From 1962 (when he made his Royal Festival Hall debut) to 1967 and again from 1981 to 1987, Simon Preston held posts at Westminster Abbey, initially as sub-organist then as organist and master of the choristers. These recordings were made during that first period: signing off the compilation in style, Widor’s ‘Toccata’ was in fact first to be recorded, in June 1963, as the voluntary within a recording of Evensong for the ‘feast of the translation of Saint Edward, King and Martyr’, commonly known a Edward the Confessor at whose command the Abbey was built and consecrated in 1065.
The Abbey’s organ is a rather more recent construction, built by Harrison & Harrison, installed in time for the Coronation of King George VI in 1937 and thus still in fine working order when Preston made these recordings. On two days in February 1964, he recorded the Schübler chorales of Bach and the two works written by Mozart in his last year of life for a mechanical clock, imposing out of all scale to their commissioned instrument but perfectly apt for their original, macabre purpose as funerary music to accompany the display of a life-size wax figure of a recently deceased Austrian general.
The music on CD2 demonstrates the extraordinary versatility of the organ, with repertoire that ranges from popular hits – what could be more familiar than ‘The Prince of Denmark’s March’ or the Pilgrims’ Chorus from ‘Tannhäuser’? – to such largely neglected inspirations as Schumann’s Study No. 5.
The album is one of five released by Eloquence, newly remastered and in unique compilations. They also include Preston’s complete recordings of Messiaen (482 4917), Romantic organ music (482 4941) by Brahms, Liszt and Reger, and 20th-century organ music (482 4925) by Elgar, Hindemith and Maxwell Davies and an organ spectacular featuring the Variations on America (482 8101) of Charles Ives.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Six Schübler Chorale Preludes
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Orgelstück (Fantasia) für eine Uhr in F minor, KV 608
Adagio and Allegro in F minor, KV 594
WILLIAM WALTON: Crown Imperial – A Coronation March (arr. Herbert Murill)
JEREMIAH CLARKE: The Prince of Denmark’s March (arr. Simon Preston)
GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL: Dead March (from Saul, HWV 53) (arr. F. Cunningham Woods)
JEREMIAH CLARKE: Trumpet Tune (attributed to Purcell) (arr. C.H. Trevor)
EDWARD ELGAR: Imperial March, Op. 32 (arr. George C. Martin)
LOUIS VIERNE: Final (from Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 14 for Organ)
RICHARD WAGNER: Pilgrims’ Chorus (from Tannhäuser) (arr. Lemare)
ALEXANDRE GUILMANT: March on a theme of Handel, Op. 15
ROBERT SCHUMANN: Study No. 5 (from Six studies for pedal piano, Op. 56) (arr. John E. West)
KARG-ELERT Marche Triomphale: Nun danket alle Gott, Op. 65
CHARLES MARIE WIDOR: Toccata (Allegro) (from Symphony No. 5 in F minor, Op. 42 No. 1 for Organ)
Simon Preston, organ
Organ of Westminster Abbey
Recording Producers: Andrew Raeburn (Bach, Mozart, Widor); Michael Bremner (Walton, Clarke, Handel, Elgar, Vierne, Wagner, Guilmant, Schumann, Karg-Elert)
Recording Location: Westminster Abbey, London, UK, June 1963 (Widor), 24 & 27 February 1964 (Bach, Mozart), 3–7 May 1965 (Walton, Clarke, Handel, Elgar, Vierne, Wagner, Guilmant, Schumann, Karg-Elert
Remastering Engineers: Ben Wiseman (CD1); Chris Bernauer (CD2)
Original Argo LP Releases: ZRG 5371 (Widor); ZRG 5419 (Bach, Mozart); ZRG 5448 (Walton, Clarke, Handel, Elgar, Vierne, Wagner, Guilmant, Schumann, Karg-Elert)
‘Mozart’s K608 is brisk and lively, the climaxes generously powered without mere noise. K594 cheerfully accepts much less, with its Handelian sweep neatly projected in a small-scale performance.’ Musical Times, March 1965
‘The two marches by Guilmant and Karg-Elert are played with equal zest and panache, with the Schumann Etude in subtly contrasted tone-colours. A disc for all seasons.’ Gramophone, November 1977