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Thomas LINLEY, The Younger (1756-1778)
A lyric ode on the Fairies, Aerial Beings and Witches of Shakespeare ‘The Shakespeare Ode’ (1776): (Overture: Andante — Allegro [5:58]; Minuetto [1:55|; PART I: O guardian of that sacred land [4:27]; Tis thine alone [1:00]; Come then, O Fancy, bend thy bow [2:24]; At Shakespeare's happy birth [1:20]; And now is come the fated hour [1:59]; Be Shakespeare born! [2:13]; So spake the god [0:26]; There in old Arden's inmost shade [3:09]; And as before his purged eyes [0:24]; Thy hand his youthful footsteps led [3:50]; Some drive the clam'rous owl away [1:59]; Some drive the clam'rous owl away [2:48]; PART 2: But oh! what sudden gloom [1:42]; By the pale light of yon blue fire [0:37]; See, through the glimmering darkness [0:18]; What howling whirlwinds rend the sky! [1:48]; For whom, at yonder livid flame [1:13]; Whither ye beldames do ye roam? [4:03]; The tempests cease [3:14]; No more the elves, with printless pace [0:30]; Ariel, who sees thee now? [3:59]; No more shalt thou upon the sharp north run [0:24]; For who can wield like Shakespeare's skilful hand? [4:52]; Yet, Fancy, once again on Britain smile [3:20]
Julia Gooding and Lorna Anderson (sopranos); Richard Wistreich (bass);
The Parley of Instruments Baroque Orchestra and Choir/Peter Holman; Paul Nicholson
rec. 25-27 March 1992, St Paul’s Church, New Southgate, London. DDD
Originally issued on Hyperion CDA66613
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55253 [60:03]

 

In his review of the original release of this recording in 1993, Stanley Sadie commented in the Gramophone that this is "Very enjoyable, unpretentious music: a disc well worth trying." This quotation from his review is on the back cover of this re-issued CD. The disc went on to win the Gramophone Editor’s Choice. Sadie’s review, however, was otherwise somewhat condescending and he commented that "this is minor music of the age of Haydn and Mozart, decidedly conservative and (let us admit) provincial in idiom; and, of course, it hardly begins to rise to the scale of its subject — how indeed could it?" Damning with faint praise? As Grove informs us, Linley "was one of the most precocious composers and performers that have been known in England. He gave evidence of exceptional musical ability at a very early age and was soon studying music with his father. He played a concerto at a concert in Bristol on 29 July 1763, when aged just 7". Born in the same year as Mozart, the Ode was written in 1776 when he was only 20 and shows a remarkable technical and compositional assurance reflecting a transition in style from Purcell via Handel and Boyce through to Arne. With great misfortune for English music he died the following year in a boating accident at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire – "one of the greatest losses that English music has suffered" (Grove). The 1824 edition of A Dictionary of Musicians, writing about this very ode, went so far as to state "Neither Purcell nor Mozart ever gave stronger proof of original genius than could be traced in this charming ode".

This "Shakespeare Ode" contains exquisite and tuneful music, always fresh and original, which, as the Dictionary of Musicians pointed out "keeps the attention alive from the first bar of the overture to the close of the ode". Listen, for instance to the solo soprano aria "Come, then O fancy" or the duet for two sopranos "For who can wield like Shakespeare’s skillful hand". The choruses "O guardian of that sacred land" and "Yet fancy once again" have an assurance and grandeur which belies the age of the composer. Yes, they do have definite echoes of Purcell and Handel, but are in no way derivative; Linley, alas, did not live long enough to develop a completely individual style. The performance is exemplary and it is wonderful to have the re-issue at mid-price. A masterful composition brought to life in a masterful performance!

So, I would agree with the view that this is very enjoyable music but not that it is any way minor or unpretentious. Mozart may have been right when he told Michael Kelly in 1784, six years after Linley’s death, that Linley was …. "a true genius and had he lived he would have been one of the greatest ornaments of the musical world". Highly recommended!

Em Marshall

 



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