If I am not mistaken the English keyboard music of the post-baroque
era is mostly neglected. The most frequently played pieces from
that period are probably the sonatas by Thomas Augustine Arne.
Single pieces by James Nares have been recorded in the past -
for instance some of his Voluntaries - but this is the first disc
devoted to his keyboard music.
Nares was a chorister in the Chapel Royal and studied under Christoph
Pepusch. At the age of 20 he was appointed as organist in York
Minster. There he stayed until 1756, when he returned to the
Chapel Royal as one of the organists and composers. One year
later he became Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal,
a position he held until 1780.
Considering his activities it is not surprising that his oeuvre consists
in the main of liturgical and keyboard music. In the latter
category he wrote thirteen Voluntaries for organ or harpsichord,
and three collections of 'Lessons' (the common word for 'suites'),
the last of which has been lost.
On this disc Julian Perkins presents the first collection of 'Eight
Setts of Lessons for the Harpsichord' which was printed in 1747.
That Nares was a composer of considerable reputation is demonstrated
by the fact that colleagues such as Handel, Boyce and Arne were
among the subscribers to this publication. This and the quality
of the music on this disc make the judgement of Watkins Shaw
in New Grove that Nares had a "pleasant if slender talent
for composition" less than credible.
In the Setts on this disc there are plenty of movements which catch
the ear. What makes these compositions especially interesting
is the wandering between the baroque and the up-and-coming classical
styles. Sometimes these are apparent within one Sett. A good
example is Sett No. 3, which begins with a fugue which is followed
by a largo and presto, all very much baroque in style, only
to end with a more classical 'gavot'. The most striking movement
is the larghetto of the Sett No. 5 which contains a kind of
harmonic journey, going from A through keys like B flat, G flat,
b minor, A flat and c sharp minor back to A. Another interesting
Sett is the last, which is strongly influenced by the sonatas
by Domenico Scarlatti, in particular the first movement (allegro).
No wonder Julian Perkins in his programme notes considers Nares
a representative of what he calls the 'Anglo-Scarlatti style'.
As a kind of contrast Perkins plays a suite by Handel, which consists
of the usual movements of the baroque suite: allemande, courante,
sarabande and gigue. Nares' Setts, on the other hand, almost
completely break away from this traditional pattern. Only three
Setts consist of dances only, whereas the others have either
just one dance to close the Sett, or three movements in the
manner of an Italian concerto.
This repertoire is well worth investigating but the same is true of
the harpsichords used here. Both Kirckman and Shudi were of
continental origin, but developed into the main builders of
keyboard instruments in England. Both instruments reflect attempts
to adapt the harpsichord to the growing demand for more dynamic
possibilities. Both have pedals which allow some stops to be
put into or out of action. These possibilities are used effectively
here, for instance in the opening allegro of Sett No. 2.
Julian Perkins deserves nothing but praise for this undertaking. There
is much complaining about the demise of the classical recording
industry. One of the main reasons is the continuous release
of the same repertoire. With enterprising musicians like Julian
Perkins one need not fear: it is this kind of creativity which
keeps the recording industry alive. It shows there is still
a lot to be (re)discovered, and it also shows one shouldn't
always believe those musicologists who tell us that what has
been buried under the dust of history should stay there because
of a lack of quality. In addition Julian Perkins plays very
well: imaginative, with great rhythmic precision and fine and
Perkins has done us a great favour by recording these fine Lessons
by James Nares, by playing them so beautifully and by using
these two splendid harpsichords.
Johan van Veen