Thomas Haigh is not exactly a household name. The first time I heard
about him was when I reviewed
the disc "Haydn à l'anglaise" by Café Mozart. He arranged
many compositions by Haydn, not only orchestral works including a selection
of the symphonies, but also songs. When Haydn was in London, in 1791/92,
Haigh was his student. He lived for some time in Manchester, then in
London again, and also frequently performed in Ireland. The year of
his death is not exactly known. The assumption that it was 1808 is probably
incorrect as a considerable number of compositions from his pen were
published in the next decade.
Haigh was a violinist and keyboard player; in most of his compositions
the keyboard plays the main role. This disc includes the six concertos
which were printed as his op. 1 around 1783. The title page says "Six
Concertos for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte with Accompaniments for
Two Violins, and Violoncello". Barbara Harbach has opted for a performance
without string accompaniment. It is argued in the booklet that this
was quite common at the time; the "Six Favourite Concertos" by Thomas
Augustine Arne are mentioned, among others, as an example. I don't know
whether composers themselves gave any indications that the instrumental
parts could be omitted. According to New Grove
only the first
of Arne's concertos exists in a version without instrumental accompaniment.
As I have no access to the scores of Haigh's concertos I can't tell
what exactly the two violins and cello add to the keyboard parts.
There is a notable difference in the keyboard part between those passages
where it is joined by the strings and where it is on its own. In the
its range is limited, and there are many repeated figures
and drum basses. In the soli
the whole range of the keyboard
is used. As is the case in so much keyboard music of the second half
of the 18th century the right hand has most of the work to do. The left
hand is often confined to the role of accompaniment. In New Grove
the author of the article on Haigh refers to a musicologist who states
that Haigh's music is comparable with that of Arne instead of Haydn.
That is a fair comment: this is music in the galant idiom and has much
in common with keyboard repertoire which was written some decades earlier.
This could also justify the use of a harpsichord rather than a fortepiano.
Barbara Harbach has chosen a copy of a French harpsichord of the 18th
century by François Blanchet. It has a penetrating sound which
makes me wonder whether this was the best choice. The score includes
indications in regard to dynamics, and that suggests that an English
harpsichord from the late 18th century may be preferable. Several of
these instruments have pedals which allow a change in dynamics during
There are plenty of nice ideas in these six concertos. Even so, I am
not sure that it is a good idea to listen to them at a stretch, especially
because there is quite a lot of repetition of figuration and chords.
I wonder whether they would be less of a problem in a performance with
string accompaniment. The strings could also provide the dynamic shading
largely missing here, except the contrasts which are the result of the
alternation between the two manuals.
The booklet omits any information regarding the time and venue of the
recording. An internet search suggests this is a recent recording, but
the tray mentions 1990 as the first year of production and refers to
a "digital re-mastering". So this is a bit of a mystery. Anyway, it
is certainly good to have these concertos on disc, and when consumed
in limited quantity they will give much pleasure.
Johan van Veen