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Soundboard Records


William CROFT (1678-1727)
Harpsichord Music
Suite in G [6:42]
Suite in c minor [14:31]
Suite in F [3:25]
Suite in A [4:19]
Suite in d minor [9:32]
Trumpet Overture [7:02]
Suite in e minor [7:18]
Suite in g minor [4:34]
Suite in A [4:43]
Scotch Tune (‘the Lovesick Jockey’) [1:21]
Colin Booth (harpsichord)
rec. 12 August 1998, St Alban’s Church, Bristol. DDD.
Experience Classicsonline

Another illusion bites the dust; no longer can I think of Pachelbel or Croft as one-work composers.  Pachelbel wrote much more than his (in)famous ‘Greatest Hit’, the Canon and Fugue, but until recently I’d heard only one or two chamber works in addition. That was until I came across a recording of two of his cantatas, a motet and some instrumental pieces on Ricercar RC255 - see review in my December, 2008, Download Roundup.

Colin Booth’s recording of the keyboard music of Peter Philips (Peter Philips the English Exile, Soundboard SBCD992) had already reminded me of the keyboard works of a composer better known today for his vocal and choral works. I must confess that I hadn’t heard anything by William Croft apart from his church music, especially his setting of the Burial Service, a recording of which by King’s College Choir at one time seemed likely to attain almost the same status as their version of Allegri’s Miserere, made at about the same time.

That Argo recording of the Burial Service is no longer available, though there is a fine budget-price Hyperion Helios replacement, coupled with his Te Deum and Jubilate (St Paul’s Cathedral Choir; Parley of Instruments/John Scott on CDH55252 – see Johan van Veen’s review) and a further, equally recommendable, CD of his Select Anthems (New College Choir/Edward Higginbottom, on CRD3491, which I plan to review in my February, 2009, Download Roundup). 

The present recording of Croft’s keyboard music comes courtesy of its begetter, Colin Booth, maker of and performer on harpsichords and other keyboard instruments, here performing on one of his own creations.  I recently reviewed and recommended a CDklassik recording on which he and Jette Rosendal play music from around the Restoration period: Restoration – Treasures of the English Baroque, CDK1002 – see review. This included four keyboard pieces by Croft, whose acquaintance I was pleased to meet, especially in Booth’s performances.  I added then the proviso “even if all his music does clearly mark him as a pupil of Blow and associate of Purcell”. That applies to a large extent to the music on SBCD991. 

Assuming, correctly, from the review that I knew little of Croft’s keyboard music, Colin Booth kindly sent me this earlier recording and I am pleased that he did so. I expected a somewhat unvaried style of writing, but I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of moods on offer here.  Of course, the harpsichord is not noted for variety of tone, unless it be one of the monster instruments with multiple keyboards and stops which used to masquerade in that role in the hands of Wanda Landowska and Rafael Puyana and others. For more detail see my review of Peter Watchorn’s book on Isolde Ahlgrimm for her part in changing perceptions.  The notes for the present disc make intriguing mention of the existence of such ‘improvements’ on some late 17th-century instruments. This is just the kind of side-alley which I can’t resist investigating. I’m pleased that no-one is now likely to hanker after them. 

It must help, however, to be playing an instrument which you have made yourself. Booth certainly knows his way around this harpsichord, a two-manual instrument with a buff stop, and largely contrives to make the listener forget its limitations.  The transition from the small speaking voice of the end of the Suite in d (track 19) to the opening of the Trumpet Overture (track 20) offers about as great a contrast as could be achieved.  Though it might have been an idea to have varied the tone even more by employing a chamber organ, I readily admit that the logistics of getting even a small organ to the same venue would have been immense. 

The buff stop is used to excellent effect in the saraband on track 26; a saraband is not usually regarded as the place for a little light humour, but this is hardly of the usual (French) stately variety – more in keeping with Thomas Mace’s description of this dance, cited in the Oxford Companion to Music, as ‘more toyish and light than corantes’ and the use of the buff stop works well here.  I note with interest, too, the spelling sarabrand here and in the Suite in d minor – I’m easily side-tracked down philological paths, too. 

I was more than happy with the performances throughout this recording.  If I, occasionally noticed the problems of rhythm and articulation to which one reviewer referred when the CD was first released, they certainly did not greatly trouble me.  If you thought that minor keys had to be gloomy, without exception, Booth’s rendition of some of the movements of the c-minor Suite (trs. 4-11) will disabuse you. 

The recording is good – just a shade too close to be ideal, but this by no means spoiled my enjoyment of the playing.  The presentation, too, is good, with biographical details (though not the date of Croft’s birth) and annotation for the music, the instrument and the performer. The latter includes the information that Colin Booth received the MRA Award of Early Music Instrumentalist of the Year, 1996 – a well-deserved accolade on the evidence of this and the other two CDs which I have heard.  The lack of track timings left me grumbling about the unwelcome task of working them out to calculate the length of each Suite.  Otherwise, every aspect of the presentation is thoroughly professional.

There is a rival complete set of Croft’s keyboard music on the Ismeron label by Julian Rhodes and produced by Martin Stafford – a ‘man with a mission’ to quote Kirk McElhearn’s review.  That recording is still available, though the hyperlink in KE’s review is no longer active, since CompuServe closed in October, 2008 - clicking here should get you to where you want.  Otherwise, the odd piece is available elsewhere – the Suite in G, for example, on a Trevor Pinnock recital at the V&A, CRD3307.  If you’re a completist, you’ll want the Ismeron discs, but the single Soundboard CD would be sufficient for me, together with the items on the Restoration CD.  In fact, I’d recommend starting with Restoration, progressing to the Helios CD of the Burial Service and/or the CRD collection of anthems, then purchasing the Soundboard recording for £9.99.

Some aspects of the arts of late-17th and early-18th-century England continue to elude me – notably the Restoration Drama and the ‘poetry’ of Pope – but the keyboard music of the period is no longer one of those aspects.  This CD has contributed – and it makes me hope to review Colin Booth’s recording of Purcell, The English Orpheus, next.

Brian Wilson


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