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Thomas LINLEY (1756–1778)
The Song of Moses (1777) [44.13]
Let God Arise (1773) [22.12]
Julia Gooding (soprano)
Sophie Danemen (soprano)
Robin Blaze (alto)
Andrew King (tenor)
Andrew Dale Forbes (bass)
Holst Singers
The Parley of Instruments/Peter Holman
rec. St. Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 1 -3 November 1997


Experience Classicsonline

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 like Handel.

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 re-orchestrating them.

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 whole.

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 God Arise.

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.

Robert Hugill


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