John Scott: Gala opening recital
on William Drake’s reconstruction of the 1735 Richard Bridge Organ
in Christ Church, Spitalfields. 30 June 2015
In one of the highlights in the English organ world for many a year, William Drake’s reconstruction of the extraordinary 1735 Richard Bridge organ in Christ Church, Spitalfields was opened last night with a Gala Concert given by John Scott. John is one of the Patrons of the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields, who for nearly 40 years have been fundraising for the restoration of this spectacular church as well as the Bridge organ.
Christ Church, Spitalfields was built between 1714 and 1729 as part of the ’Fifty New Churches’ Act of Parliament of 1711. It is one of the six London East London churches designed by the distinctive Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. The organ was built by Richard Bridge, one of the leading organ builders of the day. Spitalfields seems to have been only his second commission, perhaps explaining the comparatively low price of £600 for such a substantial instrument. It suffered the inevitable changes over the years, but retained enough of its original pipework to form the basis for this reconstruction. It was dismantled in 1998 while the church was being restored and now, after many years of fund raising and discussion, has now been restored to its 1735 specification, with very few concessions.
William Drake Ltd’s reconstruction is uncompromising, with a long compass Great and Choir, short compass Swell and fifth-comma meantone temperament. The only difference between the 2015 Drake organ and Bridge’s 1735 specification is that the French Horn and the Kettle Drum, added to the organ in 1779, have been included in the specification. And the only concession to later English traditions is the addition of a (removable) pedal board, with three independent ranks of pipes.
The English organ of that time, like its Italian and Spanish cousins, had no pedal board and, like the French organ, also had a short compass solo manual (Swell in England, Récit in France). Early in the 19th century, small pedal divisions were added, but still nothing like the enormous pedal divisions found in North German organs. The decision to include a small, early 19th century-style pedal division here (using pipework from 1837 and 1852) is sensible; particularly as the pedalboard itself can be removed. It was similarly sensible not to extend the Swell keyboard to match the Great compass which, with the Choir, now has its long compass back, going down to GG. There was some discussion about retaining the full compass and enlarged Swell division from the Gray & Davison rebuild of 1852, but thankfully that option wasn’t chosen.
John Scott’s outstanding recital explored the organ repertoire of 18th and very early 19th century English composers, ranging from Handel, Peter Prelleur and John Reading through to William Russell. He made full use of the wide range of colours available on the organ, notably the many reed stops. The distinctive colouring of the modified-meantone temperament was apparent from the start, in the fiery French-overture style Voluntary by Peter Prelleur, the first organist of Christ Church. This is a sound that most UK organ audiences are not used to, and is one of the reasons that Drake’s Christ Church organ is so important in developing our understanding of the Georgian organ and its music. Handel’s Organ Concerto Op.4/5 was played (I think) from the Walsh edition of the keyboard score of the concertos, using sounds and textures that Handel would have been used to in his oratorio performances of these concertos. Scott’s stylistic addition of ornaments and flourishes was very much in keeping with Handel’s known manner of playing.
The opportunity to hear Drake’s reconstruction of the Spitalfields French Horn came with John Reading’s Air for French Horns and Flutes. There is only one surviving example of an 18th century French Horn, so this is an important part of the Spitalfields specification. Its small trumpet-like sound might not have been what people expected, but it is in keeping with most other Georgian reeds in owing their roots to the trumpet sound. The trumpets and a delightfully sweet and delicate 4’ flute featured in Boyce’s Voluntary in D. The ubiquitous John Stanley’s Voluntary in a Op.6/2 used the equally ubiquitous Cornet stops, again making a feature of the temperament.
The distinctively reedy sound of tierce mixtures was evident in James Nares’ substantial Introduction Fugue in a. What was interesting is that the sound of the full organ perfectly matched contemporary descriptions of the English Georgian organ as being sweet-toned and gentle, with a restrained and well-behaved sound – quite unlike the power of German and French organs at the time. Nods of recognition from many in the packed audience came with Samuel Wesley’s little Rococco Air & Gavotte¸ the former contrasting the Cremona and Vox Humana stops. Along with the Wesley pieces, William Russell’s late classical Voluntary in C (published in 1812 when the Spitalfields organ was still much as Bridge designed it) formed a contrast to the 18th century repertoire heard earlier.
John Scott ended his compelling and informative recital with the Fantasia in G (Pièce d’Orgue) by Bach, demonstrating that despite the specifically early 18th century roots of the organ, music from a completely different organ style is possible.
It is sad that William Drake himself was not able to witness the culmination of his lifetime’s dedication to organ building – he died in January 2014, 40 years after the foundation of his company. The Spitalfields organ was completed by Drake’s small team of dedicated long-standing staff, including Joost de Boer, Geert Noppers and Julia Brown. They are to be congratulated on completing this monumental and historically important instrument, and continuing the work of Drake into a new generation.
Proceeds from the Gale recital are going towards a travel bursary established by the Friends to encourage and support the skills and crafts of pipe organ builders. The evening also saw the launch of a short book on the organ by Nicholas Thistlethwaite, the principal organ consultant for the reconstruction. Further details can be found on the Friends website at here.
The specification of the 2015 William Drake/Richard Bridge organ is –
Great Organ, GG–d3 , 56 notes
Open Diapason Bridge
Open Diapason Bridge/new
Stopt Diapason Bridge
Sesquialtra V Bridge/new
Fourniture III new
Mounted Cornet V from c#1 new
Swell Organ, g–d3 , 32 notes
Open Diapason new
Stopt Diapason new/Bridge
German Flute new
Cornet III new
Choir Organ, GG–d3 , 56 notes
Stopt Diapason Bridge
Flute C faut (Quintadena) new
Mixture III new
French Horn d0 new
Pedal Organ, GG–e1 , 34 notes
Open Diapason (16′) Lincoln
Principal (8′) C–e1, G&D
Trumpet (8′) C- e1 G&D/new
Drum pedal (4 pipes)
Great to Pedal, Choir to Pedal