This post is part of a series where I share some of my world travels which my love for organs has taken me. I help friends, associates and fellow organ lovers with projects that mean I get to see new and old organs in gorgeous settings and really experiment with this instrument.
Travelling through Switzerland by train is always a pleasure. As we passed through the Alpine scenery falling gently down to Lake Geneva the anticipation of reaching Lausanne with its wonderful Gothic Cathedral began to build. Arriving near dusk the lights twinkling across the lake from Evian on the southerly shore added to the excitement of the visit.
The Organ we get to play…
The Cathedral Organ is rightly regarded as a masterpiece of musical achievement and design. Built by Fisk founded by Charles Benton Fisk (1925 to 1983), it is the first European cathedral instrument to have been constructed in America. It has over 7000 pipes and cost over $4.5 million when completed in 2003. Well actually it still is not finished. How often is this case with large pipe organs? But the good news is that as we rehearsed for the concert, work was in progress fitting the final antiphonal division in the nave crossing. This is referred to at the console as the Fern Division. Unfortunately for this visit it was still silent but very near completion.
With over 100 speaking stops played from two 5 manual consoles this is truly an epic instrument in a wonderful setting. It is unique amongst pipe organs having been designed to provide 4 different voice pallets: French Classic and Symphonic, German Baroque and Romantic. The case sitting high on the west end wall was designed by the renowned Italian car designer Giugairo. Italian design and 4 voice pallets? That does sound a little like a Viscount specification!
The en-chamade trumpets sit immediately above the loft console, which itself is placed between two massive pedal organ cases. At this console the impact the instrument sound has on the musician defies description. (The view from loft console is pictured – right). The mobile console in the nave however allows the performer to get the full benefit of the performance. How often in so many other large venues is the performer denied the joy of hearing exactly what his audience can? This is a truly magnificent instrument. If you are lucky when visiting you may be able to join a tour of the instrument. (You can book online in advance by going to the Les Grandes Orgues website here.)
Rehearsal in a busy church full of visitors is a challenge, added to at Lausanne by the prominent position of the nave console just a few yards away from the main west end entrance. The compensation was much voiced admiration for astonishing virtuosity which at times drew an audience of several hundred visitors. Sadly somewhat more than the evening concert! (Nave console pictured – left).
My role as ever is CD sales and page turning, a job that I take on with some reluctance. Fortunately my musician is very patient and gives me very good signals when he is ready for the turn. My only panic comes when asked to add stops as I have a history of not finding the gap.
While the Lausanne audience was less than 200, it was the best informed organ recital audience I have ever encountered. The programme began with Widor 2 which is seldom played, but in my opinion deserves more performance. It is after all full of short charming themes that exploit the more intimate voices of the instrument. The first movement is quite quiet and irritatingly a degree of nearby audience noise disturbed us at the console. Very quickly however the audience realised that they were listening to a very accomplished musician who was in total control and playing with great emotion. From then on the Cathedral, apart from organ, continued in complete silence for the performance.
Widor 2 was followed by Widor 6 in all its glory and power with the chamades adding to the final FFF’s of the first and last movements, the music rumbling on for a full 6 seconds after the organ had ceased to sound. A really moving performance rightly applauded with encores of the first and last movements of Widor 5 and an audience with appetite for more, if dinner in a nearby restaurant had not been scheduled.
Our evening ended in typical Swiss style with fondue and fine wine but if I had been allowed to, I would have gone back to the Cathedral to spend a private hour or so with a magnificent instrument safe in the knowledge that my playing could not be compared to my page turning by a far too knowledgeable audience.
The Cathedral recital series runs to about 30 a year and are a must for those enthusiasts who appreciate the instrument. True, you have to get over the expensive location, both for hotels and food, but once in a while it is worth pushing the boat out.
If you are interested in my travels and organ experiences, make sure you follow the series. Similarly if you have had a great (or even a small) adventure with a historic organ and want to share it with me or my blog readers – then please feel free to comment below to let us all know about it.Laussanne skyline image courtesy of: vladacanon9 / 123RF Stock Photo
I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Viscount Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.