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So, who do think it the best?

Naomi McFadyen

New member
Who, in your opinion, is the best organist you've heard?

I tend to listen to Classic FM more when I'm visiting my parents than I do when I'm at home.... however, I've heard both live performances of organ concerts and pieces played on the Radio and I must say, you can not beat Carlo Curley for his organ skills....
This guy is someone I first heard when I was about 7 or 8 years old (hmmm, that seems a while ago now! :eek: ) and me and my family always went to see him play whenever he was in the area....

Top bloke too!

So, who 'does it for you' on this wonderful instrument?



New member
To name just a few: Ben van Oosten, Louis Robilliard, Daniel Roth, Stephen Tharp, Olivier Latry, Susan Landale, Ludger Lohmann, Bernhard Haas, Lorenzo Ghielmi, Yves Castagnet, Stefan Schmidt, Rolande Falcinelli, Elke Völker,...

But just in case - ask again tomorrow <grin>


Commodore de Cavaille-Coll
Thats a tough one - Roth, Tharp, Latry, Curley and Peter Richard Conte are all phenomenal organists who play with heart and soul - I find it impossible to say which one of these I appreciate more in terms of interpretive skill, technical prowess and sheer musicianship.

Giovanni :tiphat:

yury habrus

The greatest are Wolfgang Rubsam, Ton Koopman, Peter Hurford, Olgerts Cintins, Piet Kee, Leopoldas Dygris, Martin Haselbock, Eric Lebrun, of course, Lohmann, van Oosten, Ola-Ericsson etc.

Thomas Dressler

New member
I surely can't say who is the BEST. It depends on what I'm listening for. And of course, we'll all have different opinions. I'm not even going to mention names because if we all do that, eventually we'll have mentioned just about everyone! Of the ones already mentioned, I will say that some I like very much, one or two I violently dislike (I'm not naming names) and others I have not heard. The point being that this is a VERY subjective question! In my opinion it more useful to just say who we, ourselves, happen to like.

yury habrus

But nevertheless it's more interesting to my mind to know namely subjective opinion of everyone, and especially your, Thomas! Such discussions can detect the most authoritive performers in organ community, distinguish some organ performing traditions and tastes. These are very interesting and important questions.

Thomas Dressler

New member
Well, I'm not sure how to approach this question if it comes to naming names. I'm sure to leave out many who should be mentioned. And then you have to realize that for those of us who are organists/performers, if there was someone we completely agreed with, then our own work would be superfluous. I'd much rather sit back and listen to someone else make wonderful music! :)

The first one that comes to mind is E. Power Biggs. Oh yes, he didn't play "authentically" by our standards today, but he was a solid musician and he did a LOT (LLLLLOOOOOOTTTTTTT) to get people to listen to organ music. I couldn't do this without mentioning Biggs and also Virgil Fox. Fox was, in my opinion, extremely musical. Would I play in public like him? Yes and no. Not technically, no. But while I play using every bit of historical information I can regarding articulation, fingering, etc. I do try to project lines and musical climaxes that are similar to Fox's. There is much to be learned from these musicians even if we don't play the way they did. And I'll say one very controversial thing right now. I'm not going to mention names, but I feel very strongly that some of the more famous musicians who espouse "historically accurate" performing styles are 1.) not as accurate as they claim--I've read the same sources and come to different conclusions, and 2.) harming our profession because their interpretations are in my opinion not even close to what the composers intended nor do they have strong musical attractiveness. I believe the whole "authenticity" movement needs to do some housecleaning, and I guess I'm the one to say the emperor has no clothes. Don't take this wrong, because I'm all for historically informed performance--anyone who knows me knows that I'm completely dedicated to it; however I believe some assumptions were made perhaps 20 years or so ago which need to be strongly reconsidered. So while I would love to approach this by saying who I think might NOT be helping us, I could not do that. I wish them well, and I hope that while they are railing on others to have an open mind that they, themselves might open their own minds. I say this from a place of having been taught that way and having played that way for a long time before I reconsidered some things myself.

This being said, many of the organists I admire as strong musicians were not a part of the historically informed movement, though I wish they had been. One of the finest musicians I have heard on recordings is Michael Schneider, a very sensitive organist. Anton Heiller was also a very strong musician who had excellent control of touch. I like the few recordings I have of Marcel Dupre, including and especially one very old, difficult to hear recording of him playing Widor symphonies at St. Sulpice. I very much dislike the method he taught of playing Bach, and yet I like his Bach recordings because I hear him not actually practicing what he preached. His real playing was much more musical and fluid than would be possible using the notations in his Bach editions. Also Andre Marchal, who had a wonderful sense of musical line and rubato in Bach (NOT in Franck, in my opinion.) Marie-Madeleine Durufle also was wonderful in a highly technical way.

These are some organists whose recordings have most inspired me, and I kind of hope my own playing is a composite of all of these, combined with careful thought about historical technique and interpretive practices. They are all people from the past, however, and are all big names. In a sense there is good reason for that. I'll avoid present day organists in this list. I do believe that in many cases organists of the present have abandoned the solid, humanistic musicianship of the older artists in favor of "trends," both "authentic" and "anti-authentic."


New member
I'm on the wrong side of the Atlantic to fully appreciate the impact of E.P.Biggs and V.Fox, so I can't comment on that.

As for "authenticity", I fully agree with Thomas: it is a good thing to strive for it (and we probably do know a lot more now than people did 70-80 years ago), but a bad thing to become radical and arrogant about it, to the point of believing that one has all the answers about how Bach & Co. actually played. That's just as bad as the old tyranny a la Dupré.

From my perspective, however, I have the impression that things have become more balanced over the last, say, 10-15 years.

Thomas Dressler

New member
I hope you're right, Acc, and perhaps where you are things are more balanced. Here, it seems things just become more polarized, and the "authentic" crowd gets more and more quirky. Of course, it's possible that I've decided subconsciously that at 44 I am finally old enough to disagree with one of my early teachers of early technique who used to say something like, "There are three people who know how to play Bach: God, Bach, and me--and not in that order!" I have recently completely revamped my own approach to early technique, having decided through reading sources and experience that he was off the mark, in spite of his arrogance. It's difficult for me to write on this subject without getting a little hot under the collar because of how that affected me for 20-some years, so forgive my little rants! :)


Jason E

New member
Naomi McFadyen said:
you can not beat Carlo Curley for his organ skills....
Hello everyone, I'm new here, yet I beg to differ with the above comment.

Perhaps we have not properly defined organ skills, at least as I read the term. The few times I have heard this performer my impression was more that he projected his personality over the music.

It doesn't seem much different on his recordings. The old Argo CD Brightly Shining has a performance of Franck's Cantabile that is so distorted rhythmically as to make it difficult to follow with score. Furthermore, his liner notes are so utterly flowerly in tone that one is left with the impression that "it's all about Carlo". Which of course would be fine for people that admire his art.

My favourite live organists are Kevin Bowyer and Olivier Latry.



New member
Hmmm. So many. Well for me, Virgil Fox, Ted Alan-Worth, Robert Noehren,
Marsha Heather Long,(She has a great cd recorded at St. John the Divine NYC). Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, Jennifer Bate, Jean Guillou, and
Fred Swan. Thats off the top of my head. There are so many more fine

Thomas Dressler

New member
There isn't a way of knowing EXACTLY how people played back then, but we can get some pretty good ideas and come pretty close if we do some careful reading and studying.

I, personally, believe that what makes us human beings has not changed significantly, and therefore art from the past retains its significance. If one follows the argument that everything should change, then my argument is that Bach's music should be entirely discarded because it could be nothing but an inferior ancestor of present-day aesthetics. It is my view that this is not true, that the music of the past AND what it intended to say are quite relevant to the present. Our basic humanity has not changed.

Should we completely rewrite Shakespeare in modern language? I don't think it's possible to do so and retain Shakespeare--it would result in something completely different. In the same way, if one wants to play BACH, then one needs to try to understand not only WHAT Bach was saying but HOW he said it. Yes, it takes some effort, just like appreciating Shakespeare does. But to do otherwise is to risk missing the point of either artist.

Art is different from technology. It does not improve, it only changes and becomes different. Beethoven is not better than Bach, nor is a modern organ better than a Silbermann. They are simply different.

One of the most important and truest values of the arts is that they open our minds to the aesthetics and ideas of other cultures and other times--of other people. To be ethnocentric, culture-centric, or even era-centric (in other words, to believe that modern is better and anything that is DIFFERENT is IRRELEVANT) is, in my opinion, completely missing the point of the arts. The very thing they can teach us is how to appreciate people of different times, cultures, and aesthetics. Their value is in OPENING our minds, not CLOSING them. To learn about the instruments and performing practices of the past is not closed-minded rule making academics, but just the opposite--it's the appreciation of something different. To insist on modernity and the irrelevance of the past is, in my opinion, the closed-minded approach. However, I will agree that a mindless attempt to recreate a single performance of the past is stagnant. Surely Bach would have changed his approach over the years and from one day to the next. The goal is to play his music in a way that he would have recognized, and within the bounds of using historic techniques, there is quite a bit of flexibility now, just as there was in Bach's day. To be rigid would NOT be historically informed.

Thomas Dressler

New member
I agree with you that "prostitution" is a harsh and unnecessary word. Yes, we do change in our understanding of the past, and hopefully it's for the better. But this kind of attitude on the part of the "historically informed" crowd is not only unkind, it's dangerously egocentric. I might not want to play exactly the way someone did 20 years ago, but I do not doubt their artistry or relevance. To give one example, I have a recordings of Michael Schneider playing Bach that I think is spectacular. Would I play that way? Nope. But I think it's a fabulous recording. For its time, it was historically informed, and it's really quite sensitive and wonderful playing.

Was Wanda Landowska "authentic?" Not really. But I think she was an incredible musician.

Here again, I believe that humanity stays the same. Oh yes, details might change, like whether notes are played detached or legato, but a great musician is a great musician--AND a great musician is a great communicator.

In my mind, when I hear the historically informed crowd making remarks like you mention, I feel undertones of the same egocentrism I attribute to the opposite extreme. It's another manifestation of lack of flexibility, lack of understanding of what is different, and a lack of ability to perceive the real humanity that art is ultimately about. And this is coming from someone (me) who is very much into being historically informed. I use early fingerings and I prefer to play trackers and I like moderate sized instruments for Bach. But I hope I play with the same kind of human connection that Fox and Biggs had.

One of the greatest compliments I have received was once after playing Bach's Wedge Prelude and Fugue, complete with early fingerings and no manual changes and only one stop change through the whole thing, a Virgil Fox fan came to me and said it was as exciting as Virgil. I asked, "Even with early fingerings and no changes?" He said, "Yes." Some early music people would have been horrified. I was very happy, as that was actually my goal. Not to play even close to the same way, but with the same intensity.

It may be surprising to learn that not all historically informed people try to put their music in dusty museum cases, as, ummm, someone once said. :) And historically accurate can be EXTREMELY relevant, as I think people still have pretty much the same things to say.
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