Eight Setts of Lessons for the Harpsichord

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COMPOSERS: John Jones
LABELS: Glossa
ALBUM TITLE: John Jones
WORKS: Eight Setts of Lessons for the Harpsichord
PERFORMER: Mitzi Meyerson (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 921808  

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His name may not have the exotic twang of the more celebrated 18th-century harpsichord composers – George Frideric Handel, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Domenico Scarlatti – but John Jones’s music is irresistibly colourful and eclectic. Ornate French-style preludes usher in Germanic dances, lilting Siciliane, lyrical Italianate ‘arias’, Scottish folk ditties and English ceremonial marches. Organist of St Paul’s Cathedral for over 40 years, Jones was no mean keyboard player, and he rubbed shoulders with some of London’s finest musicians – including Handel, to whom he pays tribute in Lesson V of this collection. 

On the page, his music can look disarmingly simple (‘pious and innocent’, Haydn called it), so it takes a skilled and seasoned performer to realise its full potential. Harpsichord doyenne Mitzi Meyerson does not disappoint, and brings to these accounts improvisatory flair, expressive rhetorical gestures, balletic grace and agility. She varies timbre and texture to delightful effect, conjuring up plucked lutes and guitars (disc 2 track 3, disc 1 track 16), nasal bagpipes (disc 1 track 15), pastoral flutes and musettes (disc 2 track 8), carillons (disc 2 track 7), even an entire orchestra in the concerto-like opening movements of Lessons VI and VIII. The pieces may lack somewhat in contrapuntal complexity (too dense and fusty for the gallant tastes of mid-18th century Londoners), but their felicitous character and kaleidoscopic variety are fair compensation. Indeed, this trove of lovely gems contributes significantly to our understanding of the soundscape of Georgian England.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti