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CD reviews

"From Palaces to Pleasure Gardens"

Thomas Trotter, organ

rec: May 10 - 11, 2018, London, Christ Church, Spitalfields
Regent - REGCD526 ( 2019) (71'20")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782), arr Thomas TROTTER Concerto for keyboard in D, op. 1,6 (W C54) [3]; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713), arr Thomas BILLINGTON (1754-1832): Concerto grosso in F, op. 6.9 (adapted by Thomas Trotter) George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Concerto for organ in d minor, op. 7,4 (transcribed by Thomas Trotter) [2]; James HOOK (1746-1827): Voluntary in D, op. 146,2 [5]; Voluntary in d minor, op. 146,5 [5]; Johann Christoph PEPUSCH (1667-1752): Voluntary in C; William RUSSELL (1777-1813): Voluntary No. 10 in G [4] ; John STANLEY (1712-1786): Voluntary in F, op. 7,6 [1]

Sources: [1] John Stanley, Ten Voluntarys, op. 7, 1754/R; [2] George Frideric Handel, A Third Set of Six Concertos, op. 7, 1761; [3] Johann Christian Bach, Six concerts pour le clavecin, deux violons & un violoncelle, op. 1, 1763; [4] William Russell, Twelve Voluntaries for the Organ or Pianoforte, Vol. 2, 1815; [5] James Hook, Ten Voluntaries together with 50 Preludes & Interludes for Psalm & Hymn Tunes ... for the Royal Seraphine, op. 146, c1815

Before the 19th century, organ recitals were rare. Such events usually took place at the occasion of the inauguration of a newly-built instrument. No wonder, then, that organ music is generally associated with the liturgy in Christian churches. However, the picture is more differentiated. Firstly, a part of the repertoire for organ could also be played on strung keyboard instruments, and that even goes for pieces based on hymns. Secondly, some members of the aristocracy may have owned smaller instruments which were large enough for a part of the repertoire written for liturgical use. In addition, these organs could be used for the performance of repertoire which did not fit into the liturgy, such as sonatas or suites.

The disc under review here includes a number of pieces which were not intended for liturgical use. David Gammie, in his liner-notes, states that "outside the Church there was a long tradition of secular organ playing in England, which went back at least to Tudor times, when the chamber organ was a favourite instrument for the accompaniment of domestic music-making." In the 18th century, the organ became an extremely popular instrument, and this explains both the repertoire which was written at that time, and the places where organs were built and played. Among the most unusual venues were undoubtedly the so-called pleasure gardens, which came into existence in the 17th century. The most famous of them was the Vauxhall Gardens, where concerts were held every evening from May until August. In 1735 a bandstand was constructed for an orchestra, and two years later an organ was erected. This allowed for the performance of organ concertos by the likes of Handel and Arne. "[During] the 1750s the Vauxhall organist John Worgan is said to have played a Handel concerto every night for ten years (...)".

The programme Thomas Trotter put together includes several pieces which were eminently suited for performances in the pleasure gardens. He opens with one of Arcangelo Corelli's concerti grossi in an arrangement for organ solo by Thomas Billington. This is interesting for two reasons. First, it documents the huge popularity of Italian music in England, and especially the oeuvre of Corelli. The publication of his sonatas caused a true Corellimania. His violin sonatas Op. 5 were especially popular, and soon all sorts of arrangements came from the press. Second, although the date of the arrangements is not mentioned in the liner-notes, it is evident that they were written when the period we use to call 'baroque' had long gone. It shows that Corelli's popularity did not wane in the course of time. His music was still played in the early 19th century.

One of the concertos from Handel's Op. 7 bears witness to the huge success of his organ concertos. He composed them to be played during the intervals of his oratorio performances. He himself was the soloist, and every concerto included a movement which was to be improvised. It gave him the opportunity to show his skills in this department. There can be little doubt that his concertos were often performed without orchestral accompaniment. Gammie mentions that printed editions often included only a skeleton of the original orchestral parts.

The third concerto is by Johann Christian Bach. The set of six concertos which were printed as his Op. 1 was scored for keyboard and strings and dedicated to Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III. The Concerto in D is the last of the set, and closes with variations on 'God save the King'. It is hard to say for what kind of occasions these concertos were written, but it seems likely that they were played in domestic surroundings rather than in public concerts. Such performances took place in the palaces of aristocrats and also at the royal palace. This explains the title of this disc.

The remaining pieces all belong among a specific English genre: the voluntary. New Grove defines the voluntary as "[a] freely composed or improvised piece, usually for the organ in the context of a church service." However, it is added that pieces with this title were sometimes also intended for extraliturgical performance. Some Voluntaries have become quite famous, in particular those with a reference to a particular stop, such as the Trumpet Voluntary by Jeremiah Clarke. The oldest voluntary included here is from the pen of John Stanley, a blind organist who was very famous for his improvisational skills. For fifty years he was organist at the Temple Church, and therefore one may assume that the Op. 7 set was intended for ecclesiastical use. That seems not the case with the two voluntaries by James Hook, as he was composer and organist at the Vauxhall Gardens. His contributions to the genre are probably the latest pieces included here. They bear witness to the unbroken popularity of this genre. The same goes for the Voluntary X in G by William Russell, who was famous in his time. Over 200 musicians subscribed to the first book of voluntaries of 1804. It was followed by a second volume in 1812. The title pages indicate that this music was not intended for liturgical use in the first place, as they mention the pianoforte as an alternative to the organ.

The most curious voluntary in the programme is the one by Johann Christoph Pepusch, an immigrant from Germany. He was born in Berlin and was employed at the Prussian court in Dresden from age 14. Little is known for sure about his musical education, but as later in England he directed performances from the harpsichord it is likely that he was educated as a keyboard player, probably by an organist from Saxony. There are conflicting reports about the time he arrived in England. According to Charles Burney it was "soon after the [1688] revolution", others mention 1697. His activities after the turn of the century are well documented. In 1716 Pepusch came into contact with the Duke of Chandos at Cannons where Handel was also present in 1718, composing his Chandos Anthems. Pepusch was appointed director of music in 1719 until some time in the mid-1720s. Pepusch was also active in the world of the music theatre: he collaborated with John Gay in the composition of The Beggar's Opera. The Voluntary in C has been preserved in manuscript and is his only keyboard work. It is very different from any voluntary by other composers of his time. Those usually comprised two movements in the order slow - fast; the latter was often a fugue. Pepusch's voluntary comprises no fewer than twelve movements, some of which with a reference to a register of the organ, such as the flute, the cornet and the bassoon. The last and longest movement is a fugue.

In comparison with other countries, England has only a few instruments from the pre-romantic period. One of them is the organ Thomas Trotter plays here. It was constructed by Richard Bridge, one of the main organ makers of his time, in 1735. It is a relatively large organ with two manuals and a swell organ; the latter comprises only the upper half of the range of the two other manuals. In the course of time, the organ underwent changes and additions; one of the latter, a pedalboard, was kept when the organ was restored in 2015. It turns out to be the perfect instrument for the repertoire selected for this disc. Thomas Trotter, although seemingly not a specialist in early music, delivers very fine, stylish performances, in which the features of the organ are fully explored in the interest of lively and colourful interpretations. The concerto grosso by Corelli is the best way to open the programme, and it is played with much flair and imagination. The volunary by Pepusch is eminently suited to demonstrate the colours of the organ. The instrument can be heard at full glory in the fugue which closes Russell's Voluntary in G and also this disc.

This is a disc no organ lover should miss. Let's hope that the English repertoire of the 18th century, will be further explored. This disc makes curious for other concertos and voluntaries by these and other composers.

Johan van Veen ( 2020)

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