July 2012

VISIT TO SAFFRON WALDEN – SATURDAY 21 JULY 2012

 

The church of St Mary the Virgin is said to be the largest, and arguably may be the finest, in the County of Essex.  It is very reminiscent of the large churches in East Anglia.  Although rebuilt in the late 15th and early 16th centuries it does not feel like a medieval church – I imagine the Victorian restorers had a hand in creating this effect.

 

Brieflythe current organ has its origins in an organ by John Vincent, 1824, which was subsequently rebuilt by T C Lewis, 1885 and Norman & Beard, 1911.  A substantial rebuilt by Hill, Norman & Beard, 1971, has largely created the tonal scheme present now although David Wells, 1997, added the Solo organ using a redundant HNB keyboard (with their trademark square thumb pistons) from St John’s College, Cambridge.  It was last cleaned by Peter de Vile (out of the Village Workshop) who was present to answer technical questions about the instrument.

 

The Organist, Oliver King, played a carefully thought out programme illustrating the Norman & Beard core in ‘Postlude in C’ by Henry Smart and then using the full range available colours in an arrangement of some dance music by Lully (nothing wrong with that, 18thcentury Parisian organists often arranged music from secular sources, especially operas as here for their recitals).  Lastly a very rhythmic set of Iberian dances by a composer I did not catch the name of; a subsequent e-mail to the Organist has so far not elicited a response. Inevitably the selection of stops dueing the demonstration built up to some bursts of theTrompeta Real 8’, which faces down the South aisle, and is louder than the whole rest of the organ combined by a very clear head, indeed, is probably louder than many industrial processes.

 

I was told that a member of a visiting Organists’ Association, which remained nameless, recently played a Bach Chorale which lasted in excess of 5 minutes.  The only stop selected for this performance was the Trompeta Real!   ESOA Members behaved better – I was talking too much to record all the offerings but Bach, Brewer, Andrew Carter, Elgar and Gordon Young featured.  All played from a console suspended at the centre of a remarkably slender looking rood screen, where unfortunately the sound of the organ did seem rather remote (even the ‘Trompeta Real’).

 

I was intrigued by the main case (and for that matter the ‘display’ case on the back of the instrument).  The former looked quite unlike either a T C Lewis case or a Norman & Beard one.  I discussed this with John Norman subsequently who worked on the HNB rebuild 40 years ago.  John said that he thought, at the time that the main case was 1824 John kindly looked at the photos in the NPOR and commented that the main case is early Gothic revival - much more Blore than Bentley. [I should perhaps explain that: Edmund Blore added a case to Winchester Cathedral in 1825 and a number of T C Lewis cases were designed by John Francis Bentley, the architect of Westminster Cathedral.]   John pointed out that the notes in the NPOR suggest that the 1824 case was relegated to the back front in 1885 when the Lewis organ arrived with the present back case on the front of itHe thought the back case looks typical Lewis influenced by Bentley. The NPOR entry suggests that they were swapped in 1912 and, for John, this has the ring of truth.  

 

The reason I was talking so much to Peter (apart from organ world gossip) was the presence of a charming Bevington chamber organ at the front of the nave which Peter rescued in 2000 from St. Thomas of Canterbury R.C. Church, Woodbridge.  Of just 5 stops, its gentle tone easily carried in this large building.  It is hoped to find the funds to restore it; the condition of the instrument is a little sad currently.

 

Many thanks to John Eagles for arranging this very worthwhile visit for the Association.  The opportunity was there to enjoy the town as well and my wife and Ienjoyed an excellent lunch in ‘The Old English Gentleman’ a CAMRA Pub of the Year.  We also managed a passing acquaintance with its antique shops, second-hand bookshops and the market in the main square.  Being the first weekend of the summer school holidays the Dartford Bridge was solidly blocked southbound so we headed for the Blackwall Tunnel seeing from the road the architectural extravagance that has appeared in Stratford, particularly the 115 metre highArcelorMittal Orbit Tower designed by Anish Kapoor.  A minor and relatively insignificant part of that cost of the Park could have restored the Bevington organ and many other equally meritorious instruments!  Not a comforting thought!

 

 

Melvin Hughes