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Richard MUDGE (1718 - 1763): "Six Concertos in Seven Parts"

Michael Feyfar, tenorb; Raitis Grigalis, baritoneb; Ismael González Arroniz, bassb; Marc Meisel, organa
Barockorchester Capriccio Basel
Dir: Dominik Kiefer

rec: June 30 - July 4, 2008, Martinskirche, Basle
Tudor - 7173 (© 2009) (75'41")

Concerto I in D; Concerto II in B flat; Concerto III in G; Concerto IV in d minor; Concerto V in B flat; Concerto VI in Fa; Non nobis, Domine, canonb

When I received this disc the name of Richard Mudge didn't ring a bell. He isn't a completely unknown quantity, though. In 1957 Maurice André made a recording of the first concerto of the set of six which is presented here. When I searched in my database I found out that the same concerto has been recorded by Reinhold Friedrich and the Berliner Barock-Compagney. This is the only concerto which has a trumpet part, but strictly speaking it is not a trumpet concerto. It was edited by the English composer Gerald Finzi who stated that several of Mudges Concertos for strings are "of outstanding beauty and dignity".

Richard Mudge was born in 1718 in Bideford in Devon as the son of Rev. Zachariah Mudge, master of Bideford Grammar School. He entered Pembroke College in Oxford, where he gained a Bachelor of Arts in 1738 and a Master of Arts in 1741. After finishing his theological studies Mudge was ordained curate in Great Packington. He obviously had a keen interest in music which probably was the reason he applied for the post at the newly erected St Bartholomew Church in the parish of St Martin's. This had a strong impact on his further career: among the benefactors of this church were members of the Jennens family, like Charles Jennens, the librettist of Handel's oratorio Messiah. In 1750 Mudge was installed as priest of St Martin's in Birmingham, where he has become a popular preacher.

The contact to Charles Jennens resulted in Mudge getting acquainted with Handel, and it seems he considered Mudge one of the best interpreters of his music. In his Concertos in Seven Parts the influence of Handel's style is obvious, but Mudge's concertos also bear resemblance to the concerti grossi of Corelli. Mudge splits the ensemble in a concertino, consisting of two violins and bc (here played by cello only), and a ripieno of strings and bc. As already stated the first concerto contains a part for trumpet, but it is no independent concertante part. The Concerto VI in F is different, though: this is a real organ concerto whose four main movements are preceded by an allegro which is a kind of prelude. The most extended solo parts are in the third and fifth movements, allegro and allegro ma non presto respectively. Especially the third movement is remarkable because of the many twists and turns of the organ part.

There are other interesting things in these concertos, like the descending chromatic subject of the first allegro of the Concerto II in B flat. This concerto begins with a largo which contains strong dynamic contrasts through the consistent juxtaposition of the concertino and the ripieno. The piece ends with a sparkling allegro. The next piece is the Concerto III in G which seems to consist of six movements instead of the standard four. That is the result of the two very short adagios being given independent tracks. But these are mere transitions between the preceding and the following movements. This concerto starts with a poco largo dominated by strong staccato chords of the tutti. It is followed by a bright allegro.

There is plenty of counterpoint in these concertos, like in the second movement, allegro ma non troppo, of the Concerto IV in d minor and the second movement of the Concerto I in D. There is also much expression, in particular in slow movements, like the largo of the Concerto IV. Very nice is also the swaying rhythm of the first movement of the Concerto V in B flat.

The last item of this disc is rather odd: the canon Non nobis, Domine. Dominik Sackmann believes the inclusion in this collection "should probably be seen as a political statement". The canon is based on the opening verse of Psalm 115 - not 113 as the booklet says - : "Not unto us, O Lord, but unto thy name give the glory". The music consists of two phrases from the motet Aspice Domine by the Flemish composer Philip van Wilder (c1500-1553), which were put together during the time of Elizabeth I. William Byrd used the canon in his motet Ne irascaris Domine. The canon was "widespread among Jacobite recusants, particularly the Anglican non-jurors. It expressed their solidarity - despite any confessional differences - with the Stuart dynasty, ended by the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688, and their rejection of the legitimacy of the reigning monarch." Charles Jennens was also one of the non-jurors who refused allegiance to the house of Hanover which reigned since 1713. The fact that Mudge included this canon into this collection doesn't necessarily imply, as Sackmann underlines, that Mudge shared his conviction - which, of course, is in contradiction to his earlier suggestion it could be seen as a political statement.

This is a most interesting collection of concertos, and there is every reason to welcome their appearance on disc. Apparently the baroque orchestra Capriccio Basel has a special interest in English orchestral music as their previous recording of music by William Hayes shows. The performances are technically brilliant and the orchestra produces a beautiful and warm sound, with a wide dynamic spectrum. The violin parts in the concertino are shared by nine of the orchestras 11 violinists. Henry Moderlak gives a good performance of the trumpet part in Concertino I, and Marc Meisel shines as the organ soloist in Concerto VI. These are very persuasive interpretations which fully reveal the "beauty and dignity" of these concertos.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Capriccio Basel

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