Pipe Organs of Durham and the North East 
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St Oswald's Church, Durham             Forthcoming Recitals

The ancient church of St Oswald holds a commanding position on a cliff above the river on Durham's eastern side, and would look imposing if  not sidelined  by the dominating tower of the Cathedral on the peninsula across the ravine.  The Barony or Borough of Elvet, in which St.Oswald's is located, includes Durham Priory's home farm. The monastic tithe barn, now converted to the Prison Officers' Club, remains in the Hallgarth. 

The church has a long history, and there were organs before the Civil War.  It wasn't until Revd.J.B.Dykes's incumbency that a new 2m organ costing £325 was obtained in 1859, built by Bishop, Starr & Richardson, who were then maintaining the Cathedral organ. This was rebuilt in Edwardian style by Harrison & Harrison in 1915, and expanded to 3m in a thorough rebuilding by H.E.Prested in 1979, but completely destroyed in an arson attack in1984. 

The replacement instrument in the restored building, was built on a west end gallery by Peter Collins, housed in a Mannerist-style double case designed by Henry Moss with carving by Siegfried Pietiszch. The full story of the organ's birth can be found in The Organ, No.266.

Great   Swell   Choir  
Open Diapason 8' Open Flute 8' Chimney Flute 8'
Stopt Diapason 8' Bell Gamba 8' Principal 4'
Principal 4' Principal 4' Nason Flute 4'
Hohl Flute 4' Block Flute 4' Nazard 2 2/3'
Fifteenth 2' Gemshorn 2' Fifteenth 2'
Cornet II Mixture IV-VI Tierce 1 3/5'
Mixture IV Bass Cremona 16' Two & Twenty 1'
Trumpet 8' Hautbois 8' Vox Humana 8'
Tremulant   Tremulant   Tremulant  
Swell to Great       Swell to Choir  
Choir to Great   Pedal      
    Subbass 16'    
    Principal 8'    
    Bass Flute 8'    
    Fifteenth 4'    
    Trombone 16'    
    Great to Pedal      
    Swell to Pedal      
    Choir to Pedal      

3 fixed combination pedals to Great and Pedal, 3 fixed combination pedals to Swell
Reversible pedals to Great to Pedal and Trombone 16'

Simon Fitgerald writes:

I was immediately struck by the imposing organ with its casework and within seconds I was seated at the equally eye-pleasing console, where the three manuals have shorter than usual keys. Whilst individual stops are a delight to play and listen to, as the registration builds up so the sound becomes less and less satisfactory. For example, the Open Diapason on the Great has a very light and unforced intonation that is beautiful; build this up to the Mixture and the result is very different. Although not necessarily an unpleasant sound, it has lost all its beauty, and turned mediocre. The reed is colourful and forthright, sounding rather fine in the tenor particularly. With the Cornet (itself highly suited to classical English repertory) an imposing and convincing Grand Jeu is formed. Within North German repertory, this division is hampered by the hard Mixture, which quickly tires the ear. The 8', 4' and 2' ranks in combination are far more successful in this respect.

The Swell has similar problems to the Great and this is due mainly to the large Mixture which has a hard, spiky sound which is again something that soon palls.. The two unisons are delightful, and together with the gentle Tremulant give a good approximation of undulating strings. The reeds are the least happy members of the department. The Hautbois is a far cry from the gentle Oboes that most of us are probably used to - it 'fizzes' and scratches at the ear drum towards the treble. In the bass and tenor it sounds much like a small trumpet, and is just about able to convince in French romantics. The addition of a sub-unison reed is quite understandable on an organ this size, but the Bass Cremona is not wholly successful. In the bottom octave it is debatable whether it actually produces any 16' tone at all, and further up the keyboard whilst it develops a pleasant timbre again it is uncomfortable as a chorus reed, particularly so with its unison counterpart. The classic Full Swell with reeds and upperwork is one of the finest sounds an organ can produce, especially when thinking of the numerous Willis examples left to us. Here the result is less than satisfying - a strident mixture, scratchy unison and buzzing sub-unison are not the best of partners!

The Choir in its chaire case has some beautiful sounds. The chorus sparkles and literally dances at your fingertips and the two mutations result in a clean piquant solo sound, ideal for much of the German baroque repertory. It is somewhat thin in the tenor to really convince in a Tierce en taille but nonetheless its pleasing tone more than makes up for this. The Vox Humana is superb and wheedles and whines wholeheartedly throughout its compass - nonetheless a Dulcian or Cremona would perhaps have been more useful, and provision of this rank in the Swell enclosure would have increased its versatility.

The Pedal organ is rather small - the Trombone produces an exhilerating sound but can be quite overpowering. The flues are good but a Mixture is really required to complete the chorus and afford the division the desired independence from the manuals.

Forthcoming recitals at St.Oswald's are normally  listed at North East Organ Recitals

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