Thomas Linley junior died in 1778 at the age of 22, one of the
great might-have-beens of English musical history. Son of Thomas
Linley senior, harpsichordist, composer and musical director of
the Drury Lane Theatre, Thomas junior studied with William Boyce
and with Nardini in Italy where he met Mozart, his exact contemporary.
His surviving output
includes some extremely confident pieces which display a knowledge
not only of the contemporary galant style of London resident
Johann Christian Bach but also the older styles of predecessors
This recording from
Peter Holman, the Parley of Instruments and the Holst Choir
has been re-issued on Hyperion’s mid-price Helios label, thus
ensuring that two of Linley’s best surviving works are available
to all who might be tempted to explore.
And the pieces most
definitely are worth exploring. Influenced by the prevailing
English tendency to mix old and new, Linley crafted a pair of
works which fluently move between galant solos and well
wrought Handelian choruses. Linley, or his mentors, seems to
have realised that the prevailing galant style was not
entirely conducive to large-scale, interesting choruses. This
was something that Mozart came to realise later in his career,
partly thanks to his contact with Handel’s works when he was
Admittedly the choruses
do give Linley’s work as slightly antique quality, and this
not helped by the fact that solos are not entirely up to date
when it comes to the Viennese school of the time. But that is
to split hairs, what we have here are a pair of charming, well
written and fluently structured pieces which give testimony
to the possibilities which his contemporaries saw in Linley.
In both pieces,
The Song of Moses and Let God Arise, it is the
confidence with which Linley handles his material that impresses.
The pieces move smoothly and easily between chorus, solo passages
and full blown solos, well structured so as to create a large-scale
whole in a way which Handel would have appreciated.
The Song of Moses
is the later and weightier work - in fact it is his final
work. It is unfortunate that Linley was lumbered with such a
poor libretto, one which duplicates the action of part 3 of
Handel’s Israel in Egypt. But even Handel had difficulty
finding decent English librettos and whatever dramatic opportunities
that the librettist gives, Linley seizes eagerly.
The solos and duets
are elaborate, calling for soloists of some stature; they seem
to be quite close to mid-18th century operatic models
and rather further from the simpler airs which Handel tended
to write in his oratorios. We must presume that Linley’s father
must have had some good soloists to hand at Drury Lane.
On this disc sopranos
Sophie Daneman and Julia Gooding cope admirably and fluently
with the elaborate soprano writing, though Gooding does have
a few moments when the high soprano part seems to give her pause.
Bass Andrew Dale Forbes is entirely confident in his smaller
solo passages but it is unfortunate that his single aria, Mong
the Gods by men adored, seems to be rather too low for him.
Tenor Andrew King has only short solo moments in the opening
chorus, which leads me to presume that the role was intended
for a chorus leader.
Let God Arise
was written for the 1773 Three Choirs Festival and is a confident
exercise in the orchestra anthem in the style of Handel and
Boyce. The solo moments are relatively short and the whole,
solos and choruses, combine into a very satisfactorily build
For those that are
curious, Robin Blaze’s name is on the cast list because he contributes
a short alto solo to the chorus Magnify Him in Let
In both pieces the
Holst Singers contribute greatly, making a strong case for Linley’s
fine choral writing. Peter Holman and the Parley of Instruments
provide sterling instrumental support and some nice solo moments.
The CD booklet includes
Peter Holman’s article from the original 1998 issue, along with
the English words for both pieces.
This is music which
deserves to be better known, it certainly stands up to other contemporary
pieces, and these confident performances are an ideal introduction
to piece of lost history.