A visit to the Temple Church London on 03/10/2015 by David Sutton
Knights of old reign supreme in CLESO! Last month at Sandon it was the Order of St John and now this month it was the turn of the Knights Templar. CLESO arrived on a sunny (but fresh) Saturday morning in the form of 21 members and guests to view and play the magnificent four-manual Harrison and Harrison which has recently been restored by them. Some of us (the writer included!) had not read the official invitation in depth because we arrived via Fleet Street and found the gates firmly locked. In my case, at the crucial time, a very kindly lady came along armed with a key and she allowed us to follow her in. (She must have been a resident). The others of our group were more observant and entered the complex via the advertised route without any trouble.
Roger Sayer, our host for the morning, greeted us. He was well known to some of our number as he was connected to St Mary’s Woodford for some years. He introduced us to the instrument and the fascinating history attaching to it and the church itself. He also very kindly made available a glossy booklet published to celebrate the re-opening of the organ in 2013. The organ was not built for the church but was a generous gift of Lord Glentanar. The original instrument had been destroyed in the blitz (the one presided over by many famous musicians: Dr E.J.Hopkins, Walford Davies, Thalben-Ball et al, and used to accompany that renowned 1930s recording of Ernest Lough in “O for the wings of a dove”). Lord Glentanar apparently no longer wanted the organ for his ballroom so he donated it to the Temple Church. It was installed in 1953 without any alterations bar the addition of the Pedal 32 reed. It was a typical H & H of its period - beautifully finished but perhaps a little “unexciting” for the modern ear. Since then the passage of time etc had taken its toll and steps were needed to be taken to rectify its shortcomings. Opportunity was taken to upgrade the specification and the main result has been the creation of a ‘mini-great’ which Roger said was a huge improvement as it made the whole instrument much more flexible. He demonstrated the organ's capabilities by playing a complete Rheinberger sonata. The console was then thrown open for our players to have their chance to savour its delights.
All who had their try commented on how comfortable it was to play (excepting the rather heavy mechanical swell-box action). As with all Harrisons, the blend is impeccable and full organ is thrilling. A number of us tried the mighty Solo Tuba. Likewise this stop is thrilling – extremely loud in the body of the church but not so at the console. It has to be used with great discretion. The 32’ reed provides that ultimate grandeur and gravitas. This Pedal Organ boasts no less than three 32’ stops – luxury indeed. The main diapason chorus is rich yet sparkles. Roger explained that the recent restoration had given the chance for the instrument to be tonally refinished and balanced so the end result was more tailored for the Temple Church acoustic than for a ballroom in a Scottish castle. The 1927 instrument was Lord Glentanar’s pride and joy and apparently he allowed the transfer to the Temple on the understanding it was unaltered – if any were contemplated they were only to be carried out with his express permission. He was no mean musician himself and conducted several items in the opening concert. Marcel Dupré was very enamoured of the organ. In carrying out the restoration, the best traditions of Arthur Harrison have been preserved and enhanced. The ‘new tonal product’ has been a revelation for all concerned.
Everyone enjoyed the chance to play and hear such an iconic instrument. Roger was (as usual) his genial and ever pleasant helpful self, and heartfelt thanks are due to him and the Temple Church staff for enabling us to have such a wonderful time.