A Personal Tribute
The organ designer and builder, Larry Phelps, died in America a few days
ago. He was the husband of Dame Gillian Weir, whose recent article 'Aspects
of Vision' has brought much appreciation from readers.
It has taken the last century to establish in the minds of general music
lovers that the emancipation of the organ has already taken place. Yet many
people stubbornly regard the organ as a second-class form of music-making
to this day. Larry Phelps, working in North America, was amongst those men
of distinctive skill and artistry who helped guide the development of the
modern organ to the standards achieved today.
I knew Larry only slightly, which brings to my mind the wet and windy
night on the South Bank in the 60s when Gillian Weir recorded Charles Camilleri's
Missa Mundi on the Festival Hall organ (for Argo), and Larry was
with her as a perfect companion at the console in what proved to be a tiresome
session with delays for technical hitches, and even obtrusive noise from
the pouring rain. There's nothing worse for a performer than a good 'take'
ruined by noise. I was with the composer seated in the Hall, who also needed
Later, Larry accepted my invitation to write a regular column for the
magazine I was then editing - Organists' Review - which proved stimulating
as well as provocative on organ design. His one instrument in the UK is
at Hexham Abbey, and one of the best recent organ recordings was made by
the current organist.
Basil Ramsey, February 25th 1999
Larry Phelps and Hexham Abbey's organ
Several readers have requested details of the recent recording
organ. The Phelps Organ at Hexham is played by John Green and issued by
the Classical Record Company on CRC 801-2.