Trying to find gems among the largely uninspiring material written by English composers in the generation after Handel has been a favorite pastime of English musicians for years. The latest entry is John Christopher Smith, who, like his father before him, served as Handel's copyist. The father had known Handel in Germany, and both men were named Schmidt at birth. The younger Smith wrote several oratorios, including one based on Paradise Lost, that are occasionally performed and recorded, but this recording of these Six Lessons for harpsichord, Op. 3, by keyboardist Julian Perkins is a world premiere. They hold the listener's interest, for they're more than "lessons": they actually qualify as virtuoso works, although Smith isn't known for having been a touring player. The nearest comparison from southern Europe would be Domenico Scarlatti, with the frequent hand-crossings and register effects coming straight out of the music of that composer. Smith's thematic material is not as instantly memorable (he didn't have flamenco musicians to inspire him), but there's plenty of energy and excitement. Each Lesson is in three or four movements, making a good fusion of Italianate and French structures with the Scarlattian style. Perkins adds heavy ornamentation to repeats, seeming a bit defensive about this in his booklet notes, but there's plenty of evidence both in English music and beyond for this procedure, and it fits Smith's overall style. The program opens with a Handel arrangement of one of his opera overtures for keyboard, another intriguing rarity. Perkins alternates two harpsichords (one described as "fruity") for additional variety, and the result is an album that can be recommended to fans of English music.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Overtures, HWV 456|
|Six Suites of Lessons for the Harsichord, Op. 3|