The Grand Organ of Coventry Cathedral

 

In 2014, Kerry Beaumont plays the following selections on the grand organ of the Coventry Cathedral in Coventry, England:

  1. Lemmens "Fanfare"
  2. Holst "Mars, the Bringer of War" (The Planets)
  3. Mendelssohn "Prelude and Fugue" in C minor
  4. J. S. Bach "Come Sweetest Death" (Komm, Susser Tod)
  5. Handel "For unto us a Child is Born"
  6. Walton "Orb and Sceptre"
  7. Messiaen "Jesus accepte la souffrance"
  8. Boellmann "Toccata" from Suite Gothique
  9. Brewer "Triumphant Song"
  10. Beethoven "Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement)"
  11. Davies "RAF March Past"
  12. Durufle "Prelude and Fugue sur le non d'Alain"
  13. Cholley "Rumba sur les grands jeux"

The Grand Organ of Coventry Cathedral is an impressive recording package with a Blu-ray video disc, a DVD, and a CD of the music. Each of the 13 musical selections is accompanied with video showing Beaumont playing plus numerous clips of the Cathedral and the town of Coventry with its history and landmarks. There is an excellent keepcase booklet which gives you guidance as to what you see in the video for each musical number. Then in another section of the booklet you get a discussion of the musical aspects of each of the 13 selections. Finally, the booklet has two pages of technical data on the Coventry organ! So far I've covered only the main program. There are also 4 bonus extras, all with Beaumont as docent: (1) a 19-minute narration of the musical program, (2) a 44-minute detailed rundown on the features of the Coventry Grand Organ, (3) an 8-minute explanation of the challenges faced by the organist in playing "Rumba sur les grands jeux", and (4) a 12 minute discussion of two chamber organs that the Cathedral also owns and uses! Recorded and produced by Paul Crichton; filmed and edited by Richard Knight; Associate Producer was Callum Ross; Executive Producer was Neil Collier. Released 2015, Blu-ray disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Grade: A

A friend who is an organist called this program an "unusual ragbag" with too many transcriptions (such as the War theme from The Planets, which is itself a very peculiar symphonic composition). The program is eclectic as each piece was put on the program to celebrate the development of the following theme (my invention): Hail to the people of Coventry, valiant in war and forgiving in peace. As the program is performed, exclusively by Beaumont, each piece is tied into this theme through the video selections and several text messages. So the program has a mission: to celebrate the history of Coventry and its Cathedral. If you have a lot of organ music already, you might find that this program doesn't duplicate your collection.

I would not be qualified to comment on Beaumont's performance.  Nor do I plan to show you screenshots of Beaumont sitting with his hands at different positions on the organ. As is customary (I think) for organ virtuosos, Beaumont reads from sheet music and turns the pages himself. It's hard for me to believe that anyone can play an organ with 5 keyboards (4 manual and 1 for foot-pedals) and 3 staffs to master simultaneously. But Beaumont seems to juggle it all flawlessly.

The program has a lot of variety and no piece lasts longer than 7 minutes. So I find Beaumont's playing completely absorbing. And in the extensive bonus extras, we hear enough from Beaumont to see what a pleasant and unassuming person he must always be.

But what I can show you in this review is how much information Priory has packed into this disc in addition Beaumont's performance. Here's a view of Coventry, the "City with Three Spires." The spire of the old cathedral is the tallest on your right:

The old Cathedral was destroyed in a bombing raid by the German Luftwaffe on November 14, 1940. Construction of a new Cathedral was started almost immediately. The new Cathedral found its way into the history books again on the day of its dedication when the Benjamin Britten War Requiem received it's world premiere at the Cathedral. Here's a view of the ruins after the infamous 1940 bombing raid:

This next picture below was made sometime later. It shows how much larger the new cathedral was to be:

And here's what you see as you enter the new building. The organ pipes are on both sides of a huge tapestry four stories tall. There are many batteries of pipes on each floor behind the visible pipes:

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Let's turn our attention now to a few images (of many) we are offered about the history of Coventry. Below is a memorial to citizens who sacrificed their lives "for the sake of conscience" during the reign of King Henry VIII. I have no idea what this was about. But I can tell the people commemorated here were not of the ruling class. They seem to have been humble folk such as tailors, shoemakers, tanners, leather workers, and the like. If you know why they died, please help us with a comment about this:

Here is the tomb of a prelate who helped build the old Cathedral.  The cathedral building in his hand outlived the real thing:

Figures in the Coventry War Museum:

Here's the same shot from the DVD:

Old and new. The building on the left was a hospice and hospital for infirm and elderly ladies of Coventry:

A shot of Kerry Beaumont at his instrument:

The program was skillfully put together, but it's not all that heavy-duty. Only three selections are overtly religious. Of those, the terrifyingly majestic Messiaen number would weigh as much on one side of a scale as all the rest of the program together on the other side. So while Beaumont plays the Messiaen, the cameramen show us religious art decorating the building:

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Beethoven's The Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement) was put on the program for a special reason. The German night bombing raid on Coventry was executed on November 14. The Germans gave it a code name taken from Beethoven's 14th piano sonata: Operation Mondscheinsonate. Now, the real Mondscheinsonate is played in celebration of peace between England and Germany:

Now let's see the exterior of the new Cathedral. Here's a shot made recently showing the modern environment of the church. This was made from the spire:

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And here are two shots of the entrance. On your right is the guardian angle of the Cathedral who has bound Lucifer in chains:

On the left below you see what looks like a cell phone tower and antenna rising from the new Cathedral. Well, that's actually a steeple with religious art at the top:

Here is the Angel's head:

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A mid-range shot of the right organ pipes:

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Perhaps the prettiest view in the show of part of the organ:

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Here's Beaumont in a bonus extra going through the entire program with a play-by-play analysis of his performance plus a detailed description of the the construction of the organ. I think you can divide everyone in the world into groups: (1) organ experts and (2) organ newbies who know nothing. When I started playing this title, I was a profound newbie. Beaumont does not pitch his comments to the beginner. He comes on with jargon and talks fast at the expert level. Still, I started after several viewings to understand some of what he saying. And I think all this would be quite absorbing to any organ player or fan:

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There are many shots of the organ stops as Beaumont explains them:

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More organ mysteries:

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The editors provide many shots of the organ innards as Beaumont discusses them. Here only the pipes Beaumont is focussing on stay in focus:

Some of the pipes are as small as cigarettes or straws:

Others are huge boxes:

Here's a clever shot showing you the depth of the pipes behind the facade:

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Actually, the Coventry Cathedral has 3 organs: the great and two chamber organs. (I had no idea that chamber organs exist!) Left of Beaumont is a Norwegian instrument with 12  stops. To the right of Beaumont is a pocket organ (my suggested term). Beaumont gives us a few bars on each as a special treat.

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The pipes of the pocket organ are behind the green screen:

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Here's a shot from one of the bonus segments where Beaumont discussed his performance of the Rumba sur les grands jeux. This is a hyper-difficult jazz and "dance" organ piece by the clever contemporary French composer Pierre Cholle. By ending their program with this, the folks at the Cathedral show a sense of adventure and good humor. Even the name of the piece is tricky because the French words "jeu" and "jeux" can mean many things including, "playing", " a game", "games" and, "full organ." I couldn't find any English name for this piece---"Rumba for a Big Organ" would be a possibility. But since jeux is plural, maybe "Rumba for Big Organs" would be better even if slightly too suggestive to use in a church.

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Most of the bonus extra on Rumba sur les grands jeux is shot with 4 screens playing simultaneously:

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This package sells for about the same price as most fine-arts Blu-rays. I'm guessing Priory has only modest performance fees to pay to the Cathedral and Kerry Beaumont. So Priory can budget to offer valuable content in addition to the main performance. In this regard, this Priory title is in a class all by itself in the HDVD fine-arts field (I think it might be joined by other Priory recordings in their cathedral organ series).

As a novice to organ music, I enjoyed all the selections on this disc, especially the Holst, the Messiaen, and the crazy Rumba, all of which are full of organ fireworks. The least effective piece was the slow first movement of the Moonlight Sonata (it just sounds so much better on a piano). Because of my bias in wanting to see as well as hear all classical music, I see this disc as a dream come true.  And from this I learned a great deal more about organs, Coventry, and English history. I would like to give this an "A+" grade, but I can't because our grading standards call for a demerit for Dolby Digital sound (instead of lossless sound) . So I'm stuck with an "A."  But if anything about this review intrigues you, I think you will not be disappointed in buying this title.