The Melodious Talking Fingers
Colin Booth (harpsichord)
Soundboard SBCD 220 69:47 mins
Colin Booth is one of music’s unsung heroes. For four decades he has been toiling in his West Country workshop to produce magnificent harpsichords which he decorates himself. He’s a gifted painter, so each one is a thing of beauty, and as he’s also a fine musician – the performances he gives on them are first-rate. His account of Bach’s 48, for example, is notable for its scholarly grounding as well as for its emotional force, while his instrument allows the part-writing to emerge with unusual clarity.
This is his 16th recording of solo harpsichord music, and with it he draws back the curtain on an almost entirely forgotten composer. Johann Mattheson (1681-1764) was a polymath fluent in many languages, as well as being a noted dancer, fencer, rider and man-about-town, whose friendship with Handel – which eventually went sour and led to a duel – induced him to dedicate the works on this disc to him. The ‘language of the fingers’ in these fugues and dances is in many ways also the language of Handel and Bach, but as a ‘modernist’ who also wanted to keep the flagging fugal tradition alive he ensured that his counterpoint was not too dense, and that his fugal themes were pleasantly singable.
Some of these pieces are musical jokes, but the final one is a prayerful double fugue on the melody best known from Bach’s ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’. Booth regards this fugue (and plays it) as an expression of Mattheson’s continuing faith in the face of his severe deafness.