The Daily Telegraph
Record producer acclaimed for his Great Cathedral Organ series
BRIAN CULVERHOUSE, who has died aged 93, was a leading producer of classical music records, working with pianists such as Alfred Cortot and Dame Myra Hess and conductors such as Charles Mackerras and Norman del Mar; he was also behind EMI’S Great Cathedral Organ series, a set of 19 LPS released between 1963 and 1971 capturing the tradition of English cathedral music from organs and organists around the country.
The first, made by Noel Rawsthorne on the magnificent Willis organ of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, posed challenges because much of the vast pipework was high up, meaning that microphones had to be suspended from the roof as well as further down the nave. Sales in the first 12 months were a respectable 20,000 copies, meaning that the series could continue.
Culverhouse recalled that when Francis Jackson at York Minster launched into Norman Cocker’s swaggering Tuba Tune, he had to retreat with his microphones towards the west door because “the needles on the mixer were flying in all directions”. Durham Cathedral was so cold that Conrad Eden played with hot water bottles strapped to his midriff, and at Norwich Cathedral the ancient Heathcote Statham was accompanied at the console by his doctor, who from time to time administered medication.
Others in the series included Arthur Wills on the organ of Ely Cathedral, while Christopher Dearnley performed at Salisbury and St Paul’s, the latter because the resident organist John Dykes Bower said that his playing was no longer up to standard. Herbert Sumsion at Gloucester gave an authoritative account of Elgar’s Organ Sonata. “He was a personal friend of the composer and had played it to him on several occasions, receiving comments from Elgar as to its interpretation,” Culverhouse noted.
Yet the opportunity to record a different work by Elgar evaded him. In 1964 Culverhouse and John Whittle, EMI’S marketing director, proposed that the cellist Jacqueline du Pré should record Elgar’s Cello Concerto with the conductor Adrian Boult. Sales projections were so low that the idea was rejected. Fifteen months later a different producer made du Pré’s now-legendary recording of the Elgar, conducted by John Barbirolli.
Brian Beverley Culverhouse was born in Bristol on October 22 1927, the son of Stanley Culverhouse, an organist and choirmaster, and his wife Gladys (née Hounsell). The family moved to the Gower Peninsula, where young Brian’s earliest memories were drawing stops and turning pages at the console for his father. A talented pianist and clarinettist, he was educated at Ellesmere College, Shropshire, becoming head chorister.
During National Service he served as a weapons instructor with the Grenadier Guards before joining the international artists department of the Gramophone Company, part of EMI. There he was able to listen to the musicians who were recording at Abbey Road and observe their producers at work.
In 1963 he was appointed classical producer at EMI, overseeing recordings with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Louis Frémaux, the Scottish National Orchestra and Alexander Gibson, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with Charles Groves. Tall, slim and elegantly suited, Culverhouse would sit in the control room listening through speakers while following the music on an ancient score and conducting with his knees.
Culverhouse, who also oversaw many military and brass band recordings, left EMI in 1971 and spent the next 42 years bringing his expertise at the mixing desk to labels such as Chandos, Decca and Deutsche Grammophon. In retirement he lived in Surrey, maintaining an interest in the recording industry.
He married Pamela Wynne in 1952.
Brian Culverhouse, born October 22 1927, died August 22 2021