The Organ

Roy Massey at Hereford Cathedral

Concert in celebration of the organ restoration
7th May 2005

As the Dean said in his introduction, it was fitting that Dr. Massey opened this series, following the work by Harrison and Harrison, as he knows this instrument better than anyone else; his stewardship of the music here lasted from 1974 to 2001. The only change in the specification is that a 4ft Schalmei added to the Pedal in 1978 has been revoiced as a 4ft Clarion.

The first movement of Widor's Sixth Symphony, a series of variations, was incidentally also part of the opening concert after Harrisons' previous rebuild in 1977 and was also recorded by Roy Massey on LP immediately prior to this. The performance was spacious as befits the acoustic and registered (like the Dupre later in the programme) in a manner very effective to the English Cathedral organ without attempting to emulate Cavaille-Coll's sound palette.

As one of the conditions of the grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a screen and video projector make the organist more “accessible” and the set up includes split-screen shots where necessary showing both manuals and pedals simultaneously.

The next item was a selection of four dances from the collection published 1537-48 by Johannes de Lublin in Poland. These demonstrated the more delicate reeds and smaller Principal and flute choruses, contrasting with the larger choruses used in the following Bach Fantasia and Fugue in G minor [BWV 542]. This again was chosen by Dr. Massey because it was in the programme heard after another earlier rebuild. Here we heard balance between different choruses and thanks to the video screen saw the swell pedals adding to the gradual fugal build up.

Joseph Jongen's “Chant de Mai” written while the composer was in London showed the player's superb use of tone-colour - all four manuals being used as solo and/or accompaniment in a seamless weaving of subtle shades. including the gorgeous strings of the organ.

Once again well thought-out planning led from a cameo to a large scale work, this time the Introduction and Passacaglia by W. G. Alcock. This was another piece connected with Hereford, having been written for the 1933 Three Choirs Festival. As may be expected from a composer who was in charge of a Willis - at Salisbury Cathedral - here were the majestic sounds of English Cathedral music at its greatest, given exactly the right treatment.

Following Schumann's Canon in A flat - not so often heard as the B minor Canon though deserving more airings - came a pot-boiler in Cocker's “Tuba Tune” with the Willis Tuba cutting through the accompaniment, and two pieces by Whitlock - Allegretto and Divertimento - written during World War Two and good examples of the craftsmanship of their composer.

For the finale (apart from an encore where the Solo Glockenspiel was allowed an outing) Dr. Massey returned to French Variation form, this time Marcel Dupre's “Variations sur un Noel”. Like Widor, Dupre lived and breathed Cavaille-Coll at St. Sulpice, Paris, but he also knew the Romantic instruments of Britain and United States. As a result, the music effectively translates into the language of a Willis; from the Impressionistic writing of some variations to the more formal aspects - canon, fugue, etc - Dupre showed his compositional expertise, and Roy Massey gave us a masterly and stirring interpretation which left a packed Cathedral in no doubt as to his artistic and technical abilities. Thanks are also due to Harrison and Harrison and the fundraisers and benefactors for ensuring the future of this organ.

Terry Hoyle