Visit to Manchester
20 April 2002

Review by Tracker

This visit was the seventh of a series of visits to major cities, the previous being Newcastle, Durham, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Liverpool (twice). There has been much discussion, even misgivings, about the Bridgewater Hall organ by Marcussen. Learned articles have been written by learned organists in learned publications including the Organists Review. These misgivings moved Alan White, our organiser, guide and mentor, to suggest we would be better not to "waste time" at the Bridgewater Hall. However, the lure to be able to brag about having played the £1.2 million pound creation was strong enough for us to yield to temptation. The Hall is certainly impressive with its relaxing auditorium. As a result of Alan's many contacts in high places, Christopher Stokes, Master of the Music at the Cathedral, gave us a demonstration ending with one of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance, the organ making us feel we were in the Odeon of latter years. One of Wood's of Huddersfield's builders gave us an interesting description of the lay-out of the organ. The regular "have-a-go" members played, pressing many buttons and hoping for the best and trying to cope with P-II, III-IV couplers and other many mysterious named stops. A visit inside the organ revealed the all-mechanical action. Only by camping out in the choir arena for a week could we assess the instrument fully. Chris left us armed with a CSO thank you in the form of a bottle of something or other muttering that the machine wasn't his 'sort of thing'. It seemed to be reed-heavy, lacking fundamental tone, rather like expecting an orchestra but getting a brass band. As one of our anglophilic members remarked: "It needs open diapasons one, two, three and four." No doubt members returning to Cumbria may take a somewhat less jaundiced view of their own instruments and dreaming of the improvements possible with £1.2 million.

Alan White at the Bridgewater Hall

A golden rule of organising distant events is to consult the local experts. Our chairman contacted Gordon Stewart who recommended St. Phillip's, Salford and Stand Parish Church and advised us which organs to avoid. Alan wisely thought we had not sufficient time to visit four venues so we all took the tramway to Stand Parish Church where Gordon Stewart was waiting to welcome us as an occasional organist of the church. We were all very impressed with the full coherent, rich tonal structure of this organ with a significant amount of Harrison pipework. It was an immediate contrast with the Marcussen. Hugh Davies, Master of the Music at Kendal Parish Church, played for us an improvisation as a demonstration and Gordon described the organ's pedigree. The excellence of the instrument was only to be expected as a result of Gordon's involvement. We were amazed that the church was unable to find a regular organist.

Our last call was the Cathedral where we met Chris Stokes again, this time with his Choir and their beautiful performance of evensong containing delightful unaccompanied Tudor music. After evensong the assistant organist impressed us with improvisations "a le Howells". Again some of us enjoyed a visit to the organ loft and the immense console which most of us only dream about.

There were 23 of us on the coach journey and we were all very grateful to Alan's talents as a tour guide and organiser.

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