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SIG 084
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SIG 084

Royal Albert Hall: Organ Restored

The Classical Shop
release date: May 2007

Recorded in 24 Bit / 48Khz
album available as a Studio Master
Originally recorded in 2007


Simon Preston


Royal Albert Hall, London

23 to 25 Mar 2006


Adrian Peacock


Mike Hatch & Andrew Mellor

Record Label



Total Time - 74:24
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(arr. Best)

Overture to the Oratorio 'St Paul', Op.36




Six Fugues on B-A-C-H, Op 60

2 I Langsam 5:03
3 II Lebhaft 5:25
4 III Mit sanften Stimmen 3:39
5 IV Mäßig, doch nicht zu langsam 4:21
6 V Lebhaft 2:43
7 VI Mäßig, nach und nach schneller 6:34



Free Fantasia on 'O Zion, Haste' and 'How Firm a Foundation'




The Brothers Gershwin




Valse Mignonne, Op 142, No 2




Sonata Eroica, Op 94

  Simon Preston

Since the Royal Albert Hall organ was inaugurated by W.T.Best, the most famous performer of his day, in the presence of Queen Victoria on the 29th March 1871, it seems appropriate to begin this programme with one of Best’s own organ transcriptions: the Overture to Mendelssohn’s Oratorio St. Paul. Mendelssohn’s own performances of Bach on the organ in St. Paul’s Cathedral and elsewhere during the 1830s had been wildly acclaimed by the crowds who came to hear him and Best took full advantage of the enormous surge in interest in performances of music arranged for the organ. After the Mendelssohn Overture it is but a short step to the symphonic nature of Schumann’s Six Fugues on the name B-A-C-H, to which the wide dynamic range and sonic possibilities of the Albert Hall organ are ideally matched.

In the Bolcom Fantasia, the composer fuses a modern compositional idiom with two Southern Spirituals, breathing new life into both forms with shattering effect; in a way the same thing has happened to the Albert Hall organ, and with modern blowers for the bellows taking the place of the original steam engines of 1871, it certainly has enough wind now to cope with most contingencies - as you will hear.

In America the traditions of theatre organ playing are still kept very much alive. As a child I remember playing two very old records over and over again on a wind-up portable gramophone - the sort that had wooden needles which you had to keep sharpening.

The first was George Thalben-Ball playing The Ride of the Valkyries on the Alexandra Palace organ, and the other - equally favourite - was Quentin MacLean playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on the organ in the Odeon Marble Arch. At the age of five I could not work out how Quentin MacLean did the opening glissando in Rhapsody in Blue; apparently he used the Siren stop - useful for Cops and Robbers chases in the silent movies - switched the organ on and, when the wind went into the bellows, it produced this very smooth glissando up to the top E flat!

Joseph Jongen and Siegfrid Karg-Elert were near contemporaries, and although generally regarded as organ composers, both were prolific in other forms: symphonic music, choral and chamber music and even opera. Jongen’s music is most fastidiously composed and the architectural shape and grandeur of the Sonata Eroïca is in wonderful contrast to the quite unexpected delicacy of Karg-Elert’s Valse Mignonne; here the extremely discerning listener may pick up some unexpected sounds of the gentler percussion stops on the enclosed Solo division of the Albert Hall organ.

Simon Preston, 2006

                              Performance ****    -   Sound ****

"The Royal Albert Hall has the biggest and most impressive of Britain’s ’town hall’ organs, and has recently been refurbished. In a tour de force of programming, one hears most of its myriad colour combinations on this disc. Though Preston sometimes gets into a motoric mode that you could set your watch by, it is this technical rat-tat-tat that draws many to his playing (viz the second of Schumann’s fugues). Rhythmic drive has always been fundamental to his brand, but the sheer force of gesture and manipulation of tone colour are the winning qualities for me. The pacing of the Schumann fugues, building up to the final ones impressive climax, is masterly (it would be churlish to quibble about the rather podgy registration of the fifth), And the Bolcom Free Fantasia (a piece hitherto unknown to me that makes a ’darkness to light’ journey through ever diminishing levels of dissonance) is treated as an exercise in clarity of colour and line. If the Jongen Sonata Eroica is a piece that should have been drowned at birth, it is nevertheless well performed. The organ sounds wonderful, with all the shimmer and shudder that a High Victorian organ should have. Difficult to capture, but Signum has done a pretty good job."

William Whitehead

BBC Music Magazine - August 2006

"The mighty beast that is the Royal Albert Hall’s organ was silenced a few years ago. It had begun to wheeze and show its age in other ways, so was subjected to a thorough overhaul, but it was spectacuarly back in action for the 2004 BBC Proms. Now Simon Preston has devised this magnificent programme of music, magnificently played and impressivley recorded, that suits the instrument’s ample dimensions ideally. Not that it is incapable of softer hues, as Preston shows in some of the more subdued sections of Schumann’s Six Fugues on BACH and in the delicacies of the Valse mignonne by Sigfrid Karg-Elert. But it is essentially a Victorian organ, designed to fill a vast auditorium; its lung capacity is formidable, and its full roar is fearsome. Joseph Jongen’s Sonata eroïca is thus given a performance that lives up to its title with epic aplomb. But equally the organ’s range of colour is explored in a fantasia by William Bolcom, and it gamely lets its hair down for Howard Cable’s The Brothers Gershwin. Preston tames the beast, but allows it to roam on a long leash."

Geoffrey Norris

The Sunday Telegraph - 25 June 2006

"About £1.7m has been spent on refurbishing this illustrious instrument, and it sounds wonderful in Preston’s performances of a repertoire designed to show off its versatility. He begins with a spectacular arrangement of the overture to Mendelssohn’s St Paul by WT Best, who inaugurated the organ in1871, and proceeds to Schumann’s Six Fugues on B-A-C-H, a powerful, substantial half hour. Modern music is represented by William Bolcom’s Fantasia on two spirituals, and the range extends to the theatre-organ style of The Brothers Gershwin, Howard Cable’s arrangement of familiar tunes. Karg-Elert’s Valse Mignonne is in a similar vein, though Joseph Jongen’s Sonatas Eroïca is most definitely serious."  ***

Paul Driver

The Sunday Times - 25 June 2006

"...for Preston’s playing alone this disc is an absolute must have."

Marc Rochester

International Record Review - September 2006

D Glyn-Jones