Highlights from the International Organ Festival St. Albans 1969
Rogers Covey-Crump : discography

Abbey Records LPB 665 [LP]

Highlights from the International Organ Festival St. Albans 1969

John Birch / Christopher Bowers-Broadbent / Anton Heiller / Peter Hurford / Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini / The Cathedral Choristers / The Alban Singers


Side A
 1.  Capriccio sopra la Girolmetta (Frescobaldi) 
Luigi Ferdinando Tagliani
 2.  O God, my soul is vexed (Maurice Greene) 
The Cathedral Choristers
 3.  Partita - Auf meinen lieben Gott (Georg Böhm) 
Anton Heiller
 4.  Dies Resurrectionis (John McCabe) 
Christopher Bowers-Broadbent

Side B
 5.  Ballet du Roy pour sonnen apres (Praetorius) 
Peter Hurford
 6.  Extract from Diversions for two organs and divers (Ridout)* 
 7.  Extract from Variations on Heil dir im Sieges Kranz (C. H. Rink)* 
 8.  Extract from Digressions sur un theme de l'Abbe Cloche (Gordon Jacob)* 
 9.  Music Divine (Thomas Tomkins) 
The Alban Singers
 10.  Extract from Festival party Cabaret
(John Adams, Rogers Covey-Crump, Hugh Davies, David Ireson and Peter Knapp.) 


* John Birch and Peter Hurford, Harrison and Flentrop organs.


The International Organ Festival was started by Peter Hurford in 1963 with St. Albans (where he is Master of the Music at the Cathedral) as its home base. From small beginnings the Festival has grown sixfold and is now known the world over; the competitors, in its interpretation and improvisation competitions, and the audiences both reflecting a large international attraction.

The uniqueness of the Festival lies in its thorough probing of all aspects of the contemporary organ renaissance, of which organ playing is only a part. Here, every two years, may be found organ builders and composers of organ music cheek by jowl with performers and listeners. In 1967 there was an exhibition of six small British organs by various builders; and in 1969 the Festival used a two-manuals and pedals tracker organ lent by the Dutch builder Flentrop, in addition to the Cathedral's resident Harrison organ. In 1966 it sponsored a competition for a new organ concerto (which was performed in 1967), and since then has been connected with the Schnitgerprijs Zwolle — a Dutch foundation constantly seeking new approaches to organ music.

Another delightful aspect of the Festival is the wide variety of its events; and the social side (wine and food are provided at many functions) is not only popular, but has borne out Peter Hurford's initial tenet that six days of undiluted organ music — like six days of piano, or a week of violin — is too strong for anyone but a fanatic; so the Festival caters in every sense for the general musical public, and not simply those who find the organ a substitute for meat and drink!

This record tries to be representative of a Festival week: though selecting 45 minutes' worth of music from as many hours is no mean task. Peter Hurford is well-known for his humour (of which "Organ in Sanity and Madness" on the Abbey label APR 606 is a fair sample) and the Festival too has its many lighter sides.

One has to imagine the ambience of the great Cathedral, the balm of a summer's evening concert out-of-doors, and the chatter of a great throng moving from one event to another: some of this atmosphere we have tried to catch on this record, and if the summery bouquet of wine and canapes is missing, it is only because technology hasn't yet got that far.

No "editing-out" has been done, and the record presents the performances exactly as they occurred — complete with occasional blemishes, coughs and a wide variety of quietly incidental noises off!

The record opens with Luigi F. Tagliavini playing music by Girolamo Frescobaldi on the Flentrop organ, Which was situated throughout the Festival by the north-west pillar of the tower arches. The work formed part of a recital of music by Bach and early Italian composers, played by Tagliavini on both the Harrison and Flentrop organs.

Vocal music took a larger part in the 1969 Festival than previously. "My soul is vexed", sung by the Cathedral choristers, is the second part of a more lengthy anthem by Maurice Greene, "Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks". It is extracted from a recital given by the Cathedral choir, with Peter Hurford playing the Flentrop organ.

A Festival innovation in 1969 was the inclusion of a recital outside St. Albans, given by Anton Heiller on the 1967 Hill, Norman and Beard organ in the concert hall of the Royal College of Organists, London. The hall, which is quite small, was packed to capacity on a very hot summer's evening; all the windows were open, and it is not difficult to sense the roar of London's traffic on the recording: but Heiller's fine performance of the partita Auf meinen lieben Gott by the late 18th century German composer Georg Böhm, seemed to the editor to transcend the circumstances in which it was given.

The first side ends with a return to St. Albans and a performance of John McCabe's "Dies Resurrectionis" on the Harrison organ. This work ended a lecture-recital on 20th century British Organ Music by Malcolm Williamson and Christopher Bowers-Broadbent.

Side B is in altogether lighter vein. The first four bands are extracts from the opening concert which was designed as a progressively light-hearted exploration of the organ. The Ballet du Roy is taken from an instrumental suite by Michael Praetorius, and was used to demonstrate the 1684 Haase portatif organ lent by Noel Mander; at the performance the organ bellows were operated by a cathedral chorister resplendent in scarlet, and the Cathedral Precentor held the music for Peter Hurford, who played sitting upon a pile of hassocks. Opinion held that the piquant sound of this tiny instrument in the huge cathedral was one of the most memorable points in the whole Festival.

Two composers wrote humorous works especially for this concert. Alan Ridout produced "Diversions for two organs and divers" of which we hear an extract on the record. Under the skilled direction of John Tournay, the "divers" were percussionists drawn from the distinguished judges, with Anton Heiller keeping his colleagues in rein, John Birch on the Harrison organ and Peter Hurford on the Flentrop. C. H. Rink (1770-1846) enjoyed a considerable renown for his organ playing. He also wrote much music for piano and violin as well as the organ, for which he provided a "Practical Organ School" and numerous "Preludes for Chorales". Heil dir im Sieges Kranz will be well known under a more familiar title! Gordon Jacob's contribution to the opening concert was a set of variations on a tune played on the cathedral carillon every Saturday, and this time it was some of the Festival staff, Rogers Covey-Crump, John Tournay, Jim Abson, and Pat Hurford, conducted by David Ireson, who were given their heads in the percussion department: the final variation (one of four on this disc out of the original seven) is inscribed to J. P. Sousa, and was so abandoned in its performance as to cause the recording engineers quite a headache!

A feature of the fourth and fifth Festivals has been a concert of madrigals sung by the "Alban Singers" in the outdoor amphitheatre of neighbouring St. Alban's School; starting at 10 o'clock in the evening, it continued for an hour, with a break for wine, while the June dusk deepened and those who had brought rugs found themselves suddenly popular with their less foresighted neighbours.

The record ends with a short extract from the cabaret which was provided by members of the cathedral choir at the Festival party. After listening to the play on organ vocabulary, it is doubtful if any listener will ever again be able to look a Rohrflöte straight in the languid!


For those lucky enough to have been there this record will be a happy reminder of pleasures past: for those who could not get to St Albans during those sunny summer days of 1969 it will be a sampler of some of the delights they missed, and a reminder that there will be another International Organ Festival next June. Across all the proceedings stretched like a banner was the indefatigable Peter Hurford's conviction that festivals should (and can) be fun. This record recalls some of the lighter as well as some of the more serious moments.

There was an impressive array of organistic talent on hand, both home-grown and international; and the magnificent Harrison organ in the cathedral was supplemented by a delightful Dutch two-manual tracker lent by Mr Flentrop. This made possible some agreeable antiphonal and even super-antiphonal effects, of which two composers took humorous advantage. Alan Ridout produced Diversions for two organs and divers (the "divers" being percussionists drawn from the distinguished judges, with Anton Heiller keeping his colleagues on a leash, John Birch of Chichester on the Harrison organ and Hurford on the Flentrop). Gordon Jacob devised a set of variations on a not unfamiliar tune played on the cathedral carillon every Saturday. The final variation (inscribed to the redoubtable J. P. Sousa), which combined the two organs and some quite abandoned percussionists, provided a deafening din for the recording engineers.

On the more serious side, the record includes some fine organ playing by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent and by Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini (who recently joined Marie-Claire Alain in recording the six Soler concertos) and some lovely singing by the Cathedral choir. For the first time in 1969 there was a festival recital outside St Albans, given by Anton Heiller at the Royal College of Organists in London. Heiller did not seem to enjoy this particular organ and in consequence was slightly below his usual form: the Böhm partita Auf meinen lieben Gott, however, contains some distinguished playing.

All in all, there is nothing lacking from this record except what Peter Hurford actually said on the midnight when he had to climb into the works of the cathedral organ with a screw driver to put right a defect so that the competitions could proceed next day: and an excerpt from the playing of the winning candidate, David Sanger, for whom St Albans set the threshold of a most promising career.   S.W.

[source unknown]