Cumbrian Society of Organists

Review : Visit to Organs in Sedbergh and Dent : 16 June 2012

On a rather dull and damp day, around a dozen CSO members gathered at Sedbergh in the western dales, to sample two contrasting organs in the school. These had been visited on an earlier occasion, probably around 1995.

First on the list was the 3-manual Alfred Hunter instrument in the Powell Hall, a typical early 20th-century concert organ of adequate resources for a wide repertoire. We were met there by the school's Director of Music, and several members spent a leisurely hour and a half exploring its varied colours. The overall impression was of a solidly built and powerful instrument, though the effect was slightly marred by some out-of-tune reeds.

Our second venue was across the site (by car in the pouring rain!) to the school chapel, where the original 3-manual organ by Norman & Beard was replaced by a 2-manual neo-Classical instrument by Nigel Church. This had been installed in a church in Hucknall in 1976, and moved to Sedbergh by David Wells in 1994. Of uncompromising-ly baroque voicing, this organ works very well in suitable repertoire, but not at all in the greater part! It serves little purpose in supporting a large congregation, nor does it work well with a choir. Some re-voicing has been carried out to 'tame' its speech, but the strident mixtures are particularly unpleasant at close quarters! Attempts to perform works of a 'Romantic' style simply failed to convince, and yet in Bach it reigned supreme. Part of the problem is the projection of sound into the building, and a re-siting might improve matters slightly. However, in general this was a good illustration as to why over-specialised designs of organs don't satisfy the greater needs, and why the fashion for such instruments has largely died out.

Our third and final visit was to the picturesque village of Dent, a few miles to the south, where the splendid church of St. Andrew's has a superb organ by Vincent of Sunderland dating from 1892. ┬áThe subject of a full restoration by Harrisons in 2009, this organ has a commanding presence, and its rich choruses fill the building with magnificent sound. It is only to be regretted that most of our group had departed by that time, as in many ways they missed the best organ of the three!

The journey home through the most appalling conditions on the M6 that the writer has ever experienced made the day even more unforgettable, but the effort was most worthwhile!

National Pipe Organ Register Links

Sedbergh School Powell Hall
Sedbergh School Chapel