Croft is one of the lesser-known composers of the English baroque.
The worklist in New Grove shows that he composed a considerable
number of anthems, but very few have ever been recorded. Croft
had the bad luck of being 'sandwiched' between two illustrious
composers: Purcell, whose influence lasted long after his death
in 1695, and Handel, who took England by storm. The latter soon
attracted the interest of the royal family and was assigned
to write music for state and royal occasions instead of English-born
started his career as chorister in the Chapel Royal under John
Blow. In 1700 he became organist in St Anne's Church in Soho
and entered the Chapel Royal again, as Gentleman Extraordinary.
After the death of Francis Piggott he and Jeremiah Clarke shared
the post as organist. When Clarke died in 1707 Croft became
the only organist. As a composer he took over some duties from
Blow and wrote several pieces for state occasions. When Blow
died in 1708 he succeeded him as composer, Master of the Children
of the Chapel Royal and organist at Westminster Abbey. In 1713
he received a degree in music in Oxford. It was from around
1715 that Handel gradually took over the burden of writing the
music for royal and state ceremonies.
large part of Croft's oeuvre is collected in two volumes, published
in 1724 under the title 'Musica Sacra'. Although he was strongly
influenced by Purcell in his sacred music he also evinces a
distinctive musical personality. Both in the Service in D and
the anthem 'Rejoice in the Lord' the solo passages are more
independent and less integrated into the whole of the composition.
The Service in D also includes verses for two, three or four
solo voices. Croft sometimes gives the instruments a more prominent
role. 'O Lord, save thy people', from the Te Deum, for instance,
has a solo part for the oboe. These features are considered
to be signs of Croft embracing the style of the late baroque
as developed on the continent.
is a little strange that the Service in D is split into two,
with the anthem and the Burial Service in between. The latter
piece would have been most appropriate to close the disc, as
it is highly expressive and moving. It starts with a compilation
of four Biblical texts: 'I am the resurrection and the life'
(John 11), 'I know that my Redeemer liveth' (Job 19), 'We brought
nothing into this world' (1 Timothy 6) and 'The Lord hath taken'
(Job 1). Then follow three texts Purcell also used in his Funeral
Sentences for Queen Mary: 'Man that is born of a woman', 'In
the midst of life we are in death', and 'Thou knowest, Lord,
the secrets of our hearts'. For the latter text Croft included
Purcell's full setting (Z 58c), simply because he thought that
he would not be able to better Purcellís setting of the words.
Thereís no noticeable change in style here: both Croft's and
Purcell's pieces are homophonic and strongly declamatory in
character. The Burial Service ends with a setting of Revelations
14, v13: 'I heard a voice from heaven'. The conclusion is an
extended polyphonic setting of 'Amen'.
expression and emotional character of the Burial Service is
very impressively communicated by the choir, which sings the
text with great care and high intensity. Croft's composition
isn't any less moving than Purcell's, and shows that he is a
composer of great skills who deserves more attention than he
has received so far. The other works on this disc are also of
high quality, and well performed by choir, orchestra and soloists.
I wonder, though, whether some alto parts would not have been
better allocated to a high tenor; they are rather low for male
can imagine the listener needing some time to adjust to the
acoustical circumstances of this recording. St Paul's Cathedral
has a very large reverberation, which sometimes makes it difficult
to keep the text audible and the articulation clear. When I
started to listen I had the impression there had been too much
distance between the microphones and the performers, but it
seems it is all a matter of getting used to it. It certainly
didn't spoil my enjoyment, and I am sure it won't disturb yours
sum up: this reissue is most welcome as very little of Croft's
music is available on disc. His music is definitely worth listening
to. And the Burial Service alone is enough to make this disc recommendable.
Johan van Veen