Simon Preston’s complete recordings of Messiaen for Argo and Decca, newly remastered and compiled for the first time in a 2CD release.
Preston championed Messiaen’s organ works both in recital and on disc, at a time when they were relatively unknown in England. Incredibly, he made his first Messiaen recording – of ‘L’Ascension’ – at only a week’s notice, in August 1962. The venue was the great vaulted chapel of King’s College, Cambridge where he had been organ scholar for the best part of five years under the tuition of C.H. Trevor. Three years later, there followed what is now the most popular of the composer’s organ cycles,‘La Nativité du Seigneur’, recorded in Westminster Abbey where he was by now sub-organist: still an astonishingly precocious achievement.
Preston continued to make records for Argo and Decca at a rate of knots: ten solo organ recordings on Argo alone between 1963 and 1968 and all acclaimed at the time for a rhythmic control and brilliance of registration that marked him out as a musician of extraordinary gifts. He was also recording as a harpsichordist and continuo player with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and soon as a conductor in his own right. His own compositions from the 1960s, notably Alleluyas for organ, reflect Messiaen’s style. The present set is completed by ‘Le banquet celeste’ and the much more rarefied challenges of ‘Les Corps Glorieux’, recorded at St Albans Cathedral in July 1969.
This anthology is one of five newly remastered sets canvasing Simon Preston’s complete solo organ recordings for Argo. They also include ‘Twentieth-Century Organ Music’ (482 4925), ‘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.
Le Banquet céleste*
La Nativité du Seigneur
Les Corps glorieux*
Simon Preston, organ
Organ of the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge (L’Ascension)
Organ of Westminster Abbey (La Nativité du Seigneur)
Organ of St. Albans Cathedral (Le Banquet celeste, Les Corps glorieux)
*FIRST INTERNATIONAL CD RELEASE ON DECCA
Recording Producers: Andrew Raeburn (L’Ascension); Michael Bremner (La Nativité du Seigneur); unknown (Le Banquet celeste, Les Corps glorieux)
Balance Engineers: Kenneth Wilkinson (L’Ascension); unknown (Le Banquet celeste, Les Corps glorieux)
Recording Locations: Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, UK, 3–4 August 1962 (L’Ascension); Westminster Abbey, London, UK, 3–7 May 1965 (La Nativité du Seigneur); St. Albans Cathedral, St. Albans, UK, July 1969 (Le Banquet celeste, Les Corps glorieux)
Remastering Engineer: Craig Thompson
Original Argo LP Releases: ZRG 5339 (L’Ascension); ZRG 5447 (La Nativité du Seigneur); ZRG 633 (Le Banquet celeste, Les Corps glorieux)
‘’La Nativité’ is a work for virtuosos. In the case of the present recording we have a superlative performance by the English organist Simon Preston, playing on the great organ of Westminster Abbey. The recording deserves some kind of award; it is magnificent in all respects.’ The Musical Quarterly, April 1967
‘The great strength of Simon Preston’s performance lies in his control of the slow movements … With the additional benefits of good recording quality and a sensitive performance of the early ‘Le Banquet celeste’ (1928) it is a record which I would not hesitate to recommend.’ Musical Times, February 1971 (Les corps glorieux)