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Richard JONES (?-1744)
Suites for the Harpsichord (1732)
First Suite in d minor [18:51]
Third Suite in B flat [20:26]
Fifth Suite in b minor [29:49]
Judit Péteri (harpsichord)
rec. 17–22 June 2006, Hungaroton Studio, Hungary
HUNGAROTON HCD 32454 [69:18]

 


Being an English composer in the first half of the 18th century can't have been easy. The German-born, Italian-bred Handel was a dominant figure and much in demand as composer of music for state and royalty. On top of that England was the favourite country of many other composers from the European continent; Francesco Geminiani and Attilio Ariosti, to mention just two. Overshadowed by these immigrants it is not surprising that many have sunk into oblivion.

Richard Jones is one of the composers from that time. He is almost forgotten. Educated as a violinist, in about 1730 he was appointed leader of the orchestra of the Drury Lane theatre. A masque, possibly by Jones, was performed there in 1723. Unfortunately the music has been lost as have the performing materials for most of his other theatre compositions. His surviving oeuvre includes two collections with pieces for violin and bc, a solo cantata, some fragments from his theatre music in arrangements for keyboard and the 6 'Suites or Setts of Lessons' for harpsichord from 1732. Three of these have been recorded by Hungarian harpsichordist, Judit Péteri.

It is some measure evidence of the neglect into which English composers of Handel's time have been sunk that these suites have not been recorded before. Their neglect has nothing to do with their quality. These suites are striking in their originality, both in structure and musical ideas.

"If we had to characterise the suites of Jones in a single word, perhaps it would have to be that they are strikingly irregular", Judit Péteri writes in the booklet. There she hits the nail on the head. In comparison to the established pattern of the keyboard suite, the way Jones has structured his suites is most remarkable. The suite usually contained a sequence of allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. To these four other dances could be added, either in between them or after the gigue. Jones changes the order quite often: in the fifth suite an allemande is followed by a gigue, then a sarabande and after a bourrée a second sarabande is included. Jones also includes movements one wouldn't expect in a keyboard suite, like a vivace and two toccatas in the First Suite, an allegro and a largo in the Third Suite and a vivace in the Fifth Suite.

All three suites played here start with a prelude, but they are very different in length and character. The prelude of the first suite is exactly what its name suggests. It is rather short - less than two minutes. But the prelude of the Third Suite takes more than seven minutes; about a third of the whole suite. It is in four sections, and has the character of a toccata. In its structure it reminds me of Johann Sebastian Bach's harpsichord toccatas. There is another movement which makes one think of Bach: the second toccata from the First Suite is a kind of concerto movement, which seems a transcription of a movement from a violin concerto. At the end there is a passage which has the traits of a violin solo. Here a piece like Bach's organ transcription of Vivaldi's violin concerto 'Il grosso Mogul' comes to mind.

There are many melodious surprises, and some sections - in particular the preludes, but also the corrente of the Fifth Suite - contain harmonic surprises too. In general these suites are strongly Italian in character and some movements are quite dramatic. There is also evidence that Jones was a violinist by profession, as some passages show violinistic traits.

One can be thankful to Péteri for having the courage to record three suites by this almost totally forgotten English composer. She is a pupil of János Sebestyén, studied with Jos Van Immerseel and followed masterclasses with Kenneth Gilbert. Here she shows herself an accomplished keyboard player who gives a very fine account of the suites. The surprising and contrasting features of this music are clearly outlined in her interpretations. She uses a beautiful instrument by William Dowd after Flemish models. The use of a real English harpsichord would have further increased the importance of this release, but that is only a minor issue.

Music of quality, finely performed. It should appeal strongly to adventurous music-lovers who like to expand their musical horizon.

Johan van Veen

 

 


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