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Obituary: Brian Culverhouse

08 October 2021

One of the 19 LPs in EMI’s Great Cathedral Organ series which Brian Culverhouse produced

One of the 19 LPs in EMI’s Great Cathedral Organ series which Brian Culverhouse produced

Kenneth Shenton writes:

HAVING spent his youth pulling out stops and turning pages for his organist father, the record producer Brian Beverley Culverhouse, who died on 22 August, aged 93, quickly learnt how to capture the dynamic range of the instrument and how to match it to the building.

An initial recording of Noel Rawsthorne at Liverpool Cathedral during the 1960s led to HMV’s landmark Great Cathedral Organ series. Now assuming particular historical significance, these pioneering recordings succeeded in putting the instrument very firmly on the map when it had little box-office appeal.

Born in Bristol in October 1927, Brian Beverley Culverhouse spent his formative years across the channel on the Gower Peninsula, and was educated at Ellesmere College.

After National Service as a weapons onstructor in the Grenadier Guards, in 1948 he joined the artists’ department of HMV. On his first day with the company, he was scheduled to work with George Weldon. He later supervised the final sessions for Alfred Cortot and Dame Myra Hess, while preparing Mozart highlights for Fritz Busch. Early success came when producing military-band recordings, mainly with Sir Vivian Dunn.

The 19 LPs of EMI’s Great Cathedral Organ series were very much Culverhouse’s personal brainchild, and they appeared at regular intervals between 1963 and 1971. Opening with Noel Rawsthorne at the console of Liverpool’s full-bodied Willis, for Culverhouse this always remained “the most thrilling sound that I have ever put on tape”. No less compelling was Roger Fisher’s account of Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm.

Other contributors included Allan Wicks, Christopher Dearnley, Heathcote Statham, Herbert Sumsion, Arthur Wills, David Lepine, Conrad Eden, Philip Marshall, Francis Jackson, Herrick Bunney, Lionel Dakers, Douglas Guest, Melville Cook, and Christopher Robinson.

Culverhouse worked with Rawsthorne on several further occasions, twice committing to disc Saint-Saëns’s Third Symphony, once in Guildford Cathedral with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and then on home turf with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra,

Culverhouse’s 1971 recording of Lionel Rogg playing Buxtehude on the Metzler in Baden Cathedral set a new standard in recording excellence. No less fine was Allan Wicks’s rendition of Malcolm Williamson’s six-movement, 35-minute Organ Symphony, in which Culverhouse brilliantly captured the full grandeur of Coventry Cathedral’s magnificent Harrison instrument. Five years earlier, his recording of the venerable Birmingham Town Hall organ, Organ Spectacular, helped to propel Michael Austin to the forefront of British music.

After working for EMI from 1963 until 1971, Culverhouse enjoyed a long and highly successful freelance career; his credentials remained much in demand worldwide. Like all top producers, he was obsessed by music and the psychology of music-making, and saw the the medium of recording as an art form in itself. His ability to put performers at their ease allowed him to work successfully with all the leading musicians of the day.

Whether the music was sacred or secular, solo or ensemble, modern or Baroque, Culverhouse’s name on a record sleeve became a byword for excellence.

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