Mitzi Meyerson

Richard Jones: Sets of Lessons for the Harpsichord

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Listeners wouldn't think that after 40 years of the Baroque keyboard revival that there existed high-quality music that even Baroque specialists haven't heard of. But that's just what German harpsichordist Mitzi Meyerson, a specialist in neglected Baroque repertoire, has unearthed here. English composer Richard Jones has apparently suffered from an almost total lack of information about his life; just a few of his works other than these sets of harpsichord "lessons" have survived, and there is no biographical information to hang them on. It makes one think about how much one encounters with music from the past is bound up with narrative, with the presence of a story. Jones was apparently the leader of London's Drury Lane Orchestra in the early 1730s, when these pieces were published; he died in 1744, and there the story ends. Though they're called lessons, these are not teaching pieces; they vary from moderate to difficult and the unusual genre term seems to have been used in roughly the sense in which Chopin called pieces études. They are French dances, but their stylistic exemplars are Handel and perhaps Bach more than Couperin and Rameau, with melodic rather than programmatic or virtuosic inspiration. Are they lost masterpieces? Yes and no. They're certainly well put together, and Meyerson is right to stress the amount of good English music that was overshadowed by Handel during his own time and never quite recovered. Meyerson makes the best of it with brilliant, fast playing on a Ruckers-inspired 1998 harpsichord by Michael Johnson, and Glossa's engineers capture the sounds of this mighty beast without either harshness or interference. What's missing is the macro coherence found in Handel and Bach; these are essentially random sets of pieces, not suites, and the long sixth set, on disc two, is a miscellany of pieces in various keys that the composer tacked on after assembling his leftovers. This gives an idea: there's no particular reason to listen to the whole two discs, but there's plenty here that's new and unusual for Baroque enthusiasts.

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