Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Where to (and where not to) hear an organ recital in Oxford

One of my weaknesses is I love good church organ music.  But I can be picky about both the composition and the organ.  As far as the compositions, one cannot go wrong with Bach; he’s my favorite by far.  But little after 1800 impresses me except in a negative fashion.
As for organs, I’ve discovered I can be picky about that, too.  But now you can benefit from that as I will now tell you where and where not to hear an organ recital during term in Oxford.  I will start with the worst first.
Queen’s College, 1:10 on Wednesdays
I don’t know if they did something to their organ since I was last here but I was shocked two weeks ago to hear it sound like a carousel organ.  I will not be going again.
New College, Saturdays after Evensong
A bit better, but it is clearly a very new organ by outward appearances, which is not necessary bad (See Merton below.).  But it just sounds too electronic.  Go to New College for the choir, not the organ.
Keble College, 8:30pm on Thursdays
I have not yet decided on this one as I’ve only heard it once and I wasn’t thrilled with the selection of music that night.  But the huge chapel is an excellent space for an organ, and I can’t find anything wrong with the organ . . . yet.
A bonus is right after the organ recital comes Compline. Students were quietly lighting up a zillion candles during the recital.  (I didn’t stay as I was too tired, but I will sometime.)
Merton College, 1:15pm on Thursdays
This, too is a new organ. But it does sound like a real church organ.  If I were nitpicking, I would like it to sound older, but I thoroughly enjoy this one.  And it is huge and loud.
Perhaps because of its size it is placed in an odd spot, on the floor by the center back wall of the ante-chapel.  So if you sit in a center aisle or get permission to sit in the ante-chapel (I cannot guarantee said permission would be given.), you really get to see the organist do his work.  I highly recommend this to any aspiring organists.
Exeter College, 1:10 on Tuesday
THIS sounds like a cranky old European church organ, even though it is not that old. I love it. The first recital of term was all Bach.  After hearing so much Bach on this wonderful organ, I practically floated out of the chapel.  I was certainly energized and had a smile on my face.
So Exeter is my favorite place to hear an organ recital. (I intend to be there today for sure.)  I also highly recommend Merton to any trying to improve their organ playing or who just want to watch an organist at work.
If I am missing a good place to hear an organ, feel free to post in the comments.

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