The Pleasures of the Imagination: English 18th-century harpsichord works by Blow, Clarke, Croft, Greene, Jones, Arne and JC Bach

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COMPOSERS: Arne,Blow,Clarke,Croft,Greene,JC Bach,Jones
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: The Pleasures of the Imagination
WORKS: English 18th-century harpsichord works by Blow, Clarke, Croft, Greene, Jones, Arne and JC Bach
PERFORMER: Sophie Yates (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0814

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Behind Sophie Yates’s fanciful title lurks a tautly structured programme. Eight pieces are arranged in chronological order and played on two modern copies, both of French harpsichords. The earlier one has a rich sound, plummy warmth in the bass with a clean fresh upper register – perfect for John Blow, Jeremiah Clarke, and a Suite by William Croft. The period tuning is beautifully sonorous in the limited key-range of this first half of Yates’s cherry-picking journey through 18th century musical London.

Maurice Greene, Richard Jones, Thomas Arne and JC Bach are played on a later, mid-century instrument, brighter and with more even, less differentiated tone between bass and upper registers. It’s tuned to be tolerant of a wider range of keys, particularly revealed in the chromatic harmony of the exhilarating final prestissimo of a JC Bach sonata. 

A particular feature of Yates’s playing is her fluency in the wealth of ornaments this repertoire demands. They are totally even, never interrupting the ebb and flow of more extended phrases.  

Her programme notes are coloured by biographical comments. I didn’t know, for example, that unrequited love drove Jeremiah Clarke, of jolly trumpet-tune fame, to commit suicide. 

An excellent survey of 100 years of English harpsichord music, superbly played.

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George Pratt