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CD reviews






"Sesquialtera"

James Tibbles, organ

rec: May 2006, Auckland, Ponsonby Baptist Church
Atoll - ACD 406 (77'07")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

John BLOW (1649-1708) Voluntary in C; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713), arr Thomas BILLINGTON (1754-1832): Concerto grosso in g minor, op. 6,8; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Overture Esther (HWV 50); Overture Il Pastor Fido (HWV 8c); James NARES (1715-1783): Introduction in a minor and Fugues John STANLEY (1713-1786): Voluntary in d minor, op. 5,8; Voluntary in d minor, op. 6,5

This disc is interesting for two reasons. The first is the organ which dates from 1779. One would not expect to find such an instrument in New Zealand which started to be colonized in the 1840s. It was built by the English organ-maker John Avery (1737/55-1807) who was called "an excellent workman" by an English writer in the 19th century. Several of his instruments have survived, among them the 1799 organ in Winchester Cathedral. He also was one of the organ builders who repaired the organ of King's College in Cambridge from 1803 to 1805. The organ in Auckland is the largest of Avery's extant instruments, but the year of building is not known. In 1859 it was transported to New Zealand and in 1898 it was placed in Ponsonby Baptist Church. The present disc was made shortly after the latest restoration in 2005.

The second reason this disc deserves our interest is the repertoire. The programme is a survey of what was played by organists in the 18th century. Voluntaries were a significant part of the repertoire. The term doesn't refer to a specific form. In fact any keyboard piece could be called 'voluntary', and there is an overlap with terms like 'verse' or 'fantasia'. Voluntaries were not strictly intended for the organ, but could be played on any keyboard instrument, such as the harpsichord and - later in the 18th century - the fortepiano. However, composers of such pieces were mostly organists by profession, and they sometimes included indications of the stops to be used for a 'solo' voice. Hence terms like 'trumpet voluntary' as we know it from, for instance, John Stanley. He is one of the composers who figures on this disc with two voluntaries.

The performance of such pieces profits from the fact that this organ's only manual has divided stops which allows for a different registration of right and left hand. In his liner-notes James Tibbles points out that compositions by Stanley and his contemporaries can be "somewhat superficial". That has to do with the transition from the baroque style to the galant idiom. However, the moderato which closes Stanley's Voluntary in d minor from the op. 6 is anything but superficial. James Nares Introduction and fugues are closer to the 'learned' style of the past. A specimen of that style is also John Blow's Voluntary in C, one of the most interesting pieces on the programme. It includes remarkable harmonic progressions and is inspired by Girolamo Frescobaldi, who is even quoted in the opening of the piece.

The other part of the programme is devoted to arrangements of orchestral music. George Frideric Handel was one of the most popular composers of his time, and vocal and instrumental pieces from his pen were arranged for all sorts of scorings, such as the recorder and keyboard instruments. Among the latter William Babel's arrangements of Handel opera arias are the most famous. However, Handel himself regularly played his music on the organ in domestic surroundings. The overture to the oratorio Esther is played here in his own arrangement. The overture to Il pastor fido was published by Walsh in 1730; the liner-notes don't indicate who was responsible for it. Probably the most intriguing arrangement is Corelli's Concerto grosso No. 8, also known as his 'Christmas concerto'. Thomas Billington's arrangement dates from around 1790 which is remarkable considering that Corelli's concerti grossi were printed in 1714. In the early decades of the century his music became very popular in England and was played across the country by individual amateurs and by music societies. These arrangements attest to the continuing attraction of Corelli's music long after the baroque era had come to an end.

This is an attractive disc, not only because of the repertoire and the instrument, but also because of James Tibbles' fine interpretations. He effectively explores the possibilities of the organ to the advantage of this particular repertoire.

Johan van Veen ( 2015)

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