“The Organ Project are excited to welcome the Viscount Regent 356 as their temporary instrument whilst restoration commences on their 1889 J.W. Walker & Sons pipe organ.” (The Organ Project: St Mary’s Portsea)
Occasionally in life good fortune prevails. In this case it was being able to provide a higher specification instrument right from the start of the hire to St Mary’s. The initial plan was to deliver a Viscount Envoy 350-FV for the first few months and then replace it with a Viscount Regent 356 when one became free. However, thanks to a shorter than expected loan spell at St Mary’s Cathedral Edinburgh a Regent 356 was available from the get-go!
With 3 manuals, a 32 note pedalboard, and 56 speaking stops delivered through 12 speakers plus a bass bin – the opportunities for an outstanding result in St Mary’s wonderful acoustic could be fully exploited. We’d allowed for 3 days to install the organ (2 for the install/speaker setup and 1 for the voicing), but thanks to some excellent preparatory work from the Viscount team in Bicester we were able to finish it in 2 days.
St Mary’s Portsea is a beautiful yet cavernous building and is blessed with a well balanced acoustic. The 1889 Walker organ is quite forthright in its speech and as such the digital would need to be able to compete. Thankfully, with some substantial amplifiers – all of which were contained within the console – and 13 external speakers (including the bass unit) sufficient volume and projection of sound was easily achievable. We were also afforded a reasonable level of flexibility in terms of speaker placement. As such, a credible sounds stage for a temporary install was facilitated. It has been said many times, but is worth repeating, that the importance of being able to diffuse sound in a dynamic way is key to the success of a digital organ’s tone being convincing.
The setup of speakers and console was relatively straightforward. All the cable runs and connections had all but been finalised by the end of the first day. As a result, we were only really left with the matter of voicing the organ.
I chose Francis Rumsey to voice the organ. It was a recording of his instrument at St Mary’s Witney that played a significant role in persuading me to have an association with Viscount Classical Organs UK. The recording, which featured a fine performance of Widor’s sixth, was so impressive that it left even me (an experienced pipe organ tuner) struggling to detect the “electronic” sound of a digital organ. It was incredibly convincing and demonstrated Francis’ excellent ability as both an organist and a voicer. Francis’ spent a day with me at Portsea refining a pre-assembled voicing template to suit the acoustic and the church’s needs. Utilising Viscount’s amazing Physis physical sound modelling software, a truly outstanding result was realised. After a few adjustments at Matt Dixon’s request (the organist, and project co-ordinator for the Walker pipe organ’s restoration), the undertaking was complete. The results definitely speak for themselves. Matt has ingeniously fashioned a remote midi interface between the organ and a portable single manual keyboard. This will be used to enable anyone to have a go at creating sound from the magnificent pipe organ. The Viscount Regent 356 also happens to have a midi interface at its disposal, and as such the two organs could be played in conjunction with one another from the same console. It proved to be a great aid in the voicing process and a lot of fun for all us organists present.
Rather excitingly there will be an opportunity for the two organs to be used together for a short while, until Nicholson & Son Organ Builders start work on dismantling the 1889 Walker in mid October.
It has been a great privilege to co-ordinate and facilitate the supply of a long term loan digital organ to St Mary’s Portsea. Thanks must go to Viscount Classical Organs UK for supplying the instrument and assisting in its installation (Peter Prestidge and Hugh P…) and to Francis Rumsey for agreeing to voice it. Gratitude is also due to Matt Dixon and the St Mary’s organ committee for believing in me and the Viscount product. At this point, I also think it proper to further credit Matt’s unfailing and unrelenting efforts to make restoration of the St Mary’s fine pipe organ a reality. A truly stellar achievement.
Mark Gatrell (South Coast Organs Ltd.)