The Heritage label reissues recordings some of which date from
the vinyl era. Recently several of their discs have received
positive reviews on this site. It has been noted by the reviewers,
though, that the documentation is rather poor. That is also
the case here. In the track-list the catalogue numbers of the
pieces by Purcell are not given, and it is also unclear whether
the various suites are performed complete. Fortunately the booklet
- if you would call just four pages a booklet - contains some
information about the composers and their time by Ruth Dyson.
It is a shame that no information is given about the harpsichord
she plays. It sounds like an English instrument of the early
18th century. That would certainly be the most suitable choice
for a performance of English harpsichord music from the late
17th and early 18th centuries. Strangely enough this repertoire
doesn't receive that much attention. Over the span of some forty
years that I have frequently attended live performances and
listened to commercial recordings very little of this repertoire
has ever crossed my path. Thanks to more adventurous keyboard
players some of his works are available on disc. Fairly recently
here a disc with music by William Croft, recorded by Colin
Booth. Croft's music is of good quality and deserves more attention.
Therefore it is nice that this recital of English harpsichord
music includes some of his compositions.
The programme begins with John Blow who is better known for
his sacred music. His keyboard oeuvre is substantial, though,
and quite individual in character. His treatment of harmony
is especially noteworthy. The opening piece, the Ground No.
1 in G, ends with a passage full of strong dissonants. The
saraband from the Suite No. 5 in d minor contains some
spicy harmonies. The Chacone in F also bears witness
to Blow's skills as a keyboard composer.
The suite was one of the main forms of keyboard music around
1700 in Europe. Although English composers also made use of
it, they foreswore the standard structure of the 'continental'
suite: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. Croft's Suite
No.3 in c minor, for instance, sports an almand, a corant
and a saraband, but also a rondo, a ground and a hornpipe. Blow's
Suite No. 10 in G has a character piece, called 'Hunting
Almand'. The same individual approach to the suite comes to
the fore in the music of Thomas Chilcot. He is the latest composer
featured, of the generation after Handel, and clearly influenced
by him. His suites enjoyed great popularity. The Suite No.
1 in g minor begins with a movement in four sections: ouverture,
fugue, adagio and aria. It is comparable to the overtures of
baroque operas. Next follow a siciliano, corente, aria, minuet
This suite is one of the best pieces on this disc as far as
the performance is concerned. In particular the closing jigg
is very well played. Also good is the 'Hunting Almand' by Blow.
The performance is quite evocative, and the hunting effects
come off well. Otherwise I am not that impressed with these
readings. Some tempi are a bit slow, in particular Purcell's
Rondo from Abdelazer. A bigger problem is that
Ms Dyson often plays staccato, and that results in too little
differentiation between good and bad notes. The result is that
the dance rhythms are not always clearly noticeable, for instance
in Croft's Menuet in g minor. Colin Booth’s interpretation,
mentioned above, is much better in this respect. I often find
the playing a little stiff and awkward, and not as fluent as
one would wish.
That doesn’t diminish, in any way, my great respect for Ruth
Dyson who played a key role in the development of keyboard playing
on historical instruments in Britain. I would like to refer
to a nice obituary which was published in The
Independent on 19 August 1997. This disc stands as testimony
to her activities in this field. From that perspective it is
very welcome as it documents an important aspect of the development
of historical performance practice in Britain.
Johan van Veen