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