compass, connected to the three pedal stops and designed to allow the performance of music with independent pedal parts by English organists, very few of whom in 1829 had a pedal technique of any description.

Kimberly Marshall contributes to the film, as does Dominic Gwynn, who tells the unlikely story of the discovery of the Tudor soundboard at Wetheringsett and the subsequent re-creation of two Tudor instruments by Gwynn and Martin Goetze.

The accompanying CD features appropriate music played on all the organs featured in the film. Moult’s choice of music is wholly adequate, ranging from Byrd at Lanvellec to Russel and Samuel Wesley at Bermondsey. Although his control of historic instruments is always excellent, the 18th century repertoire fares slightly better than that from the 17th which, to my taste, lacks a certain rhythmic freedom (most especially in the BK62 Fantasia by Byrd and the Double Voluntary by Purcell.

Will Fraser’s beautifully made organ-related films are a fascinating development in the integration of the organ culture into the wider artistic world. The film tackles a tricky subject with considerable aplomb and the result is never less than enjoyable.

Chris Bragg

Choir and Organ Magazine, September / October 2010

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Organists' Review

Fugue State Films has made the sensible decision to use DVDs to complement CDs, rather than replace  them. As with their triumphant recording of George Ritchie’s version of The Art of Fugue, this CD offers the music, while the DVD provides a gloss, a set of additional material, a narrative.

Daniel Moult’s search for the ‘elusive’ English organ provides an excellent supplement to his finely judged CD of music by Byrd, Tomkins, Blow, Locke, Purcell, Handel, Philip Hart, John Worgan,  Stanley, William Russell, and Samuel Wesley. Moult’s premise is that the ‘English organ’ (1550–1830) is still an uncertain creature, obscured by Reformation, Civil War, Restoration, and neglect. It is not a thesis with which it is easy to disagree. But the benefit of hearing and seeing some of the surviving instruments will delight listeners to whom they are unfamiliar. There is a strong acknowledgement  throughout of Goetze and Gwynn, and Moult’s starting point is their two reconstructions for the Early  English Organ Project (Wetheringsett and Wingfield organs).These do not feature on the CD. The story  moves to Robert Dallam’s instrument in Lanvellec and Thomas Dallam’s in Ploujean, before tracing the  ‘English’ sound from the anonymous organ of Adlington Hall to Parker’s instrument in St James, Great Packington, the Harris organ in St Botolph, Aldgate, and concluding with the Bishop organ in St James, Bermondsey, restored by Goetze and Gwynn. Moult’s engaging narration is infrequently technical, and there is general rather than detailed analysis of what kinds of sounds these instruments produce and how. The surviving evidence for the ‘English’ sound is indeed scanty, and Moult’s enterprise is good at enumerating what is not known and what is. There is valuable additional commentary from Dominic Gwynn, John Mander, and Kimberly Marshall.

The CD offers complete performances of nearly all the works discussed or briefly heard on the DVD after the Early English Organ Project instruments (except,  alas, the ‘St Anne’ fugue which we see played on the Bermondsey organ using that little manual that  duplicates the pedal keys for the English organist of 1829, who, suspicious of new-fangled requirements,  wanted a way of playing the pedal stops without the feet).This is eloquently articulated, well-paced playing, which reaches far. Moult’s performance of Purcell’s Double Organ Voluntary in D minor is lovely in its maturity and flexibility, and Stanley’s Voluntary, Op.5, no. 8 likewise. Stanley’s great  Voluntary has a substance on its way to the symphonic. There is a sensible abbreviation to a written note length in the first page, which allows the softer flute to be better heard. Handel on an organ Handel  designed; and Purcell on the organ we know Handel played: what pleasures this CD offers. What about a similar enterprise on the Classical French organ?

Francis O’Gorman
Organists’ Review, August 2011

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Musical Opinion

The Summer Arts Festival at St. Peter's Vauxhall is making relatively little use of its T.C. Lewis organ of 1870, for the simple reason that the instrument stands in need of much-deserved restoration.

Daniel Moult, one of the finest organists of our time, lent his advocacy to the project with a carefully crafted programme on July 6 that allowed aural glimpses - despite a leaking windchest and some very wayward intonation - of a really special organ. (The recital was preceded by the screening of a DVD played and presented by Mr Moult - The Elusive English Organ - detailing the history and repertoire of English instruments extant, preserved, bowdlerised or destroyed, from the earliest years to the Victorian era: a joy of a film that should be screened on BBC3!) Mr Moult began spiritedly with Handel's 4th Concerto as refracted through the fertile imagination of W. T. Best, including a quite impure and thorouehlv delightful cadenza. Mr Moult revelled in what is misguidedly thought of nowadays as wickedness!

Bach's 'violin' Fugue in D minor BWV539 followed in a spritely tempo that no violinist could ever hope to emulate. Two of Elgar's Vesper Voluntaries and Mendelssohn's E flat Variations were lovingly played as if part of a personal conversation in a Victorian drawing-room, and the recital concluded with an exuberant account of Dubois' very naughty Toccata. More, please!

Leslie Howard

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The Sydney Organ Journal 

It was with a sense of anticipation that I watched Daniel Moult’s film on ‘The Elusive English Organ.’ Daniel, a fellow Pom, has been a friend for many years, and it was a joy to catch up with him last year when he came over on a recital tour.

That was indeed when some of us first saw this film, at Shore School, hosted by the ever-welcoming Robert Fox in an Australian premiere. Daniel studied in Oxford with the late, great, David Sanger, as well as continuing his organ studies with that well-known exponent of Early Music, Jaques van Oortmerssen, in Amsterdam, so is therefore well-placed to study this most elusive of beasts, the early English Organ. His youth and sheer enthusiasm for the organs and their music is extremely infectious, and this, of course, comes across on the DVD, but especially on the magnificent accompanying CD, containing definitive performances of works by Byrd, Purcell, SS Wesley and Stanley amongst others. This is especially useful as a ‘beginner’s guide’ to early English organ music, and the performances of this very individual school of music – often rather forbidding to the new player, here sound wonderfully natural and ebullient. The DVD film is a search for that oh-so-rare instrument that had escaped the massed 8 foot ranks of Victorian ‘improvement’. Daniel’s quest proves harder than originally realised, as during the 180 years or so during the Golden Age of English music, that there were, as the organ builder Dominic Gwynn claims (in a wonderful plummy voice); fewer organs in England than ever before, due to the removal of church instruments during the Reformation. So it seems that the authentic musical voice of this glorious epoch has almost been completely silenced in its native country.

We venture to Cheshire to the ninth-century Adlington Hall. Here in the historic seat of the Legh family, is found an atypical, country house organ, famously restored by Noel Mander in the 1950s, when most other firms would have regarded the instrument as a pile of scrap. It was known to have been (definitely!) played by Handel, who had stayed there overnight, and contains some charming sounds in an intimate venue, and Noel’s son, John Mander, joins in the general enthusiasm. We have a sticky-beak at the chapel of Packington Hall, where the organ was designed by Handel himself. The eye-opener for me was the 1829 Bishop organ in then-wealthy Bermondsey. This was the first modern organ with keyboards to C and full pedals. Only people couldn’t play the pedals, so Bishop provided an extra offset manual for a second organist to play the pedal part; a 19th century equivalent of those ‘bass to manuals’ options on Allen and Rodgers organs for the reluctant organist! This instrument sounds magnificent, especially in the generous acoustic of the Waterloo church. I would have loved them to have visited St Mary’s Rotherhithe with its historic 1800 England & Russell instrument; one of my favourites, but I guess time did not permit.

Daniel also finds the airfare to pop across the Channel on his quest, where there remain some seventeenth century Dallam organs in Brittany, which had escaed the fate of their fellow instruments in England, and it is a joy to hear and see the charming instruments at Ploujean and Lanvellec. Lucky old French!

Obvious it may be to some, but I never knew this: that the UK has no great Alkmaar or Haarlem-style organs because the Dutch have one church per town – which would have been invested with much civic pride, whereas English towns have many churches, each with relatively minor organs installed. For example Norwich, a relatively modest English town, had over fifty-two churches, so it would seem unlikely that they would have all contained a Schnitger. The Dutch are obviously more musical, whereas the English are more Christian…

Watching the DVD is a relief, especially after watching many an organ video in darker times, whose production values and camera work often owed much to the Blair Witch Project. The quality is superb, as is the recorded organ sound on the DVD, as well as, of course, the CD accompanying. Like Mark Twain, I am fascinated by work; being able to watch it for hours, so I was entranced to watch the bonus track of pipe-metal casting, a completely engrossing five minutes! Hats off to Daniel and the team for substantially raising the bar on organ DVDs. My only caveat was that I wanted more I will eagerly seek out the other DVDs from Fugue State Films in the series.

Russ Cobb
The Sydney Organ Journal, Spring 2010 

 


 

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