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Part of Robinson College with the University Library in the distance


More unusual organ music - French and Belgian: Marie-Claire Alain video


Other Cambridge organs

Great St Mary's, the University Church, has two organs, the 1991 Parish organ and the 1698 University organ (below).

I attended an accomplished recital by Dr Anthony Gritten on the Parish organ on the 29 January 2019, including some interesting French music.

Dr Anthony Gritten speaking before the recital

On 13 February 2019 I attended an intriguing Organ Spectacular where the church's three organists, Samuel Hayes, Benedict Todd and the new vicar, Adrian Daffern, played the two organs, sometimes together.

I had to leave at the interval so I should not be reviewing it but I did hear all three play Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor and a Buxtehude Praeludium, Fugue and Chaconne (BuxWV 137), the first two play Tomkins and Nivers, Adrian Daffern some Kellner, Samuel Hayes the Dorian Toccata and Benedict Todd some Mulet.

This was such a fun concept, including music most may not have heard before, that it would be splendid if it could become a regular fixture in the calendar.


St John's College Chapel organ

On 4 April 2019 I attended a recital by Stephen Farr at St John's College Chapel. It was a really convincing bringing out of what this organ can do and included Jehan Alain's Aria (1938).

Trinity College Chapel organ

Quiet is not silence; the social does not insist but it is always here if you want it, especially for the exchange of ideas [1]; you do not have to conform to any stereotype here. Trinity always grants the peace to think and the results across the centuries have been extraordinary.

Is a little of it because we subconsciously hear the fountain in Great Court and air on stone, cobbles and grass, ever so soothing, even in the middle of an organ recital?

The Metzler organ sounds better and is more appreciated with the passage of time and on 5 April 2019 we had an exemplary recital of Bach, Bach related and Bach period music, on the organ in Cambridge for it, by Daniel Moult.

After each piece we clapped but just after a J.G. Walter piece the clock tower bell chimed once with a characteristic Trinity sound and before we could do so Daniel Moult launched into the J.L. Krebs Toccata and Fugue in E.

The sound of Trinity and the organist had beaten the audience? Our clapping at the end of the recital brought the organist back three times.

Then I wandered out into the extraordinary sound of the quiet of Great Court, like a symphony of reverberations of water and more, with most of the students away for the Easter vacation.

It is worth noting that birds will never break their flight and land here whilst they will in the equally large man-made space of Parkers' Piece. Nearly never a crow or pigeon. They can hear it - sound immensely beneficial to humans but unnatural to them.


On 26 October 2019 I attended a recital by Christopher Too at King's. I liked the Ralph Vaughan Williams, arr. P. B. Beardsley, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis best but here's a thing: on the way out I heard the fountain in the centre of the court loudly running, a sound absent or inaudible to all memory. (I suppose it is fed by Hobson's Conduit and might run vigorously after heavy rain.)

On 2 November I attended a recital by Daniel Hyde, the new director of music at King's, and by now I've worked out the sweet spots to sit for low note resonances and the Vierne Final, at the end of course, (Symphony No.1 in D minor Op. 14), was a treat for those. [2]


I am saddened to hear of the death of Sir Stephen Cleobury, the director of music at King's for 37 years. The world is full of beautiful recordings and broadcasts by him.



On 20th January 2018 I went to listen to a recital of Italian baroque organ music on the Frobenius organ in Robinson College Chapel. The music was sourced from the Fitzwilliam Museum's Collection.

The recital was given by Gerald Gifford who voiced the organ, played it at the formal opening of the college by H.M. The Queen in 1981 and at its inaugural recital. He is honorary Keeper of Music at the museum.

I had not heard it before nor most of the music.

It is a bright organ with no really long pipes so the organist's arrangements and registration to facilitate the playing of baroque music were appreciated.

The architecture furnished an inspired way of creating an organ loft. There is little of the type of reverberation you get in a church. Most of the sound comes straight at you but it might vary depending on where you are and which way you are facing. With the sloping roof it is inevitably lopsided with something different coming to each ear though not really in timing. I only sat in one spot but angling your head could alter what you heard.

High noted pieces can turn out really charming because the sound comes in a direct path to you without the intermediation of reflections.

I'm mischieviously coming to the conclusion that getting an organist to help an architect tweak the acoustics of a room might be a better than using some engineering firms. There are some dreadful sounding spaces in academic buildings which end up sounding more like train stations or where you can hear everyone's conversation.

This was an enjoyable concert with different music other organists might like to explore.

Programme front page


On 7 May 2019 I attended another unusual programme of music at a recital by Enrico Presti given on the Parish organ of Great St Mary's.

Programme front page

When there is precision of resonance from an organ there is something that feels health giving about it; others have said the same about good audio equipment but this is unamplified live music. Our brains probably measure time interval very accurately and when you also vibrate to the sound there is something added. I was impressed by Enrico Presti's registration, bringing out of the lower registers of the organ and precision of playing that made this the most enjoyable recital I have heard on this organ in the past two years. It is not emotion this time - everyone has their own style - it was that the sound was right, the air was right and the reviewer was suitably rumbled and rattled in his pew, which is not always the case with this organ.

The first composition may be a little hard work listening to, not because of the organist, but from the second I was captured, particularly by the resonance of bass notes. Two of the compositions may be based on Bach but this was nothing like baroque music; composition runs from 1859 to 1982 and suited this organ. The Ferenc Liszt, Bossi and Certani I was particularly impressed by.

Leaving Great St Mary's lunchtime recital


To conclude I thought I would go to listen to Stephen Farr again at the evening recital on 25 November 2019 at Christ Church Spitalfields.

Old 120 film snap

In the early eighties I used to be a Friend when it was in terrible condition inside and a little under threat. Certainly, there was no functioning organ and it would have been dangerous to let the public in. The quality of the internal finishes visible now as a result of restoration is astonishing. It is one of the Grade I listed jewels of English architecture.

We met another Friend on the steps at the time, a Lloyds underwriter, and as result I was invited to write a review of the Lloyd's Building, recently opened, reproduced marginally changed on World Reviews, now also Grade I listed. At the time, I was the only one who described it as revolutionary for English architecture. Wonderfully, it has not been subject to disfiguring modifications and there are always City people game for preserving heritage.

I like Boris buses; I find the design elegant but mine was held up by the new prime minister's car coming the other direction so I arrived 5 minutes after the start of the recital. The photo of Stephen Farr at the organ was hastily snatched from then.

The organ was rebuilt in 2015 with many new pipes and he is one of the best at bringing out an organ's capabilities as he did in a varied programme.

I was hoping to get round more of Cambridge's organs during the year. He played Walther's Concerto del Sigr Torelli here at Spitalfields in a recital spanning 8 composers but if you would like to hear him play on the organ of Clare College there is a recording of him playing Walther there.