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Mailbag: “Help with the Hammond”

August 12, 2008

Dear Michael,

I Totally enjoy listening to Pipedreams on Public Radio being that I’m a church organist on the novice side. My first encounter with your program was back in the fall of 1997 with “Reger Rhetoric” - an interesting program of pieces by Reger. I was doing a search on Richard Elsasser - being that I do have the Widor 5th on a near mint vinyl that he recorded at the John Kay Hammond Jr. Museum for Nonesuch (and do fully agree with with your comment to a previous letter posted of the dryness of accoustics, thus making this recording the less likeable of the Widor Organ Symphonies..) that I purchase back in the early ’70s when I began some organ studies in college to ‘wet my whistle’ on the pipes being of a piano player and wanted to expand myself into the classical organ world. I was doing a search on the Hammond Museum and organ and it was noted that the organ has fallen to disrepair to be totally unplayable. Thus, with this rare recording of Elsasser at the console at the Museum is actually quite the rare treat in itself. Thus, any news of possible rebuilding this organ since the museum itelf is quite the monument to such an accomplished individual as of John Kay Hammond? Thx for your help and your time with this.




The situation with the organ at the John Hays Hammond Castle in Gloucester is unfortunate, but it does seem that, at present, the instrument is in major disrepair with no immediate likelihood that funds will be found for its revival.
Richard Elsasser recorded a considerable amount of repertoire on that instrument (including the ‘complete’ works of Liszt, and several 20th century composers such as Messiaen and Ginastera). These LPs were among the first acquisitions in the ‘organ record collection’ of my high school years.
Virgil Fox, too, recorded in Gloucester (monophonic sessions in the 1940s for RCA Victor, some originally on 78-rpm discs...this before his move to Capitol Records), and those performances are now available in CD format from the Virgil Fox Legacy
You’ll find some fascinating articles about Hammond and his house organ in the ‘history’ section of the OrganArts website, too.
It’s interesting to compare Fox’s Hammond Castle performance of Franck’s Grande Piece Symphonique (1946?) with his later recording (1963) on the Aeolian-Skinner at Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center (featured on Program #0831, August 4, 2008). The Hammond performance is fine enough, but the Philharmonic Hall interpretation is full of powerfully thoughtful nuance...a mature interpretation where every note is profoundly and expressively purposeful, rather than simply lovely or exciting.





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