Notes and Editorial Reviews
6 Sets of Lessons
Mitzi Meyerson (hpd)
GLOSSA 921805 (2 CDs: 112:21)
Of Richard Jones (?–1744), little is known. He succeeded Stefano Carbonelli as leader of the Drury Lane Theater orchestra sometime around 1730, and was eventually succeeded by his student Michael Festing. We know nothing of his life, or the reception of his music, though he published three keyboard collections and two works for violin and continuo.
Mitzi Meyerson mentions in the liner notes to
this release that Jones’s works have “the fresh tunefulness of Purcell,” but Purcell was inimitable. Other composers sometimes imitated his manner, but he sounds inevitably like himself and no one else. By way of contrast, Jones is as full of foreign influences as a good restaurant guide. A piece such as the A-Minor Sarabande owes much to the Neapolitan School, very popular in London thanks in part to the efforts of Geminiani and Avison, and recalls at various times Alessandro Scarlatti, Domenico Scarlatti, and Pietro Paradies. However, the B-Minor Prelude is a fully fledged, over-dotted movement such as opens a typical French overture. French, too, is the sarabande from the same set, its main theme beginning as a minor key cousin to Rameau’s
Les Niais de Sologne
, while the march and “Scotch Air” from the catch-all Sixth Set (12 pieces including an allemande and a hornpipe, in assorted keys) are indeed a pair of march-like airs, missing only their words, and could have been composed as incidental music for an English stage work. (All of Jones’s music to stage works has vanished, so a transcription is just possible.) Meanwhile, Meyerson correctly notes that the B-Minor Giga is note-for-note identical to a theme in Bach’s B-Minor Flute Sonata, and pertinently asks, who was quoting whom, or was each using a theme from a third party? In his mix of Baroque,
, French, Italian, German, and English sources, Richard Jones reveals himself as a cosmopolitan musician. His way of handling these influences so that they follow or combine naturally, convincingly, shows him also to have possessed a fascinating musical personality. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the music is richly orchestral in conception, for all its keyboard origins, and that it possesses thematic memorability and harmonic distinction.
Technically, some of these pieces are quite easy, especially in the Sixth Set, but many others rely upon virtuosic skill, including rapid articulation. Meyerson not surprisingly has no problems with any of them, but she also doesn’t succumb to the lure of velocity for its own sake. Her tempos are wisely chosen, not always in line with tempo markings, but to excellent musical effect. The distinctly moderate strut of the D-Minor movement marked
is a good example, one in which she applies a judicious amount of ornamentation upon phrase repeats, and allows the emphasized fifth beat of the thematic phrase its full due. The entire album is like that, supplying an almost visceral joy in the music that’s being performed.
As in the past, I have only one real concern about Meyerson’s performances: her unwillingness to employ the French Baroque equivalent of rubato, bending phrases and varying tempo slightly to shape the music. While this occurs fairly often in her recording of Couperin harpsichord suites (reviewed in
29:2), there’s only one instance on this album—the Sixth Set’s sarabande—where she tries to fit sudden shifts in musical density within the same tempo, rather than slowing flexibly to accommodate. For the rest, Meyerson faces music that requires a strong, usually regular pulse, and this she delivers with ease.
The harpsichord used is a double-manual model by Michael Johnson, with two 8’ registers, a 4’, and a buff stop—surprising only in that all these effects can be applied in almost every possible combination. However, Meyerson is careful not to overplay her hand. Audible differences are usually between, rather than within, pieces, and often subtle.
With good sound, this is definitely one of the best harpsichord releases I’ve heard in some time.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
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