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James NARES (1715 - 1783): Eight Harpsichord Setts

Julian Perkins, harpsichord

rec: Nov 12 - 14, 2007, London, Kew Palace (The Queen's Drawing Room)
AVIE - AV2152 ( 2008) (75'58")

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Suite in d minor (HWV 447); James NARES [1]: Sett No. 1 in G; Sett No. 2 in D; Sett No. 3 in B flat; Sett No. 4 in F; Sett No. 5 in A; Sett No. 6 in E; Sett No. 7 in G; Sett No. 8 in A

(Sources: [1] James Nares, 'Eight Setts of Lessons for the Harpsichord' , 1747)


If I am not mistaken the English keyboard music of the post-baroque era is mostly neglected. The most frequently played pieces from that period are probably the sonatas by Thomas Augustine Arne. Single pieces by James Nares have been recorded in the past - for instance some of his Voluntaries -, but this is the first recording entirely devoted to his keyboard music.

Nares was a chorister in the Chapel Royal, studied under Christoph Pepusch, and at the age of 20 he was already appointed as organist in York Minster. There he stayed until 1756, when he returned to the Chapel Royal as one of the organists and composers. One year later he became Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, a position he held until 1780.

Considering his activities it is not surprising his oeuvre mainly consists of liturgical and keyboard music. In the latter category he wrote 13 Voluntaries for organ or harpsichord, and three collections of Lessons (the common word for suites), the last of which has been lost. On this disc Julian Perkins presents the first collection of Eight Setts of Lessons for the Harpsichord which were printed 1747. That Nares was a composer of considerable reputation is demonstrated by the fact that colleagues like Handel, Boyce and Arne were among the subscribers of this publication. This and the quality of the music on this disc make the judgement of Watkins Shaw in New Grove that Nares had a "pleasant if slender talent for composition" less than credible.

In the Setts on this disc there are plenty of movements which catch the ear. What makes these compositions especially interesting is the wandering between the baroque style and the up and coming classical style. Sometimes these are apparent within one Sett. A good example is the Sett No 3 in B flat, which begins with a fugue which is followed by a largo and presto, all very much baroque in style, only to end with a more classical 'gavot'. The most striking movement is the larghetto of the Sett No 5 in A which contains a kind of harmonic journey, going from A through keys like B flat, G flat, b minor, A flat and c sharp minor back to A. Also interesting is Sett No 8 in A, which is strongly influenced by the sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, in particular the first movement (allegro). No wonder Julian Perkins in his programme notes considers Nares a representative of what he calls the 'Anglo-Scarlatti style'.

As a kind of contrast Perkins plays a suite by Handel, which consists of the usual movements of the baroque suite: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. Nares' Setts, on the other hand, almost completely break away with this traditional pattern. Only three Setts consist of dances only, whereas the others have either just one dance to close the Sett, or three movements in the manner of an Italian concerto.

Not only the repertoire is well worth investigating, the same is true for the harpsichords used here. The Setts 1 to 4 by Nares are played on a Kirckman of 1764 and the other Setts and Handel's Suite on a Shudi of 1740. Both Kirckman and Shudi were of continental origin, but developed into the main builders of keyboard instruments in England. Both instruments reflect the attempts to adapt the harpsichord to the growing demand for more dynamic possibilities. They have pedals which allow some stops to be put into or out of action. These possibilities are used effectively here, for instance in the opening allegro of Nares' Sett No 2 in D.

Julian Perkins deserves nothing but praise for this undertaking. There is much complaining about the demise of the classical recording industry. One of the main reasons is the continuous release of the same repertoire. With enterprising musicians like Julian Perkins one doesn't need to fear: it is this kind of creativity which keeps the recording industry alive. It shows there is still a lot to be (re)discovered, and it also shows one shouldn't always believe those musicologists who tell us that what has been buried under the dust of history should stay there because of a lack of quality. In addition Julian Perkins plays very well: imaginative, with great rhythmic precision and fine and well-chosen ornaments.

Julian Perkins has done us a great favour by recording these fine Lessons by James Nares, by playing them so beautifully and by using these two splendid harpsichords.

Johan van Veen ( 2008)

Relevant links:

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