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William CROFT (1678 - 1727): "Keyboard Music"

Colin Booth, harpsichord

rec: August 12, 1998, Bristol, St Alban's Church
Soundboard - SBCD 991 ( 1999) (63'44")

Scotch Tune; Suite in c minor; Suite in d minor; Suite in e minor; Suite in F; Suite in G; Suite in g minor; Suite in A; Suite in A; Trumpet Overture

When I received this disc I looked into my record collection and I searched my database to see whether I had any music by William Croft. I found one disc with vocal music - 'William Croft at St Paul's' (Hyperion) - and several discs and vinyls with single keyboard pieces. But it wasn't exactly a rich harvest. It could well be that some discs with music by Croft are circulating in the UK which never have made it to the continent, but even so, I think this disc devoted to Croft's keyboard music is most welcome. Having heard it I can't find any reason why this music should be neglected.

William Croft isn't exactly a household name, so it makes sense to give some biographical details about this man. He was born in Warwickshire and became a member of the Chapel Royal. After having studied with John Blow he became a Gentleman Extraordinary of the Chapel Royal. In 1707 he succeeded Jeremiah Clarke as one of the Chapel Organists, and the next year he was appointed Master of the Children after the death of John Blow. Croft also took Blow's position as organist of Westminster Abbey.

The largest part of his output is sacred: he composed a considerable number of services and anthems. The secular and instrumental music from his pen seems to date largely from earlier in his career. A part of his keyboard music was printed in A choice Collection of Ayres for the Harpsichord or Spinett, which also contained pieces by the likes of John Blow and Jeremiah Clarke. But the rest of his keyboard output remained unpublished.

Croft shares the relative neglect of his keyboard music with colleagues like the already mentioned Jeremiah Clarke and John Blow, or Maurice Greene and Thomas Roseingrave. Even Henry Purcell, internationally recognized as one of the geniuses in music history, is mostly remembered because of his songs, his theatre music, his sacred works and instrumental sonatas, but hardly for his keyboard music. The mentioning of Purcell in this respect makes also sense because this disc shows that William Croft was influenced by Purcell. The most striking example is the Ground from the Suite in c minor.

One can imagine this kind of music being played at home on the spinet, as the title of the collection mentioned before suggests. Could this be the reason it is seldom played at the concert platform? In the about 35 years I am attending concerts I have never heard anything of this kind of repertoire, not even in the Early Music Festival in my hometown. Colin Booth shows that this music can also be played on a harpsichord with two manuals and various stops. I am inclined to think that a substantial piece like the Ground from the Suite in A, with its greater density than the Ground from the Suite in c minor, would be less convincing on a spinet.

Croft's keyboard music bears the traces of his vocal works. The Suite in F is a transcription of three pieces from music for the stage, and the Trumpet Overture contains four movements from his Ode on the Peace of Utrecht which he transcribed for harpsichord.

There are other pieces to be enjoyed here. I liked the Sarabrand (Croft's spelling) from the Suite in e minor, with its beautifully swaying rhythm, and played here on the buff stop of the harpsichord. Probably my favourite piece is the Suite in d minor. It begins with a beautiful Slow Almand, which is followed by a bright Corant and ends with an expressive Slow sarabrand. The programme closes with a humorous Scotch Tune, after Croft's own song The Lovesick Jockey.

This is a very nice disc which I have greatly enjoyed. Croft's keyboard music is done a great service by Colin Booth, who delivers really fine performances on a nice harpsichord. The dark sonority of its bass is especially delightful as the sarabanda from the Suite in c minor shows. Colin Booth has built the harpsichord himself and also wrote the liner notes.

This disc probably hasn't received the attention it deserves. That justifies a review more than 10 years after it has been released. The English keyboard music between the virginalists and Handel needs to be more thoroughly explored. There is hardly a better way to do this than Colin Booth does on this disc.

Johan van Veen ( 2010)

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Colin Booth

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