The Organ

Early English Music Masters

Calvert Johnson / Five historic English organs

The organs played here include St Helen Bishopsgate (Thomas Griffin 1743), St Mary Rotherhithe (John Byfield II 1765), Finchcocks (John Byfield II 1766), St James Chapel, Great Packington (Thomas Parker 1747), and Grosvenor Chapel (William Drake 1991). The latter is housed in the restored case of 1732 by Abraham Jordan, the Swell Stopped Diapason having original 18th century pipework. Other stops are copies of various 18th century instruments. The Great has the long manual compass from GG to f3, the Swell C to f3.

St Helen Bishopsgate contains three manuals and pedals with several ranks having original pipework; the longmanual compass (from GG to d3) is featured on Great and Choir, the Swell extending from C tod3. At St Mary Rotherhithe nearly two-thirds of the original pipework remains, a few stops were added by Hugh Russell in c. 1816, the Swell had been added in 1810. This is the most complete large 18th century English organ extant. The small single-manual organ at Finchcocks contains a diapason chorus to 2', with a long-manual compass. The organ at St James Chapel, Great Packington was designed by Handel, the three stop choir being added by Snetzler prior to 1759; the Great contains chorus work to 1 35', both manuals having the long compass, but extending to d3 in the treble.

On the first CD ten pieces were recorded at Bishopsgate, four at Finchcocks and three at Great Packington. The second CD contains eleven pieces recorded at Rotherhithe and nine at Grosvenor Chapel. Between them these two CDs contain a veritable cornucopia of the styles prominent in England from c.1660-1830, including between them no fewer than 38 pieces. Every genre of the English Voluntary is included, charting the development from John Blow to John Marsh and Samuel Wesley encompassing the baroque to the galant and rococo. There are examples of fugal style pieces from John Blow, Philip Hart, Thomas Roseingrave and Maurice Greene, Post Restoration Double Voluntaries from Locke, Blow and Croft, two short anonymous verses, movements for solo stops including Cornet Voluntaries from William Boyce and William Russell, Trumpet movements from John Stanley whose Voluntary also has passages for the 4' flute in its final movement, Jeremiah Clarke, William Croft (this piece also calls for Cremona), Jonas Blewitt, whose piece contains echoes of the Marseillaise, and pieces of a distinctly rococo charm from Dupuis,Marsh (including a most secular March) and Samuel Wesley. (It is a pity that the latter is not represented by one of his large scale voluntaries).

Also included are pieces by such lesserknown composers as John Reading and John Barrett who straddled the centuries, and Francis Linley who, like Blewitt, published an organ tutor at the end of the 18th century.There is also a four movement Overture to Samson by Handel, and his Concerto in F Op 4 no 5. Henry Purcell is represented by his Voluntary in G, his brother Daniel by two Psalm settings.

The accompanying booklet gives full information on the instruments, registration for each piece, an excellent overview of the music, and details of the recording equipment. The playing is exemplary, with crisp articulation, an expressive awareness of the Swell Pedal, tasteful ornamentation and stylish cadenzas. Some of the slow movements seem a shade too slow, but the livelier movements certainly convey the excitement that must have been felt by contemporary listeners at the first hearing of a new voluntary. As a detailed introduction to the music of this period, it would be hard to better.

One great advantage is that it gives a clear picture of the sound of the English organ of the period, the diapasons and reeds being neither overwhelming, nor apologetic, the gentler choir stops still having enough presence to support the Great Cornet and Trumpet. Its other great value is that it includes the pieces printed in Calvert Johnson's volume on England 1730-1830 published in the Wayne Leupold series of Historical Technique and Interpretation, as well as those pieces which are scheduled for his forthcoming volume on England 1660-1730. By following the score whilst listening to the CD, aspiring players without the benefit of a teacher who specialises in this area can take the form of "distance master class", presenting patterns of performance practice which may cause problems to the inexperienced.

Highly recommended.