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William HAYES (1708 - 1777): "Concerti grossi, Overtures"

Marc Meisel, organa
Capriccio Basel
Dir: Dominik Kiefer

rec: Oct 18 - 21, 2006, Basle, Martinskirche
Capriccio - 71135 ( 2007) (61'58")

Concerto in D; Concerto in d minor; Concerto for organ and orchestra in Ga; Overture to the Ode 'The Passions'; Sinfonia in d minor

"Perhaps, as I have been so particular in delivering my Sentiments concerning the Hero of the Essay, you may expect me to give you a Detail of the various Excellencies, which still remain unmentioned in Handel ... Perhaps you may expect me to enter into Particulars to defend and characterize this Man; - but the first would be an endless Undertaking; - his Works being almost out of Number; - The Second, a needless one, the Works themselves being his best Defence; - And the third, I must acknowledge is above my Capacity; and therefore once more refer you to his Works, here only his true Character is to be found". These are the words with which William Hayes defended George Frideric Handel against his critics, and in particular his colleague Charles Avison, in his book Remarks on Mr. Avison's Essay on Musical Expression. Avison had the audacity to rank Geminiani, Rameau and Marcello above Handel. Later the historian Charles Burney judged that "Hayes produced a pamphlet ... written with much more knowledge of the subject than temper; he felt so indignant at Avison's treatment of Handel, that he not only points out the false reasoning in his essay, but false composition in his own works".

Hayes was born in Gloucester in 1708 and entered the town's cathedral choir. Its director, William Hine, probably gave him his first organ lessons. In 1729 Hayes was appointed organist of St Mary's in Shrewsbury. In 1731 he became organist of Worcester Cathedral. In 1734 he moved to Oxford, where he took over the position of organist and master of the choristers at Magdalen College. In 1741 he was appointed organist at the university church. Here in Oxford he played a central role in the music scene: Hayes directed the weekly concerts in the Holywell Music Room, which was opened in 1748. Hayes was also an academic: he received his B.Mus. in 1735, was appointed professor in 1741 and in 1749 he received his D.Mus.

He was an ardent supporter of Handel, whom he had met in London in 1733, when he attended the first performance of the oratorio Athalia. Hayes performed many of Handel's works outside London, especially in Oxford, but also in other towns in the Midlands. Very often he made use of soloists who had sung those works under Handel's own direction in London. In 1749 the first performance of Handel's Messiah in Oxford was directed by William Hayes.

Hayes was also active as a composer, and wrote a number of vocal works, in particular Odes. His last work was the oratorio David, but he was only able to compose the first two acts before he died. His second son, Philip, completed the work. He was the most successful of Hayes' three sons who all made a career in music. Philip also inherited the large collection of music which his father had brought together. It contained music as old as the 16th century.

Very few composers in Handel's time were able to avoid being influenced by Handel. That was also the case with Hayes, but he obviously didn't want to avoid Handel's influence: he was his hero and remained so until the end of his life. This makes it impossible to date his compositions - almost all of which were never published - as there are no real stylistic differences between them. Hayes' music reflects his willingness to speak the musical language of his hero, but it would be a mistake to conclude from that he was an epigone of Handel. Just one look at the structure of the compositions on this disc shows that Hayes was his own man. The Sinfonia in d minor, which opens the programme, contains only one fast movement: andante, largo, allegro, andante. Closing a piece with an andante is rather unusual as is the inclusion of a march as the third movement in the Concerto for organ and orchestra in G.

That is not the only feature of this Organ Concerto which reveals Hayes' individuality. In the march movement the organ remains silent; instead two bassoons are given solos. These also have an obbligato part in the closing movement of the Sinfonia in d minor. This reveals a feature of Hayes' orchestral works which comes to the fore in almost every piece on this disc. In the same Sinfonia the second movement contains a long solo for the oboe. The Concerto in D has no less than six movements: in the first two flutes play, with divided strings, but they return only in the fourth movement. The second has concertante parts for two cellos, whereas the third is for strings alone and is dominated by a dialogue between concertino and ripieno. In the last movement there is a short solo for violin. Variety in the instrumentation also characterises the Overture to the Ode 'The Passions'. The first and third movements are for strings with an oboe playing colla parte. The second movement begins with a solo for the flute with basso continuo only, after which the strings come in. And the last piece on this disc, the Concerto in d minor, is an alternative version of the Sinfonia in d minor. The second and fourth movement of the Concerto correspond with the third and fourth movements of the Sinfonia. The instrumentation differs in that the Concerto is for strings alone. The two slow movements of the Concerto are newly composed, and the first stands out as the viola is treated on equal terms with the violins.

In the booklet Dominik Sackmann states that Hayes' music shows how different the musical style in England was in comparison to what happened on the continent. "However, that is not to say that in the immediate post-Handel era England did not produce altogether original and captivating music of lasting worth". One can only agree with this judgement, as this music by William Hayes proves. I have been listening with great interest and growing enthusiasm to these works, which make one ask for more. I would like to hear in particular his vocal works: the overture is promising and makes one eager to hear the whole Ode.

It is great that this unknown repertoire is being brought to our attention. One has to thank the ensemble and the record company for that. What is even better is that the performances are so good. Capriccio Basel is a first-rate ensemble, technically assured and here playing with great flair and panache. The expression in these works, for instance in the first movements of the Overture and of the Concerto in d minor, is fully explored. The obbligato parts are well realised by members of the ensemble. Marc Meisel gives a splendid account of the solo part in the organ concerto, and the ad libitum insertions in the slow movement really sound like improvisations, even though Hayes - unlike Handel - has written them out in full.

In short, this is an outstanding release - historically important and musically enthralling.

Johan van Veen ( 2009)

Relevant links:

Capriccio Basel

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