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CARLO JAMES CURLEY

by
24 August 2012

© MARY ROBERT

Flamboyant but humble: the concert organist Carlo Curley

Flamboyant but humble: the concert organist Carlo Curley

Simon Lindley writes:
THE death of the international concert recitalist and Anglophile ambassador for the organ Carlo Curley, at his home in Melton Mowbray on 11 August, a few days before his 60th birthday, has been deeply felt by his very many friends, colleagues, and admirers.

Cosmopolitan, charismatic, and of world-wide renown, Carlo sustained special relationships with Britain and Scandinavia as well as his native United States. His citizenship was surely world-wide; in Australia, for instance, Melbourne claimed him as the saviour of its Town Hall organ. He generously supported restorations of historic instruments of quality which he regarded as threatened.

For 40 years, he was a larger-than-life presence on the British organ scene, beginning in autumn 1972 to study, on Virgil Fox's recommendation, with the legendary Sir George Thalben-Ball.

The list of prestigious venues in which Carlo performed is endless. Interestingly, a genuine humility underpinned his flamboyant nature. He was just as likely to be found playing his heart out on an instrument of modest proportions in a downtown Anglo-Catholic church (he numbered very many clergy amongst his closest friends) as in a famous concert hall.

Impressively, he brought the love of organ music to thousands who otherwise would never have thought of attending a recital. Trailblazing work on video and a considerable discography, particularly for Decca, were other factors in his influence on music-lovers and musical life.

Early visits to England saw him forging firm friendships and collaborations with many leading players: Thalben-Ball, of course, Noel Rawsthorne at Liverpool, Ripon Cathedral's Ronald Perrin, and other concert artists such as Jane Parker-Smith, Thomas Trotter, and David Briggs. These were contacts sustained and nurtured; and there were many others.

Exactly six weeks before his death, he was at Liverpool Cathedral with Ian Tracey, and in late July at St David's Hall, Cardiff, 30 years after having presided at the opening of the notable Peter Collins instrument there. From all reports, both evenings were hugely memorable.

Few evinced his fervour to share to the same extent his art with others. There were, inevitably, those who looked down their noses at his populist approach, but very few did not respect his prodigious technique and interpretative projection - even if some wished at times that he played more substantial works. Hearing him cajole his listeners into vocalising a fugal subject, sometimes to hilarious, even risqué, verbal texts, was a remarkable experience.

Cadillacs up the aisle of the Alexandra Palace, adventures with the various "touring organs" - he was a significant enthusiast for the digital organ - were part of his make-up, but reflective conversation over a dinner table away from the limelight revealed much of what really made him tick. One felt, strangely, that - if there'd have been a "no fuss" button in life - he would have made use of it regularly, although his autobiography In the Pipeline is a racy read. The British organ scene will never be quite the same again.

A huge written signature, surely the largest from any celebrity in any field, and a lovely turn of phrase - people were frequently addressed as "treasure" - will stay with us, of course. By his own wish, his obsequies were private. A memorial service will be arranged at a later date. Carlissimo he was to many; so perhaps Bravissimo to one who was a good friend to so many is an apt farewell.

 

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