David Briggs plays the organ of Blackburn Cathedral
My own very special relationship with the Blackburn Cathedral organ dates back to Saturday 4 December 1976 when I had the huge privilege of giving my first ever organ recital on this remarkable instrument and I remember the occasion as if it were yesterday! This new organ was a mere seven years old and I recall John Bertalot (Blackburn Cathedral organist from 1964 - 1982) proudly demonstrating his new instrument with untold pleasure and excitement. I remember that the programme began with the Bach Toccata and Fugue in F, which I boldly attempted to play from memory - only to forget half of the fugue! I remember the deep snow outside, the rich smell of the Johnson’s ‘Steadfast’ polish inside - and being taken afterwards to the local hardware shop in order to buy some of the same (smallest size 1 litre!), in order to have the smell of Blackburn Cathedral in my bedroom, not to mention numerous pictures of the instrument!
It has been a great pleasure to have been involved as consultant to the Dean and Chapter during the recent restoration and tonal enhancement of the instrument, as well as playing the re-opening concert and making this, the first recording of the new instrument. The organ has gained a brand new lease of life, thanks primarily to the superb craftsmanship and care of David Wood and his outstanding team. The combination of the vivacious voicing and the opulent Blackburn acoustic gives this instrument an unforgettable sound - creating an organ which is undoubtedly one of the most exciting in the UK, if not even further afield.
One of the foremost Concert Organists of his generation, David Briggs enjoys a busy touring schedule which takes him all over the world. He has built a considerable reputation as an exciting performer and communicator, with particular emphases on orchestral transcriptions and the art of improvisation. In this latter field, David studied with Jean Langlais in Paris; transcribed (over a period of eleven years) many of the recorded improvisations of Pierre Cochereau, the famous Organist of Notre-Dame de Paris; won the Paisley International Improvisation Competition; became the first British winner of the coveted Tournemire Prize at the St Albans International Improvisation Competition, and now teaches at the Royal Northern College of Music, the Royal Academy of Music and Oxford University.
He is Organist Emeritus at Gloucester Cathedral, where he directed the music for eight years, after having held positions at Truro and Hereford Cathedrals and King’s College, Cambridge, where he was Organ Scholar. He was Principal Viola in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, playing under conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Charles Groves, Charles Dutoit, and Kiril Kondrashin, and was awarded their Bulgin Medal for Musical Excellence. He obtained his FRCO at the age of seventeen, winning all the prizes and the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. Whilst at Gloucester, he oversaw the complete rebuilding of the Cathedral organ by Nicholson, and directed three Three Choirs Festivals, conducting some of the UK’s finest professional orchestras, notably the Philharmonia.
David Briggs is increasingly in demand as a composer and has a waiting list of about two years. Notable recent works include his millennial oratorio, ‘Creation’; ‘Messe pour Notre-Dame’ for two organs and choir, and ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ for the 125th anniversary of the Benedictine Abbey at Subiaco, Arkansas. 2003 commissions include anthems for Knoxville, Tennessee; Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; Bristol Cathedral, UK; an Organ Concerto for Blackburn Cathedral, UK, and a setting of the Solemn Requiem Mass for All Saint’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta, Georgia.
David’s schedule for 2003 includes some fifty concerts - in the USA (four trips), UK, France, Belgium and South Africa - and in July he will have the privilege of being a member of the jury for the St Albans International Organ Competition.
His passions include listening to orchestral music, organ design and construction, general and civil aviation, luxury cars and beautiful countryside.
In the USA and Canada David is represented by Phillip Truckenbrod Concert Artists. You are warmly invited to visit David’s website.
The Organ of Blackburn Cathedral
Blackburn Parish Church was built in 1826, and organs by Gray (1826 and 1831) and Cavaillé-Coll (1875) were placed on the west wall of the church. The building was re-consecrated as a Cathedral in 1926, when the Diocese of Blackburn was established, and ambitious plans to extend the building were drawn up. When the large transepts were completed in 1953, Henry Willis III was commissioned to move the organ to a bridge at the East end of the Nave. In 1964 the organ was taken down so that a temporary wall could be built, dividing the nave from the transepts to enable work to begin on restoring the nave, whilst the remainder of the cathedral could be used for worship. J.W. Walker and Sons removed the organ and lent the cathedral a four-rank, totally enclosed, extension organ, which served well for five years.
A scheme for a new instrument was drawn up by John Bertalot (the Cathedral Organist), in consultation with Francis Jackson and Bert Collop (managing director of Walker’s). William Thompson, a generous benefactor from Burnley who had already given large sums of money for the restoration of the Nave and the building of the Lantern Tower and Spire, was asked by John Bertalot to give £30,000 to pay for the new organ. On 20th March, 1968, an envelope arrived from him with a cheque for 30,000 guineas (£31, 500) made out to John Bertalot. The new organ was dedicated on 20th December 1969. It was voiced by Walter Goodey and Dennis Thurlow. John Hayward, the artist, consulted with Walker’s to produce the stunning highly coloured organ “cases”, including swell boxes which are in full view, and a doubly mitred Serpent, coloured green and gold.
The organ swiftly gained an enviable reputation for its vibrant tonal quality, most notably the fiery reed stops. However, from as early as 1983, serious problems became apparent, particularly in relation to the wind system and action. At the same time, the Lantern Tower also required major work, thus delaying work to the organ. In 1994, shortly after Gordon Stewart’s appointment as Director of Music, David Wood took over the care of the organ. Some short term problems were attended to and the console was modernised.
In October 2000 an appeal was launched to restore the organ. I was keen that all of the 1969 tonal features should be retained, but that the opportunity should be taken to provide various extra colours to enhance and better equip an instrument that is expected not only to accompany liturgy on a daily basis, but also to present the complete range of solo repertoire in a stylistic manner. For example, I felt that an oboe on the swell and a Fifteenth on the Great were essential additions. Also that a reed at 8’ pitch on the positive and a vox humana would be useful and that the organ really needed additional 8’ foundation pitch, more gravitas on the pedal and extra 16’ manual tone. In order to address these desired tonal additions and to bring the organ into proper working order, I devised a scheme to restore and enlarge the organ, in consultation with David Briggs, John Bertalot, Canon Andrew Hindley, Greg Morris and David Wood. The organ was restored and enlarged between July 2001 and June 2002, during which time a Rodgers digital instrument was used.
The entire instrument has been cleaned and overhauled. A Fifteenth on the Great and a Cliquot-style Cromorne on the Positive have been added. The new Solo department has been positioned above the Great, with new stops: Flûte Harmonique 8’, Viola 8’, Viola Céleste 8’, Flûte Octaviante 4’ and Voix Humaine. The old swell Cromorne has been moved to the solo, and renamed “Clarinette”; in its place on the swell is a new Hautbois. Two new ranks of pipes have been made available on the pedal: a 6 2/5 Grosse Tierce and 10 2/3 Grosse Quint. Two new digital ranks, by Walker Technical Company USA, have also been made available on the pedal: 32’ Sub Principal and 16’ Flûte Ouverte. A wealth of octave and sub-octave couplers have been provided. A new 4 manual console has been built by Wood of Huddersfield, in the style of the original 3 manual console. A new cymbelstern and star have been added and safety features for maintaining the instrument have been incorporated.
David Wood and his colleagues have developed the instrument with great skill; they have breathed new life into all the wonderful original colours which had been sounding tired for some years and have blended new ranks into the organ in such a sensitive way. The result is an incredibly versatile and reliable instrument with a tremendous range of dynamic and tonal colour, coupled with a sense of sheer power, but also great subtlety and tremendous beauty. There are few organs in the world that can demonstrate the entire solo repertoire with such a convincing sense of style. It is also a fantastic organ for the liturgy, capable of accompanying choir and congregation in a sensitive manner. The full range of the organ’s capabilities was shown off to great effect at the opening recital by David Briggs on 6th July 2002. This recording provides further evidence!
Blackburn, February 2003
Produced by Richard Tanner
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Cover Picture from an original by Colin Andrews for the score of “Pictures at an Exhibition” transcribed by Keith John by kind permission of United Music Publishers Ltd