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English Virtual Organ by Sonus Paradisi

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Re: English Virtual Organ by Sonus Paradisi

PostTue Aug 21, 2018 4:40 am

The St Afra organ is not of course a “pure” Hill instrument. Its core is an instrument from the William Hill & Sons firm when it was probably being run by one of his sons, Thomas. William Hill died in 1870 – before the St Paul’s / Trinity Methodist /St Afra organ was built.

Like many instruments, this organ has been extended, moved (perhaps further than some), refurbished and updated over its 144 year life. Each intervention will have inevitably left its mark on the instrument.

Is the Albert Hall organ in London a Father Willis organ? A number of builders have had their hand on that instrument (including Harrison, Mander and other generations of the Willis family). What about the Hill at Peterborough Cathedral (Hill & Sons, Hill Norman & Beard and Harrison & Harrison (several times))?

In the case of the the St Afra organ, there is no suggestion that any of the organ builders drastically changed the wind pressure, re-pitched or carried out major revoicing of the Hill work. Little of the Hill pipework would appear to have been lost or moved around within the instrument - only the Choir Dulciana and Great Sesquialtra appear to have been lost. Can we still call the St Afra a Hill organ? Well, because it appears than the core of the two main divisions are probably much the same as when the organ was originally built, then yes I think we can.

Sample set producers would find it quite difficult to find historic or just old instruments which were really unchanged. I acknowledge that in the last thirty years work has perhaps been carried out in ways which are more aware of preserving the original instrument than was the case in earlier times.


Andrew Grahame


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Re: English Virtual Organ by Sonus Paradisi

PostTue Aug 21, 2018 5:22 am

Agreed. My particular concern was that details of pipe origins and changes over the years were not readily apparent. The info from the NPOR answers that question.

The degree to which instruments can and have been altered over time can vary. Some would argue, for example, that little remains of the 1929 Hill Norman & Beard organ at the Melbourne Town Hall. Most of the pipework from that instrument is still there, but none of its mechanism, and the additions by Schantz dramatically increased the instrument's size. The two consoles are marked to indicate at the stop knobs which stops are original, so a player has the option of not using the additions if desired. This instrument, in its present form, has recently been sampled for Hauptwerk - but many feel these days that it is more Schantz than HN&B.

I recall the first LP released by Christopher Dearnley on the organ at St Pauls' Cathedral London following the rebuild of the late 1970's. There the builder had no choice but to discard all remaining original chests and actions because of the ruinous drying effects from years of central heating. Only the pipes remain of the 1872 Fr Willis, plus many additions and entirely new mechanisms. In this LP he made a point of using just the 1872 stops for one of the tracks - acknowledging the instrument's origin as closely as could be done.

I would imagine that the vast majority of historic instruments which to date have been sampled for Hauptwerk contain some degree of pipework from later eras. Newer instruments (eg: Poblet from OAM) have been recorded intact since no alterations have been made since new. Finding an older instrument without alteration is far harder. Other sample sets (eg: Arlesheim, also from OAM) were captured in their present state, complete with additions from previous work - all duly noted in the attendant documentation. The convention in organ restoration these days is to establish a realistic point in the organ's past to which it can be restored - not necessarily going right back to the very first build. Sometimes this may lead to the removal of some additions and reversal of changes - yet in other instances some changes could be kept. For example, at Sydney Town Hall only the orchestral reeds on the Solo manual were enclosed - these days all of the Solo except for the 3 tubas is inside the box. This change took place quite early in the organ's lifetime, and the restoration of 1972-82 kept it this way. However other alterations, including the swapping of various ranks between departments, were reversed in order to recreate as closely as possible the original stoplist.

My concern was not with the fact that the SP Hill instrument is a rebuild, but that details of additions and changes were initially not readily apparent.


Andrew Grahame


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Re: English Virtual Organ by Sonus Paradisi

PostWed Aug 22, 2018 7:36 am

Having said all that ....

It's a pleasant sample set. It's possibly the closest so far in my collection to what I could call a "familiar" sound. I grew up here on the east coast of New South Wales hearing and playing many 19th-century English tracker action organs. I held church appointments on two such instruments - one by an unknown builder and another by J.W. Walker of London (1866). I've been fortunate in hearing and playing quite a few Hill organs, many of which are either unaltered (or close to it) since they were installed, or which have been meticulously restored. My very first experience of tuning an organ pipe was with the Great Trumpet 8 on the 1892 Hill organ at Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney in May 1976. I was holding keys for the tuner, then his apprentice took over at the console so I could go inside the organ and watch the tuning process at closer quarters. I watched as the tuner took care of the Choir Clarinet, then the Swell reeds. When he turned around on the passage board to start work on the Trumpet he handed the tuning knife to me and invited me to have a go in the middle octaves. He had to finish off the highest and lowest octaves, but I actually managed fairly well with the rest - and I was hooked!

Nearly every sample set I possess represents a style, period or country which is removed from the sounds I grew up on. This instrument fills a gap in my collection, and I can see myself returning to it from time to time when I need that feel of familiarity. I don't know if it's for everyone. My thoughts have already been privately sourced by one person, and my suggestion (bearing in mind several factors specific to that person) was to pass on it. If in doubt, there are plenty of demo audio tracks, plus a demo ODF.

Thank you, Jiri, for creating yet another high quality sample set!




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Re: English Virtual Organ by Sonus Paradisi

PostFri Sep 28, 2018 11:50 pm

We also have a great Hill organ in St Georges Cathedral Cape Town. It was a gift in 1902 of a benefactor who bought the organ from St Margaret in Westminster when it was replaced on request of the famous Lemare.



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Re: English Virtual Organ by Sonus Paradisi

PostSat Apr 24, 2021 3:56 pm

I have recently purchased this sample set, and I have to say I'm very pleased with it! I thought I would post some observations.

While a very substantial part of the organ may not be original Hill, I still find I'm very happy with the added material. Here’s some of my thoughts about them:

-The Tuba is just lovely, and while it isn't quite as loud as other tubas that can drown out the full organ, I actually find it more useful to have it match the loudness of the rest of the organ a little bit better. It still has a lovely power, smoothness, and personality, and I am very happy with it, even if it isn't original Hill.
-Some of the other added stops are quite nice too. I’m not sure what exactly the Vox Angelica is, but I find it to be very nice. The encyclopedia of organ stops suggests it is a rare stop, a sort of softer vox humana, but in my experience many stops labelled “vox” are some variant of a celeste. In practice it sounds like either a very keen string celeste or a soft reed with a lot of resonance. Either way, the sound of the stop is very useful, making do for a Voix Humaine in a pinch, or being used with other 8’ stops for a very pleasing romantic chorus with a bit more power.
-The Nasard, Tierce and Larigot stops are quite welcome to me, as I like the sound of these, and I think they add a lot of available tonal varieties, even on a romantic organ, and make the the playing of many baroque works easier.
-The Orchestral Oboe is quite lovely, and has a significantly different voice from the Oboe on the Swell, and so is a welcome addition to me. In fact, I am quite pleased with the very large number of colour reeds on this instrument, which I usually play with an 8 and 4 foot flute on whatever manual they are found on.
-The 4’ suabe flute is also fascinating to me. Although definitely a flute, I can’t help to feel it has some slightly reedy character which make it very interesting. Whether this represents a sample of Snetzler’s work is interesting as well.
-In the pedal, both the original open diapason and the resultant Bass are very diffuse, breathy and resonant, which I quite like. I don’t know if this is a Hill trademark, but I think it gives them tons of character. If a more distinct pedal line is required, they can always be drawn with an 8 foot stop, of which there are plenty, to give them more definition.
-I also quite like the Echo Bass. Whereas on St. Anne’s I find the Echo to be so quiet it is almost useless, the St. Afra’s Echo Bass is quiet, but still loud enough to be quite useful, and has more character.

As for the original Hill stops:

-All three diapasons on the great are quite lovely, and useful (though whether the small diapason is a revoiced Hill stop or original Kirkland is unclear). Each has its own character, and I’m very pleased that English organs have such a good selection of these stops. The small diapason isn’t quite as soft as St. Anne’s, but unlike St. Anne’s it has quite a bit more character, and a different character from the larger diapason.
-I also very much like Hill’s Gamba on the great. Many modern gamba stops are very mellow and have a lot of fundamental, but Hill’s is delightfully sharp and keen, and with the diapasons, there is a lot of room for different and interesting combination tones and characters.
-I’m also very glad this organ has a harmonic flute. I find English harmonic flutes are mellower and “flutier” than their French counterparts, and this one is no exception, but like the French there is a lovely bloom of power and the strength of the voice in the mid upper range.
-The principal chorus on the great is quite nice, and definitely useful for Baroque works. It does have fire, but I think I also miss the tierce in the mixture (Someday I’m going to make a CODM organ with a sesquialtera to bring it back!). That being said, it does have a lovely character, and very much works with Romantic pieces calling for the principal chorus. The trumpet gives a nice crown to the principal chorus, and the Tuba gives it crown, but also gravitas.
-The Cornopean is quite useful and lovely. Tonally, it is somewhere between the smooth as butter of a Skinner Cornopean, and the Hill’s trumpet, with still some trumpet character, but more smoothness and power (not as smooth as the Skinner). I don’t like Cornopeans that are too loud, so this one perfectly suits my tastes.
-The double Clarinet, while definitely a Clarinet, does not have as much Clarinet character as it could have, particularly in the lower registers, but this is actually useful for building up the romantic reed chorus with a lot of power.
-The Clarion is a bit thinner than it’s French counterpart, but still has very nice character, and is definitely smoother, and very useful even as a solo stop.
-The Swell mixture has the tierce, and so it has that little extra dose of fire that I quite like. It crowns the swell chorus nicely, and both the great and the swell choruses are distinct, but have interesting character.
-Hill’s trombone is useful, and definitely very British, and with the tromba it gives the pedal line on very full registrations plenty of power. It is matched up very well with the 16 and 32 foot open diapason for a pedal line with a lot of gravitas for a medium size organ like this one.

General observations:

-The reverberations of St. Afra’s church are quite nice. I feel they are a good blend, not too long, but enough to add character, and complement well the interest of each individual stop. The near perspective is pretty dry, which I usually prefer. Interestingly, however, the tuba’s resonance is still very audible in the dry perspective, probably because it is so loud! So in this instance, and especially for headphones, I like the diffuse sound a bit better for general use on a 2 channel system. I will probably use the direct sound when I get my speakers back up and working again, however.
-Overall the stoplist is very useful for almost any piece you can think of, though you might have to choose different stops to get the effect you’re going for than you may be used to. It is particularly suited to romantic pieces, but I find that I can play a lot of Baroque pieces that sound quite good, though not strictly “baroque” sounding. Because of the “neo baroque” additions, I think his puts it a bit more in the “modern universal” class of organs. However, I find that many “modern universal” organs tend to be lacking in character, sometimes because of very uniform scaling, and sometimes because similar stops are constructed and voiced very similar to other ones. However, for being a more universal concept, almost every stop still has tons of character and interest. That being said, the backbone is still there to get a very authentic British Romantic sound out of it if desired (though a bit of an early Romantic/transitional sound at times).
-I think the value for this instrument is amazing, and it may be the cheapest way to get a sample set with a Tuba! Having been transplanted in St. Afra’s church has in no way diminished the Englishness of the instrument, so besides being a great instrument, it is also a great English instrument. For an instrument of such character and quality, it also is amazingly versatile. Having the 6 channels is also a plus, even if you only use stereo, because it lets you tailor the reverberations to your need and taste.

Some other assorted comments:

-I’m Indebted to Iain Stinson for his very useful and interesting article on the organ. I’m very glad to have learned so much about this organ through him!
-Agnus_Dei also posted a very interesting and informative article on Contrebombarde accompanied by a lot of great sound examples. I didn’t always agree with him about his opinions on the character of the stops and how they can be used, but I also tend to use the closer perspectives more than he does. I do think he does a wonderful job of playing this and a wide variety of other English organs/organ pieces though!
-There is an error both in Iain Stinson’s file and on the Sonus Paradisi website regarding the Clarion on the Swell. It is in fact 4’, not 8’. In Agnus_Dei’s review it has the Clarion correctly at 4’! I am planning to send an email to Sonus Paradisi to see if it can be corrected.



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Re: English Virtual Organ by Sonus Paradisi

PostSun Apr 25, 2021 7:51 pm


Thanks for your detailed observations of this wonderful "Hill" organ from SP..

Following on from a comment by Graham in 2018, this is very much the organ we Anglicans in Australia are used to. Perhaps because of this I don't play it as often as I should.

It is an organ to relax with, rather than scare the neighbours.

So I have spent the last few early morning hours playing the organ with your helpful notes beside me. Thank you.

Since you have spent so much time with the sounds of this organ I wonder whether you might like to share a COMBINATION SET with us and we could listen to what you listen to.




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Re: English Virtual Organ by Sonus Paradisi

PostFri Apr 30, 2021 10:39 am

I’ll make a more complete combination set and post it, but for the moment I’ll just post some thoughts on my registration practice.

For most of the reeds, I tend to register them with the 8’ and 4’ flutes on the same manual. I find that tends to take the edge off and make them a bit more lyrical. For instance, for Bach’s BWV 645 I use this registration:

Tuba 8
Gedact 8
Stopped Flute 4

Open Diapason 8
Principal 4
Fifteenth 2
Mixture III

Bourdon 16
Principal 8
Choral Flute 4

I suspect this would be a good registration for the Craig Sellar Lang Tuba tune as well, but I haven’t tried it!

For the Vox Angelica, I would also register it at least with the 8’ Rohr flute. I spent a bit of time trying it with this and some of the other 8’ stops in combination, and I quite liked how it sounded.

For romantic pieces, I usually try different combinations of just the 8’ and 4’ stops, adding louder ones for more strength and definition. For power, add the reeds with a skeleton great chorus to soften and add gravitas at the bottom end.

For Baroque pieces, either a flute or principal chorus with a reed softened with the flutes if it is necessary on another manual for a solo line. For some of Bach’s pieces such as BWV 731, you can use the 8’ and 4’ flutes on the Choir with the Nasard and/or tierce for the melody, and either the 8’ stopped flute or the soft diapason plus/minus the harmonic flute to accompany on the great, or the Rohr flute/suabe flute on the Swell. I often find it is helpful to adjust the balance using expression if necessary, but I felt it generally isn’t as necessary on this organ. The balance is generally pretty good on all divisions with the expression shutters open all the way.

I like the Crescendo, but I find it a bit too granular! In a way, it gives you a lot of shades of expression, but moving the pedal just a small amount results in a lot of tonal changes. Maybe I will reprogram it and share my results!

I hope that helps for now! I’ll work on some other combination sets and share them in time.



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Re: English Virtual Organ by Sonus Paradisi

PostSat May 15, 2021 11:02 pm

Just a quick word about the mixtures. I calculated the mixture composition using "Transcribe," and I just wanted to let other owners of the sample set know what they are. On the left are the midi numbers of the notes, and on the right, the pitch levels in feet.

1  36-48 = 2, 1 1/3, 1
2  49-60 = 2 2/3, 2, 1 1/3
3  61-72 = 5 1/3, 2 2/3, 2
4  73-91 = 8, 5 1/3, 4

1. 36-53 = 3 1/5, 2 2/3, 2
2  54-70 = 4, 2 2/3, 2
3  71-91 = 8, 5 1/3, 4

These compositions confirm what Ian Stinson wrote about them in his very useful notes.

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