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"The Hitchcock Spinet"

The Hitchcock Trio

rec: Oct 21 - 23, 2019, Hamburg, Kirche St. Anschar
Genuin - GEN 20696 (© 2020) (68'04")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Carl Friedrich ABEL (1723-1787): Trio in G (A5,4A)abc; Charles BURNEY (1726-1814): Sonata III in Dc; Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762): Ann Thou Were My Ain Thing, op. 8,1abc; John LOEILLET (1680-1730): Lesson I in e minorc; Johann MATTHESON (1681-1764): Suite No. 7 in B flat (prelude; allemande; courante)c; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Partia in G (TWV 32,1) (dolce; menuets; gigue à l'Angloise)c; Sonate in D (TWV 42,D9)abc; Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768): Sonata in d minor, op. 2,12ac

Sources: [1] John Loeillet, Lessons for the Harpsichord or Spinet, 1712; [2] Johann Mattheson, Pièces de clavecin en deux volumes, 1714; Georg Philipp Telemann, [3] Der getreue Music-Meister, 1728; [4] Essercizii Musici, 1739; [5] Francesco Maria Veracini, 12 Sonate accademiche, op. 2, 1744; [6] Francesco Geminiani, Rules for Playing in a True Taste, op. 8, c1748; [7] Charles Burney, Six Sonatas for the Harpsichord, c1774

Gabriele Steinfeld, violina; Simone Eckert, viola da gamba; Anke Dennert, spinet

The revival of baroque music and the increasing interest in performing baroque music in the early 20th century resulted in a growing interest in the harpsichord, first as a solo instrument, and later also as the main instrument in the realization of the basso continuo. However, in the baroque era it was not the only strung keyboard that was used. Harpsichords were relatively expensive, and the clavichord was a cheaper alternative, which made it attractive for amateurs. Because of its soft sound, it was only suitable for domestic performances, especially of solo pieces. Its use is documented in quite a number of recordings.

In comparison, the instrument which is the focus of the present disc, is far less frequently played and seldom used in recordings. Over many years of reviewing, I probably have not encountered more than a few discs in which the spinet played any role. The present disc was inspired by the spinet which is owned by the Telemann Museum in Hamburg. It is one of the surviving instruments built by Thomas Hitchcock the younger (c1685 - after 1733). A little more than fifty spinets built by Thomas and his sons have come down to us.

The spinet has its origin in the 16th century. However, as is pointed out in the article on the instrument in New Grove, it is not always clear exactly which instrument is meant, as the word 'spinet' was sometimes also used for what is now generally known as the virginal. "[Although] virtually the same word has been used in English, French, German, Italian and Dutch, the instruments designated are not identical." Today, the word is mostly used for "an instrument whose strings run diagonally from left to right instead of directly away from the player as in a harpsichord or transversely as in a virginal". The spinet seems to have been used across Europe.

The instrument featured on the present disc was received by the Hamburg Telemann Society at the occasion of the opening of the Telemann Museum in 2011. Here it is demonstrated in solo pieces and as a basso continuo instrument in chamber music. The programme includes music from across Europe. That may raise some eyebrows, as this is an English instrument. Anke Dennert, in her liner-notes, states that Hitchcock spinets were popular throughout Europe. Moreover, the music and the composers in the programme are in one way or another connected to England. Charles Burney is the only composer born in England. John Loeillet was a member of a family of composers from the southern Netherlands. He settled in London, and in order to keep him apart from other composers of his family, he was known as Loeillet of London or John Loeillet (he had been baptized as Jean Baptiste). Carl Friedrich Abel was from Germany, and settled in England, where he became Johann Christian Bach's partner in the organization of the 'Bach-Abel concerts'. He was one of the last virtuosos on the viola da gamba in Europe, and had many aristocrats among his pupils.

Francesco Maria Veracini was one of the greatest violinists of his time. He did not settle in England, but visited the country several times. He spent most of 1714 in London, participating in benefit concerts and performing between the acts of operas at the Queen's Theatre. He returned in 1733; Burney reported that "[there] was no concert now without a solo on the violin by Veracini". After a stay of some years in Florence, Veracini returned in 1741. In 1744 he published his Sonate accademiche Op. 2 in London. In contrast, his fellow Italian Francesco Geminiani settled in London; he arrived in 1714 and later went to Dublin. He published several treatises in English, and also wrote music on English tunes, such as the variations included here.

Johann Mattheson and Georg Philipp Telemann were both German, and for a number of years colleagues at the Oper am Gänsemarkt, for which they both composed operas. Neither of them ever visited England. However, Mattheson had close ties to people from England. He became secretary to Sir John Wich, English ambassador to Hamburg, and as a result studied the language as well as English law and politics. In 1709 he married Catharina Jennings, daughter of an English minister. No wonder, then, that he published his Pièces de clavecin in 1714 in London. Telemann's music was also known in England: twelve of his publications, among them Der getreue Music-Meister, were available for purchase at the London shop of bookseller Cornelius Crownfield in 1728.

When I started listening to this disc, I was wondering how much of the spinet I would be able to hear. After all, the violin is not the most intimate of instruments, and the viola da gamba can have quite some presence as well. But I was pleasantly surprised that it could hold its ground, also thanks to the somewhat penetrating sound. In this line-up, we may get a pretty good idea of what domestic music making in early 18th-century London may have been like. It is nice that we also get to hear the spinet as a solo instrument. The Lesson I by John Loeillet is particularly interesting, as the title of the collection from which it is taken, specifically refers to the spinet. There is a little confusion about the title of the collection. The booklet refers only to the spinet, but the Petrucci Music Library this collection with the title Lessons for the Harpsichord or Spinet, indicating that these instruments were considered equal alternatives. The mention of the spinet may indicate that these pieces were specifically intended for amateurs, most of whom will have owned a spinet rather than a harpsichord.

Anke Dennert, who plays the spinet, has proven to be a fine performer in previous recordings, and she does so here once again. She manages to explore the specific features of the spinet and to convince the listener that it has to be taken seriously, as it is more than just a cheap substitute for the harpsichord. The collaboration with the violinist Gabriele Steinfeld and Simone Eckert on the viola da gamba, two excellent performers on their respective instruments, is immaculate. The former shines in particular in Veracini, the latter shows her skills especially in Abel.

The programme is a nice mixture of the familiar (Telemann) and the little-known (Loeillet, Burney). This and the unusual line-up as well as the excellent performances justify a special recommendation.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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