Another illusion bites the dust; no longer can I think of Pachelbel
or Croft as one-work composers. Pachelbel wrote much more than
his (in)famous ‘Greatest Hit’, the Canon and Fugue, but
until recently I’d heard only one or two chamber works in addition.
That was until I came across a recording of two of his cantatas,
a motet and some instrumental pieces on Ricercar RC255 - see review
in my December, 2008, Download Roundup.
Colin Booth’s recording of the keyboard music of
Peter Philips (Peter Philips the English Exile, Soundboard
SBCD992) had already reminded me of the keyboard works of a
composer better known today for his vocal and choral works.
I must confess that I hadn’t heard anything by William Croft
apart from his church music, especially his setting of the Burial
Service, a recording of which by King’s College Choir at
one time seemed likely to attain almost the same status as their
version of Allegri’s Miserere, made at about the same
That Argo recording of the Burial Service
is no longer available, though there is a fine budget-price
Hyperion Helios replacement, coupled with his Te Deum
and Jubilate (St Paul’s Cathedral Choir; Parley of Instruments/John
Scott on CDH55252 – see Johan van Veen’s review)
and a further, equally recommendable, CD of his Select Anthems
(New College Choir/Edward Higginbottom, on CRD3491, which I
plan to review in my February, 2009, Download Roundup).
The present recording of Croft’s keyboard music
comes courtesy of its begetter, Colin Booth, maker of and performer
on harpsichords and other keyboard instruments, here performing
on one of his own creations. I recently reviewed and recommended
a CDklassik recording on which he and Jette Rosendal play music
from around the Restoration period: Restoration – Treasures
of the English Baroque, CDK1002 – see review.
This included four keyboard pieces by Croft, whose acquaintance
I was pleased to meet, especially in Booth’s performances.
I added then the proviso “even if all his music does clearly
mark him as a pupil of Blow and associate of Purcell”. That
applies to a large extent to the music on SBCD991.
Assuming, correctly, from the review that I knew
little of Croft’s keyboard music, Colin Booth kindly sent me
this earlier recording and I am pleased that he did so. I expected
a somewhat unvaried style of writing, but I was pleasantly surprised
at the variety of moods on offer here. Of course, the harpsichord
is not noted for variety of tone, unless it be one of the monster
instruments with multiple keyboards and stops which used to
masquerade in that role in the hands of Wanda Landowska and
Rafael Puyana and others. For more detail see my review
of Peter Watchorn’s book on Isolde Ahlgrimm for her part in
changing perceptions. The notes for the present disc make intriguing
mention of the existence of such ‘improvements’ on some late
17th-century instruments. This is just the kind of
side-alley which I can’t resist investigating. I’m pleased that
no-one is now likely to hanker after them.
It must help, however, to be playing an instrument
which you have made yourself. Booth certainly knows his way
around this harpsichord, a two-manual instrument with a buff
stop, and largely contrives to make the listener forget its
limitations. The transition from the small speaking voice of
the end of the Suite in d (track 19) to the opening of the Trumpet
Overture (track 20) offers about as great a contrast as could
be achieved. Though it might have been an idea to have varied
the tone even more by employing a chamber organ, I readily admit
that the logistics of getting even a small organ to the same
venue would have been immense.
The buff stop is used to excellent effect in the
saraband on track 26; a saraband is not usually
regarded as the place for a little light humour, but this is
hardly of the usual (French) stately variety – more in keeping
with Thomas Mace’s description of this dance, cited in the Oxford
Companion to Music, as ‘more toyish and light than corantes’
and the use of the buff stop works well here. I note with interest,
too, the spelling sarabrand here and in the Suite in
d minor – I’m easily side-tracked down philological paths, too.
I was more than happy with the performances throughout
this recording. If I, occasionally noticed the problems of
rhythm and articulation to which one reviewer referred when
the CD was first released, they certainly did not greatly trouble
me. If you thought that minor keys had to be gloomy, without
exception, Booth’s rendition of some of the movements of the
c-minor Suite (trs. 4-11) will disabuse you.
The recording is good – just a shade too close
to be ideal, but this by no means spoiled my enjoyment of the
playing. The presentation, too, is good, with biographical
details (though not the date of Croft’s birth) and annotation
for the music, the instrument and the performer. The latter
includes the information that Colin Booth received the MRA Award
of Early Music Instrumentalist of the Year, 1996 – a
well-deserved accolade on the evidence of this and the other
two CDs which I have heard. The lack of track timings left
me grumbling about the unwelcome task of working them out to
calculate the length of each Suite. Otherwise, every aspect
of the presentation is thoroughly professional.
There is a rival complete set of Croft’s keyboard
music on the Ismeron label by Julian Rhodes and produced by
Martin Stafford – a ‘man with a mission’ to quote Kirk McElhearn’s
That recording is still available, though the hyperlink in KE’s
review is no longer active, since CompuServe closed in October,
2008 - clicking here
should get you to where you want. Otherwise, the odd piece
is available elsewhere – the Suite in G, for example, on a Trevor
Pinnock recital at the V&A, CRD3307. If you’re a completist,
you’ll want the Ismeron discs, but the single Soundboard CD
would be sufficient for me, together with the items on the Restoration
CD. In fact, I’d recommend starting with Restoration,
progressing to the Helios CD of the Burial Service and/or
the CRD collection of anthems, then purchasing the Soundboard
recording for £9.99.
Some aspects of the arts of late-17th
and early-18th-century England continue to elude me
– notably the Restoration Drama and the ‘poetry’ of Pope – but
the keyboard music of the period is no longer one of those aspects.
This CD has contributed – and it makes me hope to review Colin
Booth’s recording of Purcell, The English Orpheus, next.