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Thomas HAIGH (1769 - c1808): "6 Concertos for Harpsichord (1783)"

Barbara Harbach, harpsichord

rec: [Date and place of recording not mentioned]
MSR Classics - MS 1441 (© 2012) (68'04")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & liner-notes

Concerto No. 1 in D; Concerto No. 2 in B flat; Concerto No. 3 in a minor; Concerto No. 4 in G; Concerto No. 5 in C; Concerto No. 6 in E flat

Thomas Haigh is not exactly a household name. He arranged many compositions by Haydn, not only orchestral works including some of his symphonies, but also songs. When Haydn was in London, in 1791/92, Haigh was his student. He lived for some time in Manchester, then in London again, and also frequently performed in Ireland. The year of his death is not exactly known. The assumption that it was 1808 is probably incorrect as a considerable number of compostions from his pen were published in the next decade.

Haigh was a violinist and keyboard player; in most of his compositions the keyboard plays the main role. This disc includes the six concertos which were printed as his op. 1 around 1783. The title page says Six Concertos for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte with Accompaniments for Two Violins, and Violoncello. Barbara Harbach has opted for a performance without string accompaniment. It is argued in the booklet that this was quite common at the time; the Six Favourite Concertos by Thomas Augustine Arne are mentioned, among others, as an example. I don't know whether composers themselves gave any indications that the instrumental parts could be omitted. According to New Grove only the first of Arne's concertos exists in a version without instrumental accompaniment. As I have no access to the scores of Haigh's concertos I can't tell what exactly the two violins and cello add to the keyboard parts.

There is a notable difference in the keyboard part between those passages where it is joined by the strings and where it is on its own. In the tutti its range is limited, and there are many repeated figures and drum basses. In the soli the whole range of the keyboard is used. As is the case in so much keyboard music of the second half of the 18th century the right hand has most of the work to do. The left hand is often confined to the role of accompaniment. In New Grove the author of the article on Haigh refers to a musicologist who states that Haigh's music is comparable with that of Arne instead of Haydn. That is a fair comment: this is music in the galant idiom and has much in common with keyboard repertoire which was written some decades earlier.

This could also justify the use of a harpsichord rather than a fortepiano. Barbara Harbach has chosen a copy of a French harpsichord of the 18th century by François Blanchet. It has a penetrating sound which makes me wonder whether this was the best choice. The score includes indications in regard to dynamics, and that suggests that an English harpsichord from the late 18th century may be preferable. Several of these instruments have pedals which allow a change in dynamics during play.

There are plenty of nice ideas in these six concertos. Even so, I am not sure that it is a good idea to listen to them at a stretch, especially because there is quite a lot of repetition of figuration and chords. I wonder whether they would be less of a problem in a performance with string accompaniment. The strings could also provide the dynamic shading largely missing here, except the contrasts which are the result of the alternation between the two manuals.

The booklet omits any information regarding the time and venue of the recording. An internet search suggests this is a recent recording, but the tray mentions 1990 as the first year of production and refers to a "digital remastering". So this is a bit of a mystery. Anyway, it is certainly good to have these concertos on disc, and when consumed in limited quantity they will give much pleasure.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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Barbara Harbach

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