Organist, conductor, composer and choir master, Simon Preston, was — and is — admired as one of the most important musicians of his generation, who with unstinting energy and an insatiable demand for high standards, reinvigorated the English choral tradition setting unprecedented standards of excellence. “During a singularly distinguish career he established himself not only as one of the great organists of the 20th century, but also as one of the most illustrious musicians in the history of English cathedral music,” wrote musician and writer Mark Buxton when he interviewed Simon on the occasion of his 50th birthday.
He joined the hallowed choir of King’s College, Cambridge, at age 11 under Boris Ord, and would later take up the position of organ scholar at King’s as an undergraduate in 1958 under Sir David Willcocks. Willcocks was a huge influence, with his meticulous and rigorous approach to practice and insistence on perfection in performance which can be seen throughout Preston’s career.
When he took his first post at Westminster Abbey, in 1962, he was said to be the youngest organist at the royal church since Henry Purcell, three centuries earlier. After a briefly covering for Peter Hurford as Master of the Music at St. Albans Cathedral in 1968, he took charge of the choir at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford in 1970; he also lectured at the university. He brought out a fervent, firm tone and an impressive agility in the choir of Christ Church —just as he would when he later returned to Westminster Abbey, before concentrating on a career as an international concert and recording artist.
When he arrived at Christ Church, Preston was very much the “new broom”. His intelligence and erudition as a scholar together with his innate superhuman energy re-vitalised the choir with a verve not often apparent in the genteel world of English cathedral music and it was not long before there was an ambition to make recordings, the first of which was of Walton’s music. With a judicious choice of repertory, the subsequent discs garnered excellent reviews and the cathedral choir began to be recognised as one of the finest collegiate choirs.
Together they set down acclaimed accounts — often with the period instrument specialists of the English Concert and the Academy of Ancient Music — of composers from Haydn back to Handel and Purcell, and beyond to Lassus and Palestrina. The discs in this set — their complete recordings on the Argo and L’Oiseau-Lyre labels — are testimony to Preston’s remarkable achievements there.
• Collected here in one edition are the complete Argo and L’Oiseau-Lyre recordings of Simon Preston conducting the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
• 19 CDs in original jackets
• Highlights include acclaimed accounts of composers from Haydn back to Handel and Purcell, and beyond to Lassus and Palestrina
• The recordings are accompanied by a 32pp book with new notes by conductor, choirmaster and composer Ronald Corp, who was a chorister under Preston
• Two-piece rigid lift-off lid box