Twentieth-Century Organ Music
Simon Preston
Catalogue No.

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.

This anthology is one of five newly remastered sets canvasing Simon Preston’s complete solo organ recordings for Argo. They also include Preston’s complete recordings of Messiaen (482 4917), ‘Simon Preston at Westminster Abbey’ (482 4933), Romantic organ music (482 4941) by Brahms, Liszt and Reger, and an organ spectacular featuring the Variations on America (482 8101) of Charles Ives.


Organ Sonata No. 1*
Organ Sonata No. 2*
Organ Sonata No. 3*

Simon Preston, organ
Organ of the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Islington

O Magnum Mysterium*

Choir of Cirencester Grammar School
Orchestra of Cirencester Grammar School
Peter Maxwell Davies
Simon Preston, organ
Organ of the Royal Festival Hall, London

EDWARD ELGAR: Sonata for Organ, Op. 28*
HERBERT HOWELLS: Rhapsody for Organ, Op. 17 No. 3*
MICHAEL TIPPETT: Preludio al Vespro di Monteverdi*
BENJAMIN BRITTEN: Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria

Simon Preston, organ
Organ of Colston Hall, Bristol


Recording information

Recording Producers: Michael Bremner (Hindemith; English Organ Music); Andrew Raeburn (Maxwell Davies)
Balance Engineers: Stanley Goodall (Hindemith); Michael Mailes, Jack Law (English Organ Music)
Recording Locations: Church of St. John the Evangelist, Islington, UK, 12–13 February 1970 (Hindemith); Cirencester, Gloucestershire, UK, March 1962 (Maxwell Davies: O Magnum Mysterium); Royal Festival Hall, London, UK, March 1963 (Maxwell Davies: Fantasia on ‘O Magnum Mysterium’); Colston Hall, Bristol, UK, 5–6 January 1967 (English Organ Music)
Remastering Engineer: Craig Thompson
Original Argo LP Releases: ZRG 663 (Hindemith); ZRG 5327 (Maxwell Davies); ZRG 528 (English Organ Music)


‘Mr. Preston treats the [Elgar Sonata] with a cool detachment that reflects the taste of another century. His recording, however, contains some beautiful playing and most imaginative registration … the Colston Hall reeds are heard to brilliant effect in a Paean by Kenneth Leighton. Altogether, an organ record for connoisseurs.’ Gramophone, September 1967

‘Another disc which gave me much pleasure was Simon Preston’s beautifully balanced treatment of the three Hindemith organ sonatas… a performance notable for its perfection of detail.’ Gramophone, December 1971