This is a fascinating
CD. I would go as far as to say that, for me, it is the biggest
eye-opener of the year so far. Big words for
a programme of unknown works by unknown
composers? Not so. This is top-rated entertainment. They
may not be masterpieces, but each and every work on this CD
is a little, or not so little, gem. They prove once again that
somewhere in the world there is an Aladdin’s Cave full of attractive
music that just waits to be discovered.
look at the list of composers above tells us that probably not
a lot is known about any of them. I doubt that there are any
biographies or web sites devoted to their lives and works. With
Messrs. Newman and Brown the only dates known are when they
of these composers hailed from England
or continental Europe and decided to
make their home in the USA.
William Selby had been an organist in London
until he went to New England in the 1771.
Alexander Reinagle was born in Portsmouth
and shipped to the States in 1792. Moller
was of German origin, but first came to light in London
before arriving in New York
around 1790. Victor Pelissier was
born in Paris before
turning up in orchestra pits of theatres in New
York and Philadelphia.
James Hewitt was born on Dartmoor
– probably not the prison – and had a successful career in London
before accepting a post as organist of Trinity
Church in New
York. Benjamin Carr was pupil of Samuel
Wesley before becoming something of a musical celebrity
is this music like? It is hard to describe in a few words –
but what I can say is that the selection varies from fairly
profound to fun; from the lighthearted to as good as some of
Handel’s keyboard suites.
a favourite. Not every piece of music that
attaches to itself a ‘Scottish’ soubriquet appeals to my ‘north
of the border’ sensibility. In fact the ‘Star
o’ Rabbie Burns’ type of musical
offering does not make me particularly proud of my Caledonian
musical heritage. Yet there was a time in the late eighteenth
and early nineteenth century when Scottish style was chic. This
movement was led largely by the great Sir Walter Scott; composers
and other writers began to produce what they imagined to be
Scottish songs. What they achieved was often pastiche. Yet the
work on this disc by Alexander Reinagle
is not second rate. Lee
Rigg, a Scots Tune with three variations and Gigg’ is one of the finest Scottish pieces written by
anyone, Scots or otherwise. It is full of life, fun, melancholy
and love. To my mind only Sir Malcolm Arnold’s ‘Scottish
Dances’ excel this ‘Sassenach’ effort.
to this for sheer pleasure, fun and enjoyment is James Hewitt’s
‘Yankee Doodle Dandy Variations’.
I could listen to this work over and again. It is just so good!
I accept that it does not have the sort of subtlety you would
get from a Haydn or a Beethoven or a Mozart. However it is pure
and adulterated fun! And the keyboard technique is not simplistic
work is also by James Hewitt. The
Battle of Trenton is similar to many pieces that were composed
during the nineteenth century: pure programme music. I cannot claim to be impressed with this
kind of music where detailed descriptions of ‘Cannons, Trumpets
sounding the Charge and The Hessians begging quarter’ are musically
depicted. But just listen to the music; see it as a kind of
rhapsodic variations and enjoy the sound. Mentally try to dump
–although his can be a wee bit hard as the Baumont
gives a spoken running commentary as he plays-in line with contemporary
practice. Apparently it was a fad of an earlier age.
Yet, on the other hand it does goes us a good insight into what
was once a very common and popular genre –and this is an important
musical lesson in taste for those of us who tend to musical
are a number of interesting and competent ‘absolute’ musical
works on this disc to. For example the Rondo III by William Brown has one of those
main themes that appears to be well known but which one cannot
quite place. Mr. Newman’s Sonata
III in D major is a fine example of the genre – almost more
interesting than a number of better know works by Handel! The
same can be said if the Sonata VI by Benjamin Carr.
Sinfonia in Eb by John Christopher Moller is interesting for its almost
‘Lurch of the Adams Family’ style opening. Further movements
of this work exhibit a very ‘lute-y’ sound from the harpsichord
which is quite lovely. Variations on the Maid of Lodi by Benjamin
Carr and the Voluntary
VIII by William Selby provide attractive insights to the
music of the period.
the Three Hornpipes by Victor Pelissier deserve special mention for their Purcellian charm, freshened by a kind of nautical sea breeze.
notes for this CD are written by Olivier Baumont
and are extremely helpful, bearing in mind the general lack
of information this period of music. The harpsichord chosen
for this recording, by Jacques Goermans, Paris
1774, adds to the wonderful sound quality if the disc.
sounds absolutely convincing. Even the programme
music by Hewitt is taken seriously. This is a fine example of
little known music being given the best possible chance in life
by a committed player. Many of these pieces will probably never
be recorded again, although some of them deserve to become favourites. It is fantastic
to have this glimpse into the musical life of the United
States at the turn of the nineteenth
century. It is an era that probably few music lovers have ever