Members' Recital Day at St. Bees
13th November 1999

Review by Tracker

The 1899 Willis at St. Bees is surely a Mecca for aspiring recitalists. It was the last Willis organ to be built under Henry Willis' personal supervision. Whilst the number of stops is modest (36) their effect is monumental. It is an unusual instrument, rather difficult to tame. Despite having a 32' pedal Ophicleide, it does not have a soft stop on the swell or small Open Diapason on the great. Two other stops (16 swell Bassoon and Solo mixture) are also prepared for but not installed because the available money was spent on extending the I6' Ophicleide to 32'. Two remarkable Willis patents are the pneumatic switchboard for setting the pistons and the expression pedals for swell and solo. These require the organist to be something of a contortionist because they are situated on the right of the pedalboard and it is necessary after positioning them to remove one's foot smartly when they then are supposed to remain in the position selected. No doubt due to wear it seems that the system only works if the pedals are depressed to at least half open. The full effect of the organ is somewhat suppressed in the nave by being enclosed in a transept. One can only fantasise what its effect would be if it were situated at the west end.

Due to a slight breakdown in communications, some of the members' performances were accompanied by a bell ringing practice. Some cynics may have taken the view that they were thereby greatly enhanced. The attached programme shows that the music selected was well matched to the character of the instrument.

The audience was very sparse as is usual at this kind of event. However, each player had the somewhat unnerving knowledge that five other critical organists were assessing each player. Chris Price, our Members' Recitals Organiser, seems to have settled for the Chairman to open the batting on these occasions. He rampaged through the Reubke sonata and he was obviously enjoying himself especially when deploying the Tuba at climactic points. He says it took him four hours to prepare the registration of this very demanding work. It will be interesting to speculate if we ever hear this work again at a members' recital.

Samuel Carradice then calmed us down with Bach's Nun Komm in G minor. I well remember him playing this at our last Embleton Day and receiving praise from David - a fairly rare event. I understand from those on high that to play Stanley properly one has to consult learned tomes on the historic approach to early keyboard fingering. Samuel deserves praise for performing so well in spite of eyesight problems.

Adrian Dean always seems to exude the kind of confidence and control that causes envy in the more diffident brethren. To this listener Lemmens Storm Fantasia (rather than the performance) seemed unwilling to fair up, the length of the piece seeming to lack structure. No doubt others, including Adrian will refute such an opinion.

Chris Price's pieces provided a pleasing relaxed atmosphere which considerably enhanced my study of excerpts from the Old Testament. Reger's Benedictus is always enjoyable to hear, especially as it is one of Chris' own favourites too.

Ron regaled us with some very popular pieces which are always enjoyable and remembered when Reubkes etc. have faded from consciousness.

It seems to have become an unspoken tradition that the performer Chris selects to play last has got the "bottle" to round off the recital with the most impressive display of technique and interpretation. The mantle fell this year on Clare Mingins, as she impressed us with her performance of Vierne. Clare is a pupil of David Sanger and she is to give our AGM recital in May.

The CSO is much indebted to St. Bees Priory and Graham Brightman for the experience gained by the players. To express their gratitude they are to contribute to the provision of better console lighting.

The CSO is fortunate to be able to field six players to play to such a high standard. It is a pity that the constraints of geography preclude a greater CSO support.

The programme was as follows:

Colin Rae Sonata on the 94th Psalm J Reubke
Samuel Carradice Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
Voluntary, Opus 5 No. 1
J S Bach
J Stanley
Andrian Dean Adagio, from Symphony No. 6
Grand Fantasia "The Storm"
Chris Price Choral from "Quatre Pieces"
Prelude in E flat
Postlude in D minor
Ron Craig Pastorale from Sonata No. 1
Trumpet Voluntary
Priere from "Suite Gothique"
Von Paradis
Clare Mingins Intermezzo, Adagio, Final from Symphony No. 3 L Vierne

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