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The Pleasures of the Imagination: English 18th Century Music for the Harpsichord
John BLOW (1648/49-1708)
Dr Blow’s Chaconne in Faut [6:06]
Morlake Ground [4:24]
Jeremiah CLARKE (c.1674-1707)
Suite No.2 in A major [5:53]
William CROFT (1678-1727)
Suite in D minor [8:52]
Maurice GREENE (1696-1755)
Suite of Lessons in C major [9:15]
Richard JONES (late 17th cent – 1744)
Third Set of Lessons (Suite) in B flat major [17:47]
Thomas ARNE (1710-1778)
Sonata III in G major from Eight Lessons or Lessons (1756) [7:46]
Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Sonata Op.17 No.2 in C minor from Six Sonatas (1779) [14:19]
Sophie Yates (harpsichord)
rec. August 2012, St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol
CHANDOS CHAN0814 [75:20]

As Sophie Yates notes in the booklet of this anthology devoted to eighteenth century English harpsichord music, there are two glaring omissions. The first is Purcell - whose omission is for obvious chronological reasons but whose music left an indelible impression on the music of the first decades of the eighteenth-century - and Handel. Well, Handel has been performed often enough and anthologised just as often, so it makes sense to shift the focus on to other composers working in London at around the same time.

Influenced by the Gallic muse, John Blow is represented by the confidently sprung and clarity-conscious rendition of Dr Blow’s Chacone in Faut and the shorter but appealing Morlake Ground. Yates locates the directness of utterance here, as well as a loquaciousness not without wit. Like its companion it too slows to allow rather more expressive material to infiltrate the musical argument. Jeremiah Clarke’s Suite certainly owes much to the towering influence of Purcell, its Round O smacking of the great predecessor’s own keyboard forays. Rather more so than the rather vertical impulses cultivated by Clarke, William Croft drew on a more decorative and involved lexicon and his Suite in D minor offers three dance-based movements that each generate considerable charm and brio. There’s a delightfully florid and fluid element to Maurice Greene’s Suite of Lessons, three movements of variety and considerable charm – high baroque, dramatic, assured and buoyed by confident maturity.

Richard Jones, by comparison with the well-known Greene, is something of a biographical enigma. He was a violinist and his Third Set of Lessons, an extensive seven-movement suite was - just possibly - originally written for the violin and later transcribed for keyboard. There’s certainly a lot of intervallic writing and the long-breathed opening movement, an extensive prelude that functions as a kind of mini sonata, would sound well on a stringed instrument. Whatever its origins, the refined lyricism of the Sarabanda and the feathery articulation Yates evokes in the Largo are just two of a number of reasons why Jones’ music requires examination.
Thomas Arne reveals a gift for the quasi-improvisatory in his Sonata III, which derives from his 1756 set of Eight Sonatas or Lessons, and in the central Allegro his propensity for the robustly meaty gives this particular sonata its very personalised element, not least because the finale is so felicitous. The disc ends with JC Bach and his Sonata Op.17 No.2 from 1779, charmingly classical and lyric with a truly vivacious Prestissimo finale.

The heroine of the hour is Sophie Yeats who at all times displays stylistic acumen and digital clarity allied to a winning sense of characterisation. Each composer’s very particular allegiances, inheritances and idiosyncrasies are fully explored but never coarsened through exaggeration. She plays on two copies of French instruments made by Andrew Garlick. She plays the Blow, Clarke and Croft on a four and a half octave copy of a French original of 1681, whereas she has selected a copy of a 1748 double manual harpsichord of five octaves for the later works by Greene, Jones, Arne and JC Bach.

This is a splendid recital in every way.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Johan van Veen



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