Buckfast Abbey Organ

buckfast-abbey-west-end-2-1SOCA members may be interested in a first-hand account of the new Ruffatti organ in Buckfast Abbey.  I (John Bodiley) went on Epiphany Sunday to hear Richard Lester play Messiaen’s La Nativité. This is a piece I always enjoy listening to, though I privately think that a couple of the movements are overlong and rather repetitive! Apologies if this upsets Messiaen buffs.

The new organ is placed in four sections: there is one section on both the North and South sides of the choir, three bays long and floor to ceiling, with wooden cases showing their backs in the ambulatory; the bright silver pipes are displayed in pyramid pattern above the choir stalls. Additional pipework is in the triforium. There are two more sections in spectacular cases on either side of the West gallery, featuring en chamade trumpet pipes. There is one four-manual console in the West gallery, and another four-manual console which can be moved. For the recital on Sunday, this console was at the head of the chancel steps, so that the player was visible from the nave. Though the stops are not terraced, they are spread rather wide, rather than in vertical columns.buckfast-abbey-console

Buckfast Abbey is a large church, but not really big when compared to most cathedrals. The nave is relatively small, since as a Benedictine Monastery, most daily monastic services take place at the East end of the building, which is therefore more important. Seated in the nave for the recital, at loud moments, I was subjected to a quadraphonic salvo, which was mighty impressive, and slightly intimidating. I can’t remember ever hearing an instrument which is capable of such volume. You have a four-manual cathedral-type organ in front of you in the chancel, and a two-manual and pedal organ, voiced in extrovert French style, behind you. The final four pedal notes in Dieu Parmi Nous, with the full pedal reeds coupled to the en chamade trumpet, were overwhelming!

There are, of course, lots of orchestral sounds available, and individual voices were very effective: in particular, I remember a clarinet and an oboe. Soft string sounds were very beautiful. In a movement like Les Anges, the organ sound felt rather too immediate for my taste, surrounding me with glittering mixturework rather than hearing the music as if at a distance. But this is a small issue. The instrument is undoubtedly a significant new organ in the South-West, and the abbey appears to be taking full advantage. There are several big recitals planned, including Olivier Latry.

I recommend a visit.

John Bodiley
January 2019