I am sure that any traditional organ builder will tell you not to plan the opening recital for until at least 3 and even better 6 months after the organ is due to be commissioned. More often than not builds run late not early, encounter problems and prudence dictate a wide margin for error is advisable.
No doubt digital organ builds are far more predictable and the installation challenge of fitting speakers and amplifiers to a pre-made console is nothing like the challenge of lifting large components like wind chests into place. Let alone thereafter placing thousands of pipes into place and the painstaking job of voicing it all.
No margin for error
Even so I was a little taken aback when I learnt our ‘opening recital’ was set for October 11th 2018 when we were not due to begin the installation until October 2nd and we were 12,000 miles from base if anything untoward developed. We had also never set foot in the Cathedral all planning have being done with the benefit of photographs.
If there was any margin for error built into this schedule it was precious thin and needed a magnifying glass to see it. Then just for fun add into the mix that the recital would be recorded for broadcast on national radio. No pressure on the team!
A recital in safe hands
Happily we know Joseph very well and the performance could not have been in safer hands, and feet! He is renowned for being very well prepared and rehearsal time would be little more than working out registrations and setting pistons which I know from past times he undertakes very quickly. Joseph has a knack of finding the best of an instrument in seconds and knows how to avoid their worst features too!
So it was on a rather windy evening that we gathered for the recital that would open with the Bach C Minor Passacaglia which was followed by the Franc Prelude Fugue and Variations with the first half concluding with the variations on Noels by Dupre.
The second half was devoted to Widor’s 5th organ symphony. Joseph has rather carved out an international following for his recordings of the complete works of Widor, many of these recorded on the fine Cavaille Coll instruments in France. I have been fortunate to be with him for many of these recordings and they feature in some of my diary of a page turner blogs.
(You can watch Dr Joseph Nolan in the complete performance of Widors 5th Organ Symphony taken from our DVD recorded at Selby Abbey.)
A job well done!
The acoustic of Wellington Cathedral is vast, near to 7 seven seconds and if I have one regret of the evenings performance it is that the amazing technique and articulation that Joseph puts into all his playing was rather lost in the building’s reverberation. He really had to work hard to almost overemphasise phrasing in places for this to get through the tremendous echo.
Nevertheless the instrument performed faultlessly and we could all look back on a job well done under a very short time on the other side of the world. Not bad for our first International Sale. By comparison where ever the next one will be has to be closer unless of course Christchurch Cathedral in South Island may reconsider plans and go digital. Now there’s a thought!
Listen below to part of this recital recorded live from a position on the west end gallery seating.
You can find more information about the Wellington Cathedral instrument on these links:
- Specification and stop list for the Wellington Cathedral organ
- A detailed account of the installation
- The challenges of shipping two instruments to New Zealand
I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Regent Classic Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.