Three original Argo albums demonstrating the vitality and variety of 20th-century organ music, newly remastered and compiled together for the first time in a 2CD set, with new booklet notes on the music and a tribute to Simon Preston.
Simon Preston had only left King’s College, Cambridge, (where he had been organ scholar) the previous summer, when he was invited in the spring of 1963 to Cirencester in Gloucestershire. The music at the town’s grammar school was now under the charge of Peter Maxwell Davies, who would make a name for himself as a firebrand in postwar English music during the 1960s, just as Preston would take charge of several of the country’s major choral institutions and raise them to new heights of professionalism and excellence. He recorded a large-scale fantasia based on the medieval plainchant O magnum mysterium, which was preceded by several, much simpler movements written by Maxwell Davies for his teenage charges. The piece and the project was a groundbreaking piece of music education, and the fantasia itself showed the composer at his most virtuosic in terms of commanding long-range structures. There have been very few recordings since, and this premiere has lost none of its impact.
Also issued here for the first time on international release are the three sonatas by Paul Hindemith, which Preston recorded at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Islington. Written between 1937 and 1940, these have remained staples of the organ’s modern repertoire – not surprisingly, given their mastery of Bachian counterpoint.
The second CD is filled with a recital of English organ music recorded by Preston at the organ of Colston Hall, Bristol, in January 1967. This conspectus sets the spacious, German-influenced Sonata of Sir Edward Elgar alongside the sharper harmonic bite of works by Kenneth Leighton, Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten: all three in their different ways, like Maxwell Davies, looking back to much older music for the catalyst of inspiration.