It was a real trip down memory lane when I addressed the Birmingham Organists’ Association at their Annual Dinner on December 6th. As a youngster I had joined the BOA back in 1966 and much enjoyed five years attending their activities until Oxford beckoned. In my speech I reminisced about the vibrant Birmingham music scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time when Louis Frémaux galvanised the CBSO, Roy Massey did the same at St Philip’s cathedral, and the Birmingham School of Music was reborn and rehoused as the Birmingham Conservatoire (now, indeed, the Royal B.C). Great days in a great city!
A recent welcome surprise was to read within a fulsome Church Times overview of the Regent Records catalogue, a warm appraisal of my Southwell English Cathedral Series solo CD (REGCD 248) by Roderick Dunnett. After retiring from a cathedral post one does not expect to read reviews of previous recordings, especially such enthusiastic ones. Quite made my week!
from Church Times, 1 December 2017
Paul Hale, till recently Organist of Southwell Minster, has long been one of the outstanding figures of British organ music among cathedral organists, alike as performer, teacher, and adviser. His disc (The English Cathedral Series, Volume 14: REGCD 248) is as good as any by which to commend Regent’s most impressive series of organ recitals, not least because of the boldness of Hale’s chosen pieces.
No traditional bonbons here. Hale has demonstrated his almost unique command of repertoire with a brilliant, unexpected fanfare by John Cook; Liszt’s poem Orpheus sounds not surprisingly like Franck, as well as Liszt himself. Karg-Elert’s Homage to Handel enables the composer to write one of those large-scale passacaglias that Reger favoured.
But the real contrast here is 38 tracks dedicated to the sensationally beautiful and texturally varied Messe pour les Couvents by François Couperin. If organ music reached its zenith with Buxtehude and J.S. Bach, it struck its near-zenith in the solemn and more elegant interludes interspersed here amid choral contributions.
A great benefit of travelling around the UK advising on organs is the delight of finding oneself somewhere new and beautiful—from November 4-6 it was Grasmere where Anne and I stayed so that I could survey the fine Binns in the parish church. With the beauty of Autumn leaves at its height, a fine church service with a good choir, wonderful playing from Ian Hare, a sturdy Binns organ and a splendid hotel, what more could one possibly wish for?
One delight of having more time in my new-found freedom from cathedral life is the opportunity once more to work up song accompaniments. I have always loved the English song repertoire in particular, so it was a delight to perform with my good friend and fine baritone Stephen Cooper at St. Peter’s Nottingham on 4th November. The well-crafted songs of Eric Thiman, four of which we selected, proved a real joy to learn and perform.
Having just spent a couple of weeks in Tuscany, Anne and I feel more relaxed than for ages. What a beautiful part of the world it is; Arezzo was a special delight—we even managed to find Guido’s house (he who devised the musical stave). I was surprised to see how many churches still had pipe organs, even in the remotest corners of the countryside, though quite a few were clearly out of use. Still, benign neglect is preferable to several other fates…
A first for me at Stamford Methodist Church today—playing a concert for organ and harp. Working with Eleanor Turner (Head of Harp at Birmingham’s newly ‘Royal’ Conservatoire) was a real joy; she’s a wonderful player. The instruments went together beautifully; I was surprised that an harp played ‘forte’ can easily match a powerful organ!
It was so good to work with former Southwell Minster Organ Scholars Emma Gibbins and Stephen Moore at Newport Cathedral. I was there at their invitation to direct the South Wales RSCM Choral Festival on 14th September. The massed choirs were well prepared, eager and hard-working, resulting in a enjoyable day and a memorable service. So good to see what good work Emma and Stephen are doing at Newport and Llandaff.
I spent an enjoyable weekend with Anne on the Isle of Wight from 15-18 September, culminating in my ‘snagging’ visit to Andrew Cooper’s outstanding restoration of the Mutin Cavaillé-Coll organ in Quarr Abbey. A beautiful and effective instrument dating from 1912, it now probably sounds better than it ever has. Congrats to Andrew, to Adrian Mumford (main consultant) and to Abbot Xavier.
It was a joy to be present at Thomas Trotter’s opening recital on the new Tickell organ at Manchester Cathedral today. The organ is a wonderful testimony to the late, much missed, Ken Tickell and forms not only his magnum opus but a lasting testimony to his life’s work. As consultant, I have been involved there for over a decade: the spectacular result is more than worth the time and trouble everyone has put in.
Freedom from cathedral duties means that when surveying a church organ I can now attend a Sunday morning service and assess the liturgical effect of the instrument before climbing inside to assess its condition. This is a huge bonus and I have greatly enjoyed joining congregations at Turvey, Goring-on-Thames and Potters Bar in recent weeks.
This week I made another site visit to the beautiful catholic cathedral of St Marie, in Sheffield, where Andrew Carter and his team are meticulously reassembling what must be the most compact 3-manual tracker organ T.C.Lewis ever made. After a disastrous intervention by a local firm in the 1970s this 1875 organ is now being fully restored with a new mechanical action, the aim being for completion by Christmas. HLF funding has made this possible.
It’s been a busy and stimulating week, centred on giving lunchtime recitals at Selby Abbey on Tuesday and Boston ‘Stump’ on Thursday. Both organs are in fine form, Selby spectacularly rebuilt by Principal Pipe Organs and Boston kept in immaculate order by its makers, Harrison & Harrison. The Healey Willan ‘Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue’ sounded fabulous on both of them and it was a real treat to perform it to two warmly appreciative audiences. The image above shows the organ case in St Botolph’s, Boston.
Last week I spent two enjoyable days conducting organ surveys in Northern Ireland—a large 1963 Walker rebuild at Holywood (near Belfast) and the famous 1914 Hill at Londonderry Guildhall. The Guildhall is an ornate ‘Gothic’ building which wouldn’t be out of place in Glasgow. Recently sumptuously restored, it has benefited from the organ’s front pipes being beautifully and tastefully painted. They were plain, dull, oxidised zinc in appearance before—really gloomy. Behold them now!
Most enjoyable day yesterday, revisiting St Mary’s, Kidlington, where in 1974-6 I helped Richard Vendome build an organ at the west end, based on the Fr Willis previously in the north transept. It has choruswork made for us by Giesecke, who also made the spectacular horizontal trumpet. The late Martin Goetze and Kenneth Tickell did most of the voicing. David Hewett, Richard and I played, as did George Inscoe, who gave the world premiere of Richard’s Eclats, specially composed for the event. Amazing to think that forty years has passed — my entire working life. The organ sounds as good as ever and works well. Very happy about that!
Just back from a highly enjoyable couple of days at Aylsham in Norfolk, where last night I gave the third recital in the re-opening series on a remarkable 1911 Norman & Beard. Henry Willis & Co has recently completed an immaculate restoration, including its complex pneumatic action and its rare push stop/button console, as designed by the blind Alfred Hollins. It sounds a treat.
Thanks to the enormous help of Jonathan and Paul of Henry Groves & Son, our Nottingham organ-builders, my house organ is installed in our new music room. It is now playing and almost complete, with just the piston system to install now; more updates when all is done.
This past week I have surveyed and written up two fine Edwardian three-manual organs by first-class Northern makers: one by Albert Keates of Sheffield, the other by Ernest Wadsworth of Manchester. Both are under threat, one for financial reasons and one through congregational apathy. Nothing new there, of course, but in looking at the quality of materials and construction of these organs and thinking just how many like them are threatened with removal, I felt I must do all I possibly can to inspire the churches to keep them. But you can’t win them all.
George Holdich built some beautiful organs, notably his masterpiece at Lichfield Cathedral, of which very few survive in anything like original condition. I greatly enjoyed a day preparing for and presenting a 150th birthday concert on his largest surviving instrument — the fine 3-manual in Hinckley U.R.C. church. The audience was warmly appreciative — they even queued to buy my CDs!
I was very pleased with my dear friends in Nottingham Bach Choir on 17 June, who sang a most expressive performance of three of Parry’s fine ‘Songs of Farewell’, the challenging ‘Lord, let me know mine end’ being particularly well carried off. After the interval they responded to my every gesture in a moving performance of the Duruflé Requiem. It was a delight to have my erstwhile Southwell colleague, Simon Hogan, as accompanist, and to listen to his stunning performance of the Duruflé Suite pour Orgue.
Anne and I had a wonderful day at Lambeth Palace on 9 June, when the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred upon me the Thomas Cranmer Award for Worship. The award was for my ‘distinguished service as Rector Chori and Cathedral Organist at Southwell Minster and as one of the UK’s foremost organ consultants’. Lovely that one of my choir-trainer heroes, Ralph Allwood, was presented with the Award at the same ceremony. Amazing tea!
I was skilfully interviewed on BBC Radio Nottingham on 12 May, on their afternoon show. I’m always happy to talk about life as a cathedral organist (more relaxing now I’ve retired from Southwell!), and it was good to be able to get in a plug to help Chorister recruiting. They played a track from my final CD with the choir, Elgar’s stirring ‘Give unto the Lord’, an anthem whose superb 1969 Worcester Cathedral recording under Christopher Robinson was instrumental in inspiring me to become a cathedral organist — and to love Elgar.
It was a pleasure attending Evensong at Southwell on 29th April, when my successor as Rector Chori, Paul Provost, was installed. A beautiful service, and he had the cathedral choir eating out of his hand; augurs well for the future.
So enjoyed conducting Mendelssohn’s stirring oratorio St Paul with Nottingham Bach Choir and Orchestra on 1st April. I can’t imagine why it’s not programmed more regularly.