Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Organ Royal Albert Hall

The Grand Organ in the Royal Albert Hall in London

J.S. Bach BWV 565 by Martin Neary

Widor's 5th Organ Symphony Opus 42 No1 -- Toccata.
John Birch and Stephen Disley played the organ, the London Philharmonic Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra also performed.


The Grand Organ situated in the Royal Albert Hall in London, is the largest pipe organ in the UK. It was originally built by Henry "Father" Willis. The Royal Albert Hall organ was inaugurated by W.T.Best, the most famous performer of his day, in the presence of Queen Victoria on the 29th March 1871. It has been recently enlarged and rebuilt by Mander Organs, now having 150 stops and 10,268 speaking pipes.

The Durham firm of Harrison & Harrison rebuilt the organ in two stages in 1924 and 1933, during which it was increased to 146 stops (including three percussion stops) and converted to electro-pneumatic action. It was the largest organ in Britain at that time.

In the 1970s, Harrisons refurbished the console and replaced the switchgear in the action, made minor changes to the voicing and added a roof to attempt to project the sound forward, which was not successful.

By the end of the 20th century, the organ was again in a state of disrepair, with an ever-increasing number of stops unusable due to leaks in the wind system, cracks in the soundboards, and other problems. By 2002, it was maintained only through "heroic efforts" on the part of Harrisons and could not be used at all without their staff present, in case of mishap. The wind chests and pipes were leaking noisily and wind pressure was insufficient to support full use. The leatherwork in the actions was also failing.

The Mander rebuild

In 2002, the Royal Albert Hall Organ was taken out of commission for an extensive rebuild by Mander Organs. Some consideration was given to restoring the organ to its original Father-Willis specification, but the subsequent alterations and enlargements had made this impractical. The organ was by now, in truth, a Harrison, not a Willis, instrument, and it was felt that it should remain essentially as-is.

above: a look inside this huge organ, after the renovation

The dryness of the Hall had damaged the soundboards, so these were replaced and new and larger wind trunks provided. The roof was removed, and the reed stops in the Great division were restored to their 1924 wind pressures. The 1970s split of the Great Organ (allowing two independent Great Organs to be registered and played simultaneously on different manuals) was rationalised, effectively offering separate Willis and Harrison choruses and a Fourniture IV was added, with 147 stops and 9997 speaking pipes. In December 2007, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral regained the title of largest pipe organ in the UK with the addition of several stops creating a 'central organ' (now with 10,268 pipes).

the organ at the center of the room

The organ was re-opened at a gala concert on the evening of 26 June 2004 with David Briggs, John Scott and Thomas Trotter playing, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Richard Hickox. The organ featured prominently in the 2004 BBC Proms series. The first recordings on the newly rebuilt instrument were by Dame Gillian Weir.

Stoplist since 2004
I Choir and Orchestral Organ C–c4
First Division (Choir)
37 Open Diapason 8′
38 Lieblich Gedeckt 8′
39 Dulciana 8′
40 Gemshorn 4′
41 Lieblich Flute 4′
42 Nazard 22/5′[Ann. 1]
43 Flageolet 2′
44 Tierce 13/5′[Ann. 1]
45 Mixture III
46 Trumpet 8′
47 Clarion 4′
Second Division
(Orchestral) enclosed:
48 Contra Viole 16′
49 Violoncello 8′
50 Viole d’Orchestre I 8′
51 Viole d’Orchestre II 8′
52 Viole Sourdine 8′
53 Violes Celestes II 8′
54 Viole Octaviante 4′
55 Cornet de Violes V
56 Quintaton 16′
57 Harmonic Flute 8′
58 Concert Flute 4′
59 Harmonic Piccolo 2′
60 Double Clarinet 16′
61 Clarinet 8′
62 Orchestral Hautboy 8′
63 Cor Anglais 8′
VI Tremulant

II Great Organ C–c4
64 Contra Violone 32′
65 Contra Gamba 16′[Ann. 2]
66 Double Open Diapason 16′
67 Double Claribel Flute 16′
68 Bourdon 16′[Ann. 2]
69 Open Diapason 1 8′
70 Open Diapason 2 8′
71 Open Diapason 3 8′[Ann. 2]
72 Open Diapason 4 8′
73 Open Diapason 5 8′[Ann. 2]
74 Geigen 8′
75 Hohl Flute 8′
76 Viola da Gamba 8′[Ann. 2]
77 Rohr Flute 8′[Ann. 2]
78 Quint 51/3′
79 Octave 4′
80 Principal 4′[Ann. 2]
81 Viola 4′[Ann. 2]
82 Harmonic Flute 4′
83 Octave Quint 22/3′[Ann. 2]
84 Super Octave 2′
85 Fifteenth 2′[Ann. 2]
86 Mixture V
87 Harmonics VI
88 Fourniture IV [Ann. 2]
89 Cymbale VII
90 Contra Tromba 16′
91 Tromba 8′
92 Octave Tromba 4′
93 Posaune 8′
94 Harmonic Trumpet 8′
95 Harmonic Clarion 4′

III Swell Organ C–c4
96 Double Open Diapason 16′
97 Bourdon 16′
98 Open Diapason 8′
99 Viola da Gamba 8′
100 Salicional 8′
101 Vox Angelica 8′
102 Flûte à Cheminée 8′
103 Claribel Flute 8′
104 Principal 4′
105 Viola 4′
106 Harmonic Flute 4′
107 Octave Quint 22/3′
108 Super Octave 2′
109 Harmonic Piccolo 2′
110 Mixture V
111 Furniture V
112 Contra Oboe 16′
113 Oboe 8′
114 Baryton 16′
115 Vox Humana 8′
XVII Tremulant

116 Double Trumpet 16′
117 Trumpet 8′
118 Clarion 4′
119 Tuba 8′
120 Tuba Clarion 4′

IV Solo and Bombard Organ C–c4
First Division
(Solo) enclosed:
121 Contra Bass 16′
122 Flûte à Pavillon 8′
123 Viole d’Amour 8′
124 Doppel Flute 8′
125 Harmonic Claribel Flute 8′
126 Unda Maris II 8′
127 Wald Flute 4′
128 Flauto Traverso 4′
129 Piccolo Traverso 2′
130 Double Bassoon 16′
131 Corno di Bassetto 8′
132 Hautboy 8′
133 Bassoon 8′
XX Tremulant
134 Double Horn 16′
135 French Horn 8′
136 Carillons
137 Tubular Bells
Second Division (Bombard)
138-144 enclosed in Solo box
138 Bombardon 16′
139 Tuba 8′
140 Orchestral Trumpet 8′
141 Cornopean 8′
142 Quint Trumpet 51/3′
143 Orchestral Clarion 4′
144 Sesquialtera V
145 Contra Tuba 16′
146 Tuba Mirabilis 8′
147 Tuba Clarion 4′

Pedal C–
1 Acoustic Bass (from 7) 64′
2 Double Open Wood (from 7) 32′
3 Double Open Diapason (from 9) 32′
4 Contra Violone (from 64) 32′
5 Double Quint (from 9) 211/3′
6 Open Wood I 16′
7 Open Wood II 16′
8 Open Diapason I 16′
9 Open Diapason II 16′
10 Violone 16′
11 Sub Bass 16′
12′ Salicional 16′
13 Viole (from 48) in Orch 16′
14′ Quint 102/3′
15 Octave Wood (from 6) 8′
16 Principal (from 8) 8′
17 Violoncello 8′
18 Flute 8′
19 Octave Quint 51/3′
20 Super Octave 4′
21 Harmonics VII
22 Mixture V
23 Double Ophicleide (from 25) 32′
24 Double Trombone (from 27, in Swell) 32′
25 Ophicleide 16′
26 Bombard 16′
27 Trombone (in Swell) 16′
28 Fagotto 16′
29 Trumpet (from 116 in Swell) 16′
30 Clarinet (from 60 in Choir) 16′
31 Bassoon (from 130 in Solo) 16′
32 Quint Trombone 10 2/3′
33 Posaune (from 25) 8′
34 Clarion 8′
35 Octave Posaune (from 25) 4′
36 Bass Drum

Couplers: I Choir to Pedal, II Great to Pedal, III Swell to Pedal, IV Solo to Pedal, V Choir (unenclosed) on Solo, VII Octave Orchestral, VIII Sub Octave Second Division (Orchestral), IX Unison off, X Swell to Choir, XI Solo to Choir, XII Reeds on Choir, XIII Great Second Division on Choir[Ann. 2], XIV Choir to Great, XV Swell to Great, XVI Solo to Great, XVIII Octave (16′, 8′, 4′ stops only), XIX Solo to Swell, XXI Octave, XXII Sub Octave, XXIII Unison off, XXIV Octave Bombard (16′, 8′, 4′ stops only), XXV Bombard on Choir, XXVI Tubas on Choir.

pipes of the Great manual


“The fabled Royal Albert Hall organ, the largest in the British Isles, has happily undergone a very successful restoration following many years of decline from old age. And who better to perform the first recording on the restored giant the the Grand Dame of organists—Gillian Weir? She has known the instrument intimately since the beginning of her career, and demonstrates it in all its glory. Her rendering of Liszt's Ad nos is worth the price of the disc itself. Registrations highlight the instruments' bountiful tonal resources; the many chorus reeds are particularly stunning in the power, smoothness, and contrast. In this, as well as Liszt's St. Francis of Paola and works of Howells, Parry, Cook, Elgar (Nimrod, Pomp and Circumstance No. 1), and Lanquetuit, Weir combines breathless virtuosity with exquisite poetry in her inimitable way. It is difficult to imagine a more perfect marriage of player, repertoire, and instrument. This is a superlative musical experience of heroic proportions.”
The American Organist, July 2006

“My 2005 Chirstmas offering will definitely be Gillian Weir's stunning disc from the Royal Albert Hall. Her virtuosity and imaginative use of all the resources of the mighty Willis organ form a perfect partnership with this colourful and charismatic instrument.”
Christopher Nickol, Gramophone, December 2005

“This is a sort of ‘Last Night of the Proms’ rolled into 78 minutes: first the serious stuff, then the fun. Actually, it's all fun in the sense that any muscian would take utter delight in Dame Gillian's playing. She has the ability to endow any work with a stature which elevates it to the great or near-great, and to bind together those multi-sectional organ works which so often fragment in the hands of lesser players. These qualities are manifestly evident in her new CD - the first recorded on the restored organ in the Royal Albert Hall - ‘The Iron Voice’ as its publicists christened it.

Another quality equally manifest is her evident delight in avidly seeking out as many varied registrations as the music can reasonably take. So vast are the instrument's resources that one feels one scarcely hears the same combination twice. Nowhere is this more evident than in the seemingly endless varieties of forte or fortissimo combinations - some magnificent with Mixtures, some resonant with reeds, some breathtakingly with great clusters of both, all underpinned by the 35-stop Pedal Organ with its ability to provide a bass or chorus for any manual combination - from delicate Saliconal 16ft to earth-shaking Ophicleides 32/16/8ft. The other remarkable variety is in both the soft solo reed colours and, particularly, in the range of choice of loud solo reeds: three sets on the Great, one set on the Swell, and no fewer than nine big reeds to employ on the Bombarde. Dame Gillian clearly takes unfettered joy in choosing just the right Tuba for every occasion - from John Cook's effervescent Fanfare (a great favourite of Sir George Thalben-Ball, once curator of this organ, who I seem to remember made somewhat more of the final Molto Largando) to various handfuls of 8/4 reeds (just a little strident) in Pomp & Circumstance No 1.

Much of the greatest work on the CD, receiving surely a seminal performance, is Liszt's ‘Ad nos’, here finding a Beethovian stature of compelling beauty as well as power. Dame Gillian seeks out (as she does in the Parry Wanderer) a rich orchestral palette, exploring colour after colour, and each just right for the passage it is illuminating. When the power is turned on the contrast is Wagerian - one gasps. I can think of no other piece which so well suits this organ - perhaps the Reubke and the big Healey Willan come close, though even they with their fabulous richness of invention cannot match the fertility of Liszt in making a 30-minute set of variations of infinite variety out of one short melody. The St Francis of Paola work is receiving a rare recording here, certainly benefiting from the stature which a performance such as this brings to it; rather like Liszt's Orpheus it has a distinctly more diverse, improvisatory feel to it than the rigorously worked-out Ad nos.

The Howells third Rhapsody fits as if made for this sort of organ. Indeed just as one would expect, for Howells was essentailly a Gloucester man, where the early Willis in the cathedral, rebuilt by Harrison (like the RFH) was his life-long inspiration for organ tone (albeit on a smaller scale and in the most glorious acoustic).

The Elgars are given classy performances - glorious cascades of strings in Nimrod and an ensemble like the massed bands of the entire British Army, Navy and Air Force in Land of..... And to finish with, that currently popular Toccata by Marcel Lanquetuit (1894-1985), who, through a friend and pupil of Dupré, harks back firmly to Boëllmann and Widor for this foot-tappingly tuneful romp.

It would be frankly impossible to imagine a more appropriate re-lauch of the titanic instrument in Kensington Gore. Long may its iron voice resound; long may Dame Gillian fans enjoy this classic in the making. What a final Editor's Choice for me! A great Honour.”
Paul Hale, Organists' Review, May 2005

“A landmark recording with Weir and instrument a perfect partnership... Liszt's Ad Nos- Weir's account of this is one of the most spectacular you'll ever hear. This is an exceptionally fine CD that I'm sure will become a landmark recording.”
Christopher Nickol. Gramophone, July 2005 Editor's Choice

“Magesterial playing... exceptionally good recording quality... excellent choice of repertoire. Ad nos is simply riveting... unequivocally the most entertaining organ CD I've experienced for some time.”
Peter Jewkes, The Sydney Organ Journal

“This is more than just an organ enthusiast's disc. Following the recent restoration of the Royal Albert Hall organ, Gillian Weir and the Priory team spent three all-night sessions recording this CD, the first to be made on the newly overhauled instrument. Returning to the scene of the triumphant Proma début which launched her glittering career, Weir has selected a programme of substantial romantic works together with a number of cleverly chosen arrangements. As ever, the playing is first-class. Listening to her performance of Liszt's Ad nos, it is impossible not to be swept along by the drama of the piece. Of all works she might have chosen, this surely is a marvellously appropriate choice since the orchestrally inspired writing coincides perfectly with the tonal concept of the Albert Hall organ. The range of colours suits Liszt excellently. But the timbres that vibrate in the memory are certainly the trumpet fanfares: again, not easily forgotten. At the other end of the spectrum, the lucious string sounds used in the opening of ‘Nimrod’ are simply beautiful, and the seamless crescendo later in the piece is truly impressive. Complementing the quality of the playing is the production. The recording readily captures a sense of the instrument in its acoustic, while the booklet notes are fulsome. For those who revel in the seemingly endless variety of colour that instruments like this provide, this disc is a must-have.”

Blog Archive