Croft: Harpsichord Works, Vol 1; Harpsichord Works, Vol 2

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Croft
LABELS: Ismeron
WORKS: Harpsichord Works, Vol 1; Harpsichord Works, Vol 2
PERFORMER: Julian Rhodes (virginal, spinet & harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: JMSCD 6, JMSCD 7 (distr. J Martin Stafford, tel 0121 711 1975)
William Croft, who succeeded John Blow as organist of Westminster Abbey in 1708, is best known for his church music. Little keyboard music was published until Howard Ferguson and Christopher Hogwood edited a near-complete edition in 1974, with two further suites added by Peter Holman. This courageous recording presents the whole lot – 19 Suites together with three synthetic suites gathering together the remaining miscellaneous pieces.

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Rhodes allies a fine technique – delightfully fresh articulation, tasteful ornaments – to shapely phrasing and lively, rhythmical dances. He uses three instruments: a spinet, charmingly gentle; virginals rich and warm. There is also a two-manual harpsichord which allows some clever registration – a Minuet combining two eight-foot ranks, one of them damped (‘buffed’); an Air contrasting open and buffed tones; a March with a rather acerbic four-foot rank added. The recording captures a sense of intimacy while avoiding excessive mechanical clatter.

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Croft’s music is well crafted if rarely inspired. Much is thinly textured – solo line above bass – though he responds inventively to structural constraints: two ‘Grounds’ develop interesting variations over their repeated harmonic patterns. Among the best is Suite No. 14, a Prelude briefly hinting at Bachian intensity and an Air of lively dialogue between the hands, before a rather workaday Minuett. George Pratt