Thurston Dart (1921-1971) was one of the liveliest
characters on the post-war English music scene. As an academic and performer
he influenced and stimulated much of the work done in that period in
the field of baroque and pre-classical music. He collaborated with a
great number of artists who went on to enjoy highly successful careers
in the years after his untimely death and so his influence can truly
be said to have endured long after him.
Even today many recordings are still available on which
he appears as the player of the keyboard continuo. However, his representation
in the catalogue as a solo artist is pretty scant so his admirers will
wish to have this issue, as will those collectors to whom the repertoire
The recordings were originally issued by EMI and were
supervised by a distinguished team: Peter Andry (producer) and Neville
Boyling (engineer). Long deleted in LP form, they have now been made
available in CD format through the enterprise of J. Martin Stafford,
an aficionado who has proved both willing and able to do something to
share his enthusiasm for Dart with others.
The well-produced booklet includes an appreciation
of the artist by Stafford himself. There are also notes on all the four
organs used, accompanied by specifications of each instrument and photographs
of all of them. My only complaint is the lack of notes about the music
itself (just who was James Nares?)
It would be impertinent to describe the performances
when there is such an accurate and succinct comment on them by Stafford.
Dartís playing, he writes, "has a rhythmic zest about it (largely
due to properly articulated phrasing) that makes even the less interesting
pieces enjoyable to listen to." Quite so. As Stafford implies,
there are few, if any, musical masterpieces in this collection and I
certainly wouldnít recommend listening to the disc straight through.
However, Dartís playing is consistently lively and interesting.
Inevitably, the modest size and resources of the respective
organs limits the variety of tonal colour at Dartís disposal. It is
the contrasting sound of the various instruments themselves which is
fascinating: even in Dartís expert hands, the recital would have been
much less interesting had he restricted himself to one organ only. As
it is the four organs featured here are roughly contemporaneous with
the music which Dart plays on them. There is a particularly intimate
quality to the Staunton Harold instrument and the music which Dart chose
to perform on it seems entirely apposite; but then throughout the whole
programme the music and instruments complement each other very well
The recordings themselves, though over forty years
old, still sound well. This issue will probably be mainly of specialist
appeal but it is an excellent tribute to a fine musician and J Martin
Stafford is to be congratulated warmly on making these recordings available
to a new audience.