John Eccles: Semele
AAM Records [2 CDs]
Shortlisted for the 2021 Gramophone Award
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and Recording of the Month – BBC Music Magazine
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and Classical Album of the Week – The Guardian
Disc of the Month – Opera
Editor's Choice – Gramophone
Record of the Week – BBC Radio 3
Critics' Choice – Financial Times
Classical Album of the Week – The Week
Editor's Choice – Limelight
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Planet Hugill
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Classical Source
The Academy of Ancient Music, Cambridge Handel Opera Company, Cambridge Early Music and Julian Perkins are proud to present the first professional recording of John Eccles’s scintillating Semele (c.1707), the first setting of the great English libretto by William Congreve, better known in G. F. Handel’s version of 1744.
Jupiter, King of the Gods – Richard Burkhard, baritone
Juno, Queen of the Gods – Helen Charlston, mezzo soprano
Iris, handmaid to Juno – Héloïse Bernard, soprano
Cupid, God of Love – Bethany Horak-Hallett, mezzo soprano
Somnus, God of Sleep – Christopher Foster, bass
Apollo, Sun God and God of Prophecy – Jolyon Loy, baritone
Cadmus, King of Thebes – Jonathan Brown, baritone
Semele, daughter of Cadmus – Anna Dennis, soprano
Ino, sister of Semele – Aoife Miskelly, soprano
Athamas, a prince of Bœotia – William Wallace, tenor
Chief Priest – Graeme Broadbent, bass
Second Priest / First Augur – Rory Carver, tenor
Third Priest / Second Augur – James Rhoads, tenor
Julian Perkins, Director & Harpsichord
Academy of Ancient Music
'A real discovery… the documentation is outstanding; so much context to pore over in the 200-page book… But it’s the music that’s the winner; the more I listen the more I love this. What a resurrection it is.'
BBC Radio 3 Record Review – Record of the Week
'..a scintillating triumph... Thanks to Perkins's deft casting, each principal's vocalism and dramatis persona are wonderfully matched... The Academy of Ancient Music's playing is just as fascinating. Perkins directs from the harpsichord with a demonic intensity. When individual band members take over the storytelling, their solos gild Eccles's invention with their own... Perkins commands a gamut of responses to the ensembles' charms, from crystal-clear voicing to big, fat homophonic swells. ... this is a superb reconstruction of a lost Eccles masterpiece.'
BBC Music Magazine – Recording of the Month
'…the pace whips along, as jewel-like solos flash past, interspersed with vividly descriptive instrumental numbers… Julian Perkins gets a fizzing performance out of the Academy of Ancient Music, enough to make Eccles seem a rival to Handel…'
Financial Times – Critics' Choice
'It is difficult to imagine greater justice currently being done to this opera than it receives here. Testament to the depth of thought and preparation that has gone into the performance is fully laid out in the superbly produced accompanying 200-page booklet … The hero of the performance is undoubtably Julian Perkins, who conducts as if every bar means the world to him, pacing the work with assurance and drawing splendid playing from the strings of the AAM … All the major roles are outstandingly taken … as this outstanding recording proves, it’s a damn good opera. As such it fully servers to take a place in the repertoire of British companies.'
Opera – Disc of the Month
''This opera oozes drama’ writes Julian Perkins in his note, and goes on to prove his point. Pacing, not least in the expressive recitatives, is fluid and natural, the playing of AAM strings tingles with theatrical life and the young cast is uniformly fine … superb'.
Gramophone – Editor's Choice
'The Academy of Ancient Music’s new recording of John Eccles’ Semele is nothing short of a revelation…. The sheer virtuosity of the Symphony that opens act III is breathtaking, especially when captured in Alexander Van Ingen and Dave Rowell’s superbly present recording. Performed to the very highest vocal, instrumental and scholarly standards, this is simply unmissable.'
'With the Academy of Ancient Music, the director Julian Perkins reveals a work that exceeds the superficially attractive, his charged reading embracing high drama and deep emotion. Excellent performances from Richard Burkhard (Jupiter), Anna Dennis (Semele) and the remarkable Helen Charlston (Juno).'
'The work recorded here, [Eccles’] opera Semele, is definitely no tiddler, especially when performed with the forthright flourish that the director and harpsichordist Julian Perkins’s musicians and singers bring to the task … Among the universally strong cast, Anna Dennis makes the most of every word as the confused heroine who bites off rather more than she can chew. Richard Burkhard is properly muscular as Jupiter; William Wallace quivers nicely as the agitated Athamas, Semele’s intended; while Bethany Horak-Hallett makes such an eloquent Cupid that I only wish this god of love had flown into view more often. Handsomely packaged with copious documentation, this is a recording that by rights should put Eccles on the map.'
'Colourful musical gem… impeccably produced… The role of Semele herself is beautifully sung by Anna Denns, and the rest of the large cast is excellent, too. Julian Perkins conducts them and the AAM players in a performance that’s gratifyingly light on its feet… puts this Semele, and its composer, firmly on the map.'
'I enjoyed this disc immensely… what Perkins and his performers bring out is that this Semele is as vivid as a drama as its successor… Reviving one of the forgotten gems of English opera, this first professional recording of Eccles and Congreve’s drama is revelatory, bringing out the work’s wit, charm and drama…'
'...lavishly packaged, presented and researched new account… gives this work the passionate advocacy it has long been waiting for… Perkins directs a crisp, energised account from the orchestra, with plenty of character in the continuo playing.'
Limelight – Editor's Choice
'Long deprived of a modern edition, Eccles' music is beginning to resurface as evidenced by this recording of his Semele … Julian Perkins leads a dozen excellent soloists and the joint forces of the Cambridge Handel Opera Company, Cambridge Early Music and the Academy of Ancient Music … This new version is a real revelation.'
Les amis d’Ovide
'No stone has been left unturned in producing Eccles’ Semele; it is given a performance it truly deserves, shining light on a composer and opera unduly neglected. A recommended listen for those with an interest in music of this period. There is much to enjoy musically and musicologically in this diligent and all-encompassing release.'
The Classic Review
'… if one were to select a pinnacle of the English Baroque, they would be hard-pressed to find a more representative example than this … With world premiere recordings being issued with ever-greater frequency, it can be challenging to find those works that contribute something worthwhile to the canon, much less provide an eye-opening exploration of something revelatory, but Semele does just that.'
The Whole Note
'Eccles tended to work on a smaller scale than the operatic but he is notably deft when it comes to instrumental touches, such as violin obbligati, the structurally important use of the wind machine, and of tempest-styled intensity. It’s this adrenalin that I also ascribe to Julian Perkins, who directs the Academy of Ancient Music from the harpsichord. I’ve just listened to his vivacious playing of the keyboard music of the obscure English composer John Worgan (Toccata TOCC 0375) who was active compositionally after Eccles had retired, and his performance of sometimes somewhat eccentric music is wonderfully vivid, as is his direction of Semele. He encourages bracing tempi without allowing them to become breathless or short-winded. Pacing of the recitatives is finely judged (the opening recitative of Act II between Juno and Iris is a perfect case in point – not wilfully rushed but maintaining its own natural rhythm). Orchestral discipline is assured, and individual contributions are poised. The Symphony that opens Act III is pizzicato laced and full of interest. ...your ear will be enjoying this tightly produced, outstandingly well sung and splendidly performed Italianate opera.'
'La baguette de Julian Perkins témoigne d’un sens raffiné du tempo et de nuances dynamiques. Grâce à une remarquable transparence des textures, une légère souplesse agogique et la finesse des attaques dans les cordes, le mouvement se pare d’une éloquence à la fois passionnée et poétique, mettant en valeur les rythmes et la beauté des lignes. Pour les airs, l’accompagnement se montre parfaitement adapté à la respiration des solistes, favorisant théâtralité et cohérence narrative.'
'El projecte del director i clavecinista Julian Perkins és una deliciosa troballa, una autèntica joia oblidada de l’òpera anglesa. ... Julian Perkins dirigeix aquesta elogiosa versió amb un selecte repartiment de solistes acompanyats pel Cambridge Handel Opera Company, el Cambridge Early Music i l’Academy of Ancient Music. Aquesta òpera recitativa amb breus àries i una història avança ràpidament, conté unes encisadores parts instrumentals ... com l’obertura, les simfonies i les danses, com la dansa dels zèfirs o la magnífica dansa dels sàtirs que clou l’òpera.'
'Die Academy of Ancient Music hat das Werk nun im Eigenverlag in luxuriöser Ausstattung veröffentlicht, dargeboten von einem exzellenten 15-köpfigen Sängerensemble. Auch das um Continuo-Instrumente erweiterte Streichorchester spielt unter Julian Perkins mit stilistischem Gespür.'
Naxos [3 CDs]
World première recording of Margaret Catchpole: Two Worlds Apart – a tale of misguided loyalty, passion and fate.
Dating from 1979, Stephen Dodgson's opera tells the story of Suffolk heroine, criminal and chronicler, Margaret Catchpole. It immerses us in the internal battle between her good character and values, and her heartfelt loyalty to the man she loves, the smuggler Will Laud.
Margaret Catchpole – Kate Howden, mezzo-soprano
Will Laud – William Wallace, tenor
John Luff – Nicholas Morris, bass
John Barry – Alistair Ollerenshaw, baritone
Crusoe – Richard Edgar-Wilson, tenor
Mrs Cobbold – Diana Moore, mezzo-soprano
Dr Stebbing – Peter Willcock, bass
Judge – Matthew Brook, bass
Mrs Palmer – Julia Sporsén, soprano
Guard – Jon Stainsby, baritone
Alice/Lucy – Robyn Allegra Parton, soprano
Farmer Denton – Michael Bundy, bass
Mrs Denton – Leonora Dawson-Bowling, mezzo-soprano
First labourer – Jonathan Hanley, tenor
Second labourer – Mark Saberton, baritone
Julian Perkins, Conductor
'...The Perpetuo ensemble play beautifully throughout, the whole directed impeccably by Julian Perkins.'
'...recalling the light instrumental textures and immaculate word setting of works by Britten, the opera has a powerful presence and flawless skilfulness. ...the whole cast of 15 is impressive.'
'The recording is of a concert performance, given at Snape Maltings in 2019 to mark the bicentenary of Catchpole’s death, with a largely Suffolk-born cast. Australian mezzo-soprano Kate Howden provides Antipodean representation – and much more besides – as Catchpole. William Wallace beguiles as bad boy Will Laud and Alistair Ollerenshaw is strong as the reliable, eventual ‘public benefactor’ John Barry. Unusually for an opera with an eponymous heroine, there’s even a happy ending.'
BBC Music Magazine ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
'Conductor, Julian Perkins, does a superb job with Chamber Orchestra, Perpetuo. The musical Interludes between the scenes were not only a delight but moved the story forward in an interesting way. ...The singers on the recording are wonderful interpreters of this highly textured score. Made up of a cast of fifteen they constitute an impressive line-up. Dodgson writes well for them and the music contributes much to their characterisation. It’s not only about the voice but the delivery. Much attention is paid to speech patterns and rhythm. ...It’s a long time since I have been so gripped by an opera narrative and so involved in all its characters and that is due to the cohesiveness of the piece. But the biggest surprise to me was the wonderful score. Naxos has produced a marvellous recording and the sleeve notes are excellent. Highly recommended – this opera will appeal to a wide audience.'
'Throughout, Dodgson links his scenes with atmospheric orchestral interludes which greatly add to the interest of the opera, and Perkins gets fine performances of these from the members of Perpetuo. These interludes partly contribute to the work's leisurely feel, but yet they are musically so strong, and Perkins and his players make them an integral part of the opera. ...the singers' diction is excellent which means that you hardly need a crib to follow the action. ...The recording is notable for the vividness of the performances and the tidiness of detail in a contemporary piece is admirable. Dodgson's final opera has full justice done to it on disc.'
'...the sound is impeccable both in quality and balance between singers and orchestra.'
David's Review Corner
John Worgan: harpsichord music
The organist and harpsichordist John Worgan (1724–90) was one of the most highly respected musicians in London. Handel admired his playing, and Burney described him as ‘very masterly and learned’. All that survives of his harpsichord music are a New Concerto, an independent Allegro non tanto and two collections, one of six sonatas and the other of thirteen teaching pieces. They encompass an eclectic variety of styles and a surprisingly wide range of emotions – proud, spirited, witty, impulsive, touching, vivacious – making Worgan sound something like an English Domenico Scarlatti.
Read more here about this world-première recording of Worgan's harpsichord music.
Julian Perkins, double-manual harpsichord from the workshop of Jacobus Kirckman, 1772 (Tracks 1–15, 29–31)
Timothy Roberts, double-manual harpsichord by Klaus Ahrend, 1973, after Dulcken (Tracks 16–28)
'Famous in his lifetime, the 18th century composer John Worgan seems to have dropped off the radar but this disc should tickle the palate with its exploration of Worgan's idiosyncratic Scarlatti-on-acid style ... There are numerous musical references which tempt and tantalise, though luckily the articles by Roberts and Perkins fill in a lot of the gaps, whether it be evoking the pathos of a Vauxhall song or sending up opera seria, and Perkins even refers to the music as 'bawdy'. By having two different harpsichords, we start off with a wide colour palate and both players use their instruments to the utmost so that along the way there is lively selection of colours and timbres which at times matches the wildness in Worgan's music.'
Planet Hugill ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
'Perkins, who is a thoroughly engaging performer as he recently showed when directing John Eccles’ opera Semele on disc with the Academy of Ancient Music, seems to enjoy prodding Worgan still further, drawing out almost music box sonorities in the Bizzaria of the two-movement Fourth Sonata, and taking pleasure in the Old School Sarabande with Variations, which is the Sixth Sonata. He plays on an suitably evocative instrument. ... [These pieces] have real character and a sense of personality, they cover a wide array of moods and are splendidly brought to life here in all their wit and charm.'
'The Sonatas are given imaginative and compelling performances from Julian Perkins. He adds considerably ... through an improvisatory approach to performance and copious added ornaments and flourishes that may reflect the accounts of Worgan’s own playing. Examples include a lovely bit of cheekiness at the end of the Gavott of Sonata V and a wild little coda at the end of the Sarabande.'
Early Music Reviews
Franz Schubert: 3 violin sonatas
American Record Guide Critics’ Choice 2020
Franz Schubert had two approaches to the violin – one a particularly virtuosic and fiendish style which evolved from his earliest orchestral works through to his late G major String Quartet. The other, more subtle, using a narrower range of notes, avoiding the extremes, is found in these Sonatas of 1816, which perfectly balance the violin and piano in technically and musically concise forms. Their concision led publisher Anton Diabelli to call them ‘Sonatinas’ and they have been known as such for 200 years: a misnomer that is an injustice to these fascinating and wonderfully poised works.
Read more here about this project.
'I knew at the outset that Peter Sheppard Skærved and Julian Perkins had found the essence of this music and greatly enjoyed playing it. They have a wonderful intimacy and informality. They find things in the music that elude everyone else, and their interpretive decisions invariably feel valid. The intimate, warm recorded sound is perfect for these performances.'
American Record Guide
'‘Blurtext’, not urtext – a fascinating and stylish approach to the score... The exemplary recording replicates well the intimacy and delicately subtle nuances of the music making.'
'The playing by both musicians is exemplary. Had the artists “merely” rendered the music as printed, I think this disc would merit attention. But the adventurous path they actually traveled makes this a very special recording... This Schubert disc is a fine achievement, and one I am delighted to recommend.'
'...Skærved and Perkins let the music do the talking, and it speaks confidently and compellingly.'
'...Much thought, care and affection has gone into this project… a CD that deserves the attention of anyone interested in historical instruments and an intelligent approach to playing them.'
Early Music Review
'Skærved always excels not only in his playing but also in his exploration of and critical approach to the original musical sources, and this CD is no different. Some interesting choices on repeats and frequent moments of surprise… a clear sense of period style is always present.'
The Whole Note
Carl Maria von Weber: Complete Keyboard Duets
Today, Carl Maria von Weber is remembered almost solely for his fantastical opera, Der Freischütz. This collection of his complete keyboard duets offers a different view of an important early Romantic personality.
Music for piano four hands, involving two players at a single keyboard, was a 19th-century way of bringing the grandeur of the symphony and the opera into living rooms. Performed here on period instruments by Julian Perkins and Emma Abbate, these pieces capture to perfection the genre’s cheerful intimacy and operatic flair.
Read more here about this project.
BBC Music Magazine
'Julian Perkins and Emma Abbate play with a fine sense of cohesion, the two pairs of hands balanced perfectly in tone and volume. The two period pianos add a much-needed sense of the sound of the period, allowing a sensitivity of touch and articulation. Incidentally, they are an excellent example of musicians surviving coronavirus lockdown with an enterprising series of on-line live streams from their home...'
'The use of a fortepiano brings a whole range of colour and timbres to the music, and as ever with Weber, his music responds to the clarity and sparkle which period instruments and style brings. And in the Allegro of the Opus 60 pieces, we even get to hear the Graf piano's delightful bassoon stop (I kid you not!)... Sitting two abreast at a fortepiano is a very intimate experience and here Julian Perkins and Emma Abbate sound as if they are enjoying themselves. They play the music with real affection, and with a lovely sense of friendship and connection with the music.'
Sweeter than Roses
Julian Perkins and Sounds Baroque join soprano Anna Dennis for this celebration of the songs of Henry Purcell.
Known for his undisputed mastery in setting the English language, Purcell also absorbed influences from both French and Italian styles. This programme is complemented by Purcell's close Italian contemporaries who worked in London: a guitar suite by Francesco Corbetta, performed by James Akers, and a harpsichord suite by Giovanni Battista Draghi, performed by Julian Perkins. Two songs by the earlier Stuart court composer, Henry Lawes, are also included.
Audio samples and booklet are available at Resonus Classics.
'Anna Dennis sings Purcell with chaste beauty, dignified and cool as marble.'
BBC Music Magazine
Journal of the Musicians' Union
'Dennis’s lower centre of vocal gravity anchors a wonderfully brooding and inky ‘In the black, dismal dungeon of despair’ and brings warmth and weight to Henry Lawes’s ‘No Reprieve’, with its heartbreakingly desolate refrain ‘Alas! Undone to fate, I bow my head’, and the soprano’s superb diction and attention to text bring a lovely lightness to the vivacious ‘Cupid, the slyest rogue alive’... Perkins’s harpsichord offers sparkling commentary in ‘She loves and she confesses too’, vamping up the ground bass to almost Nyman-like intensity. Giovanni Battista Draghi’s Suite in E minor gets similarly loving treatment, its short movements all carefully coloured, while James Akers makes a highlight of Francesco Corbetta’s Suite in C, his guitar now lute-like and delicate, now thrumming tuned percussion.'
'Anna Dennis is wonderfully alive to the shifting moods and ideas expressed in order to tell a story or to evoke intense emotion ...Sounds Baroque, under Julian Perkins’s direction (switching among harpsichord, spinet and chamber organ), further endows these settings with great alacrity, but by no means upstaging the singer.'
'Julian Perkins' article in the booklet explains how the selection of material on the disc was made to bring out the sheer variety of Purcell's songs. So here we have the simply beautiful, Sweeter than Roses and An evening hymn, with Anna Dennis' lovely sculptural approach to the vocal line, or the dramatic intensity of In the black dismal dungeon of despair and the narrative delight of On the brow of Richmond Hill. Dennis combines a surprisingly strong toned voice, with a fine sense of line and great feel for the words. When listening to the disc, you never feel the need to resort to the printed words. In songs like Of fair Cedaria Dennis brings out the remarkably rhapsodic nature of Purcell's writing... There is a strength and a vibrancy to these performances that I enjoyed, and Anna Dennis gives a striking performance which is well away from a light skimming over the surface. She is well supported by Julian Perkins and Sounds Baroque..'.
'This varied but coherent selection makes for a very enjoyable disc.'
Music for a King: Chamber works from the Court of Frederick the Great
Channel Classics [2 CDs]
Frederick the Great himself is known to have composed one hundred and twenty-one flute sonatas, four flute concertos, a symphony, various arias and an overture. These works were written in the mixed style advocated by Quantz in an attempt to blend Italian music of the senses with French music of reason. The king’s love of music was real and genuine, and he desired and ensured that others should enjoy it in the same way. As a performer he was probably one of the most distinguished amateurs ever. As a composer he wrote nothing eminent or really original, though some pieces exuded a certain beauty and charm. However, this recording promotes the extraordinary talent of the musicians and composers he surrounded himself with at court, the luminaries of the 18th century, all brought together by one of the greatest musical patrons that ever lived.
Julian Perkins harpsichord continuo, clavichord solo and continuo
'This is the baroque style performed at its best!'
'..the ensemble's playing really takes wing in JG Graun's Quintet, with its filmy textures and mercurial changes of mood.'
BBC Music Magazine
'...the wonderfully free, improvisational quality Julian Perkins brings to his duetting with Solomon makes this one of the album's highlights.'
Daniel Purcell: The Judgment of Paris
World première recording
In 1700 a group of English patrons devised a competition for settings of a libretto by William Congreve. It attracted four entrants: John Eccles, Gottfried Finger, John Weldon and Daniel Purcell, younger cousin or brother of the late Henry Purcell. Paris, a shepherd, is visited by Mercury, Messenger of the Gods, who gives him the Golden Apple of Discord, which he has to award to the most deserving of three goddesses – Venus, Pallas (Athene) or Juno. Daniel Purcell’s setting manifests a richly inventive and innovative musical style in a bold attempt to create a school of all-sung English opera.
Anna Dennis Venus – Goddess of Love
Amy Freston Pallas – Goddess of War
Ciara Hendrick Juno – Goddess of Marriage
Samuel Boden Paris – a shepherd
Ashley Riches Mercury – Messenger of the Gods
Julian Perkins conductor
Audio samples and booklet are available at Resonus Classics
'Thanks to this well-made recording, with a cast led by soprano Anna Dennis and [tenor] Samuel Boden, an overlooked episode in English musical history is exposed.'
'This is one of Resonus’s most enjoyable discoveries and it’s my own personal favourite. I’ve made it a Recording of the Month for many reasons: as well as making available some fine music which has been largely ignored, it introduces us – me, at any rate – to some fine young performers… the work is delightful – not the equal of Henry’s Dido and Æneas but as entertaining as his Indian Queen – and the performances do it excellent service.'
'The florid writing is extremely well handled here by a splendid cast, Samuel Boden's Paris and Ashley Riches' Mercury in particular, while the opera is directed by Julian Perkins with verve and wit.'
Early Music Today
'Daniel Purcell’s drama is absorbing and certainly musically entertaining… high-quality entertainment.'
BBC Radio 3 CD Review
'It is a pleasure to welcome this recording for the sake of Daniel Purcell's opera but doubly so because Perkins and his forces give a delightfully involving and stylish performance which is more than recommendable on its own terms.
Samuel Boden makes a fine Paris with a lovely lyric tenor voice. His lovely seductive tones and lyrical cantilena impress particularly in his final aria when he makes his judgement in fine style. His three goddesses are Anna Dennis, Amy Freston and Clara Hendricks, each a charming delight. Dennis is suitably seductive as Venus, Hendricks is a very spirited Juno and Amy Freston a bravura Pallas. Ashley Riches makes a deeply dignified and involving Mercury at the opening.
The opera consists of a series of short numbers, 31 in all, with each goddess getting a little scene. Though I have seen it live many years ago, I have to confess to no remembrance of it in performance. But from this disc I think it would make a highly effective and delightful stage work.
Though the airs are short, the vocal writing is not uncomplicated and all soloists are stylish and involving. Spiritato! lives up to its name, giving us a spirited and sophisticated performance. There is crisp support from the Rodolfus Choir. Perkins keeps the work flowing nicely and gets a stylish performance all round.'
'In rescuing Daniel Purcell’s… delightful short semi-opera, The Judgement of Paris (1701) from canonical oblivion, the Spiritato! ensemble, under the musical direction of Julian Perkins, has done lovers of baroque music a great service.'
British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies - concert review
'... in the rescuing hands of Spiritato!, the Rodolfus Choir and a strong team of soloists in this celebratory performance at St John’s Smith Square, Purcell’s (largely neglected) opera sparkled at us across the silent centuries with joyful conviction, playfulness and verve.'
Bachtrack - concert review
Herbert Howells: Music for Clavichord
ASC Records [2 CDs]
These two CDs contain all of Herbert Howells’s published music for clavichord: Lambert’s Clavichord Op. 41 (HH 165) and Howells’ Clavichord (HH 237) Books I and II. Herbert Lambert was an English clavichord maker who died in 1936.
This is the first complete recording on clavichord of this music. Lambert's Clavichord and a selection of eight pieces from Howells’ Clavichord were recorded on clavichord by Ruth Dyson (1917–1997) and released on an LP in 1981. This new recording was dedicated to her memory in her centenary year.
Writing about the music of Lambert’s Clavichord in 1928, Sir Richard Terry observed: “Mr Howells has absorbed all the wealth and variety of Tudor rhythms, but keeps his own individuality intact. His music is modern inasmuch as he uses chords and progressions unknown in Tudor times, but the spirit of the old composers is there all the while. In other words, he and his instruments are one.”
'Julian Perkins' playing is exemplary. It is subtle, often exciting, nuanced and perfectly balanced. Andrew Mayes has provided a detailed, dissertation-length study and analysis of these three ‘albums’. There is also an important discussion by Peter Bavington of the two instruments used in this present recording. It was a Dolmetsch (1925) clavichord for Lambert’s Clavichord and one by Bavington (2015) for Howell’s Clavichord. Two pieces, ‘Goff’s Fireside’ and ‘Patrick’s Siciliano’ are played here on a Thomas Goff clavichord, made in 1952. ...it is essential that the recorded repertoire supports such a splendid version as this for clavichord.'
´– a virtuoso showcase´
'The influence of English Tudor music runs like a silver thread through the compositions of Herbert Howells (1892-1983), nowhere more so than in this most esoteric of recordings, his complete works for the intimate voice of the clavichord. His first collection, Lambert’s Clavichord (1928), is modelled on the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and dedicated to fellow musicians and friends, with pastiche titles such as Fellowes’ Delight and Wortham’s Grounde. Howells’s own deliciously distinctive voice comes to the fore in two later collections, gathered in 1961 – pieces that test the virtuosity of the performer, a challenge easily accepted by the stylish Julian Perkins.'
'Although Howells sanctioned the use of piano as an alternative (presumably on practical grounds), there's no doubt that the clavichord brings us closer to the time-travelling wellspring of his imagination – he was proud of Vaughan Williams's characterisation of him as 'the reincarnation of one of the lesser Tudor luminaries'! – and these handsomely produced discs represent the first complete recording to engage with the instrument. Sharing the loot between three well-chosen specimens, Julian Perkins tackles the 32 miniatures with panache and empathy to spare. What fulsome tones he draws out of the Pavane named for Vaughan Williams; an invigorating tally-ho spurs on 'Berkeley's Hunt'; and a wry nod to William Walton in Coronation best bib and tucker rounds things off with an abracadabra of a celebratory flourish. Against all the odds: hurrah for Howells!'
BBC Music Magazine
´There is nothing po-faced or academic about the playing on this double disc album, and Julian Perkins brings vibrancy and colour to his performance, using a selection of clavichords for the recording by Dolmetsch and Goff. ...the instruments themselves sound bright and richly coloured. Comprehensive liner notes by Andrew Mayes, together with a note on the instruments by Peter Bavington and performance notes by Julian Perkins.´
The Cross-Eyed Pianist
'Julian's performance is quite outstanding: brilliant where the music requires it, thoughtful and sensitive to every nuance in the quieter and more expressive pieces. I have heard different views about whether Howells wrote 'real' clavichord music; but after listening to this recording I have no doubt that the Dolmetsch, with its quiet and sweet tone, is the perfect instrument for Lambert's Clavichord, and that the Bavington is an excellent instrument for Howells' Clavichord. ...this is a truly excellent recording. It presents three interesting and very different instruments. The booklet has valuable essays about Howells, about the music, and about the instruments. And the music is most beautifully played, virtuosic when required, and always expressive, with careful attention to the composer's markings and to the flow of the music, and, most important of all, to the spirit of each piece.'
British Clavichord Society
‘The clavichord is a small quiet instrument, but the strings resonate in such a way that it is capable of great harmonic richness and the player is also able by finger-vibrato or Bebung to cause a slight bending of pitch. Its sound in the right hands is unexpected; here it is in the exemplary hands of Julian Perkins who draws all manner of pitch fluctuations and dynamic colour from his instrument. …I never thought a double CD set of clavichord music by one composer would excite me as much as this has, but it has and I am very grateful.’
British Music Society
'...All wonderfully played by Julian Perkins, sadly prevented from playing an instrument built by Herbert Lambert (none are currently in good enough condition). The three he does use make a gorgeous sound, the soft-toned 1925 Dolmetsch clavichord especially appealing. Unexpectedly delicious: an enchanting pair of discs, nicely annotated.'
The Arts Desk
'...Perkins' interpretations fit the instrument very nicely indeed. Steve Plews' recordings, made in Hampstead and Farnham in March and August 2016, are nicely balanced. The fairly close miking, necessary to catch the delicate sonority of the clavichord, does also capture the (entirely natural) action of the instrument. A fine release.'
'This charming music is notably difficult to play well, with its thicket of notated dynamics and tricky hand positions. Many of the forms are borrowed from Elizabethan music, making a link to the distant past, but the harmonies are modern. ...The performance captures the musical characterization well. He makes most of it sound deceptively easy. ...The booklet lists more than two dozen subscribers who helped to bring this important project to publication. Many thanks to them, and to Perkins, for this monumental album.'
American Record Guide
'Julian Perkins' performances match the originality and creativity of Howells' music. Indeed, the playing itself champions the cause to hear these pieces played on the clavichord, such that the listener may find it difficult to return to the hackneyed sound-world of the piano. As Howells' compositional skills seem to exist in a playpen of creativity, so Perkins' playing evokes sounds one would think unimaginable on such an instrument. The performer's experience of keyboard music of the past is a great asset to the skill and understanding with which he performs these works, which often foray into realms of advanced modernity. The lyricism of the playing in intimate gems such as 'Lambert's Fireside', and the Purcellian 'Wortham's Grounde' in Lambert's Clavichord; and 'Goff's Fireside' (a real highlight on the 1952 [Goff] instrument, and a striking change of colour on the recording), and the touching epitaph 'Finzi's Rest' in Howells' Clavichord, is counterbalanced by playing of extraordinary zest and vibrancy. Perkins conjures a brass-like fanfare in 'E B's Fanfarando', whilst seeming to evoke mosquito-like buzzing from the quiet trills. A pleasing feel for the slow dance of the gentlemanly 'Dyson's Delight', with its delicious English harmonic twists, is immediately offset by music that feels like it has emerged from the jazz-club in pieces such as 'Jacob's Brawl', and 'Hughes's Ballet'. There are moments in these upbeat pieces that achieve a percussiveness that would be impossible even on the modern piano. Perkins' touch at the keyboard often evokes the sounds of the lute and guitar, especially in the attractive 'Julian's Dream', a homage to the lutenist and guitarist, Julian Bream. Howells' Clavichord concludes with 'Walton's Toye', an explicit extemporisation on Walton's Crown Imperial. Such deference to a musical colleague, whilst at the same time epitomising his own personal style, is indicative of the pleasure this collection of endlessly surprising pieces can give. Highly recommended for both clavichord aficionados, as well as the uninitiated!'
J. S. Bach: French Suites, BWV 812–817
Resonus Classics [2 CDs]
Originating from Bach's halcyon years in Cöthen, the French Suites are evocative vignettes of domestic music-making chez Bach. With their vocal qualities and their open, galant textures, these works seem particularly well suited to the intimate sound of the clavichord. The recording includes suites by Froberger and Telemann, composers whose music inspired Bach.
What is a clavichord? Find out in Julian's introduction for BBC Music Magazine.
Audio samples and booklet are available at Resonus Classics
'The 'French' seem to be the least favoured on record among Bach's keyboard suites, yet also perhaps the ones most played by people in their homes – including Bach's, it is generally supposed. Julian Perkins performs them on the ever-intimate clavichord, and very sweet and delicate they sound on it. Actually he uses two clavichords, both copies of German late-18th century models: the one used for Suites Nos 1, 5 and 6 has a thin but silvery singing tone, while Nos 2, 3 and 4 are heard on an instrument with a brighter, pingier sound almost like a mandolin. The ability to play loud and soft, albeit within a very narrow and low-level range – is effectively exploited by Perkins; melodies sing over their accompaniments and the soft-curved sarabandes (the Fifth especially) are shaped with beauty and feeling. ...a well-executed and attractive release, worth investigating for its different slant on the music. Perkins includes the preludes found in some sources for Suites Nos 4 and 6, and complements Bach with fine little suites by Froberger and Telemann.'
'Taking his cue from the fact that the clavichord was by far the most common instrument for domestic music making and personal practice in Germany, Julian Perkins’ playing makes a persuasive case for recording the French Suites on the clavichord, following on from Thurston Dart’s historic 1961 recording on that instrument. This is impressive clavichord playing, highly intelligent and nuanced, with singing lines and rhythmic security. Voicing and counterpoint are beautifully controlled and repeated sections are judiciously ornamented. Perkins includes the Preludes to Suites 4 and 6 found in some sources. He also frames the suites with Froberger’s Partita no. 2 in D minor FbWV 602 and Telemann’s Suite in A major TWV 32:14 (long erroneously attributed to Bach as BWV 824), acknowledging and adeptly illustrating those composers’ influence on Bach. Perkins plays on two Peter Bavington clavichords, copies of a diatonically fretted c. 1785 instrument by Bodechtel in Nürnberg and an unfretted 18th-century German instrument, probably by Silbermann. In making this recording Perkins has done an important service to both the clavichord and to J. S. Bach. As a different take on these well-known works it can be highly recommended.'
Early Music Review
'Julian Perkins’ playing is sensitive and musical. He makes excellent use of ornaments, both realised from the score and also added improvisational ornaments, all forming an integral part of the music line, rather than being the often heard ‘add-ons’ to the texture. He also adopts an attractively free approach to interpretation, entirely appropriate given the complications of the sources of these suites. [...] I recommend turning off the lights, lighting a candle, sitting back and just letting the music flow.'
'Julian Perkins’ recording opens with a partita by one of Bach's predecessors, Johann Jakob Froberger (1616–1667), whose music Bach apparently studied. Its D minor key prepares the listener for Bach's opening French Suite and also acclimatises the ear to the delicate timbre of the clavichord, an hors d'oeuvre perhaps before the main course. A very tasty hors d'oeuvre though, and its expressiveness and careful attention to detail characterises Perkins' general approach. His dynamic control of two warm-toned clavichords is exemplary, and he draws the listener in to many stylish nuances. Preludes are added to Suites 4 and 6 in typical 18th-century fashion while Sarabandes provide an oasis of calm, particularly enjoyable after the busy Italian courantes of Suites 4 and 5. His ability to expose hidden melodic lines is effective, with ornamental creativity allowing for the 'occasional Perkinism'.'
Early Music Today
'These works sit perfectly on the clavichord and are here given lively yet intimate performances which are highly convincing.'
'The playing throughout displays fine musicianship and a thoughtful interpretive approach. Highlights include the many touching softer movements, and especially the Sarabande of the Froberger suite, in which Perkins rolls chords with a lutenist's sensitivity for timing and gestural sweep, bringing the movement to a close with a whisper-soft cadence. ...This is a beautifully produced recording that both Kenner and Liebhaber of the clavichord will enjoy having in their collections.'
'The recorded sound quality is excellent, with clear distinction between the two instruments. The essay by Warwick Cole provides a good overview of the primary sources, with references and links to online reproductions of the most important manuscripts, to which Perkins adds a personal note giving the performer’s perspective.
Perkins demonstrates complete rapport with the instruments and music, evoking a wide range of colors and effects. His performances are delightfully unbuttoned but never mannered, with subtly varied use of inégale, and fluidly improvised ornamentation; his rhythms are vigorous but always plastic. Altogether, this is music making of the highest order, rewarding the attentive listener at every level of detail.'
Boston Clavichord Society
'An outstanding feature of this recording is Julian Perkins' immaculate ornaments, with eloquent variations of shape and speed to suit individual contexts, using both on- and off-beat trills and mordents with differing initial note lengths – for example the lovely gradually accelerating trills in the Sarabande from Suite 6 as opposed to the more even, quicker ones in the Gigue of Suite 4.
I commend the addition to Suites 4 and 6 of preludes from later manuscripts (the latter otherwise known as No. 9 from Book II of the Well-tempered Clavier) and the inclusion of the Froberger and Telemann works instead of the more usual fillers, the BWV 818 and 819 suites. In fact I would happily buy these CDs for the Froberger alone. The beautiful tone colours, exquisite ornamentation, thoughtful use of rubato and moving changes in dynamics make it for me the most profound offering of all.'
British Clavichord Society
'...Julian Perkins is a fine musician and plays the suites elegantly.'
BBC Music Magazine
'Mr. Perkins is a player with a fine sense of line and direction. He plays with vigour or meditative lyricism in a healthy, unaffected manner, and makes lovely accents in time, whether by stretching beats or within strict time. He often adds ornaments to the repetitions and appears fond of providing flourishes to lead into a repetition or at the end of a work (cf. the conclusion of French Suite No. 5). The performer comments in the notes, ''A particular thrill associated with the French Suites is the lack of any one definitive source. ...It has allowed me creative freedom in combining different versions, adding some extra movements, varying repeats and realising chordal patterns – whilst also inspiring the occasional 'Perkinism.' '' The extra movements include, for Suite 4, the delightful little Prelude BWV 815a, its arpeggios realized here very ingeniously by Mr. Perkins. He bravely plays the E Major French Suite on the fretted clavichord, and I must compliment him particularly on his rendition of the allemande, finding and expressing the diverse flow of superficially even sixteenth notes with very elegant inflections.'
The clavichord is a rectangular keyboard instrument that initially flourished from around the early 15th century to the Classical era. Its mechanism is disarmingly simple; each key lever has a brass blade (tangent) at its end that presses up against the strings when the key is pressed down. This direct connection with the strings allows the player to control the sustain of the sound. Along with the accordion, the clavichord is unique amongst keyboard instruments in allowing the player a degree of vibrato. Something of a Cinderella of the keyboard world, the clavichord’s dulcet tones have inspired performers ranging from Oscar Peterson to András Schiff. Below, the maker-scholar Peter Bavington provides details about the two clavichords used in Julian Perkins's recording of the French Suites.
Unfretted clavichord made by Peter Bavington (London, 2015), after a late eighteenth-century German instrument probably by Johann Heinrich Silbermann
Photo: Andy Craggs
Both the clavichords used in this recording are free copies of eighteenth-century German originals. The smaller one (heard in the suite by Froberger and French Suites nos 1, 5 and 6) was made in 2008, and is based on a surviving clavichord by Johann Jacob Bodechtel (1768–1831), who worked in Nuremberg. Although this original was clearly not made during Bach’s lifetime, it is very traditional in design, and is typical of the kind of domestic clavichord that could have been found in a German musical family at any time during the eighteenth century. It is diatonically fretted, which means that for part of the compass the tangents of two adjacent notes strike the strings at different distances from the bridge, producing different notes (this works in exactly the same way as the frets on a guitar or lute, hence the term). The twelve notes of each octave can thus be obtained from only seven pairs of strings, each accidental being paired with a neighbouring natural note. This system has the advantage of reducing the load of strings bearing on the bridge, aiding its response; it also reduces the size of the clavichord and simpliﬁes the tuning process. Perhaps for these reasons, diatonically fretted clavichords continued to be made alongside the larger, unfretted type until well into the nineteenth century. The only drawback is that certain combinations of notes cannot be played simultaneously, but this is rarely a problem in these suites.
In the 2008 version, the compass was slightly extended to BB–f3. As on the original, the soundboard has two bars on its underside which pass across directly under the bridge; this, and the reﬂective cherry wood used for the case, seem to give the instrument its bright sound and quick response.
The larger clavichord (heard in the suite by Telemann and French Suites nos 2, 3 and 4) was made in 2005. It is based on an instrument in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, which is unsigned and undated but which is almost certainly the work of Johann Heinrich Silbermann (1727–1799), nephew of the famous organ builder (and friend of J. S. Bach) Gottfried Silbermann. In an unfretted clavichord like this, each string has a separate course; this makes necessary a longer bridge to accommodate the extra strings, and the front-to-back width of the instrument has to be increased to make room for a larger soundboard. The compass is larger, too: FF–f3, which implies a greater end-to-end length to accommodate the longer bass strings, but Johann Heinrich seems to have taken care to make his clavichord as short as possible: it is, in fact, scarcely longer than the Bodechtel. This has consequences for the sound and the way the instrument plays. The bass strings, for example, are quite short for their intended pitch, which makes necessary a large number of over-wound strings (40 in all), contributing a characteristically warm, dark timbre to the bass. The soundboard is deep but not long: it is in fact exactly square, which seems to be an almost ideal shape for the soundbox. Johann Heinrich used a special system of soundboard support, providing only one bar parallel to the bridge, with three strips of wood, no thicker than 1 mm, running across underneath at 45°. This is so successful that it was closely copied in the 2005 version. Very few other changes were made: the case is of walnut, like the original, with a panelled lid, here with three panels rather than the original two. Perhaps the only other signiﬁcant change is the rose in the soundboard, which is a slightly modiﬁed version of the original, made of vellum and wood veneer rather than the original card.
For this recording, both clavichords were tuned to a1 =415 Hz. The temperament on the smaller instrument (ﬁxed because of the fretting) was Bendeler III; Werckmeister III was chosen for the larger, unfretted clavichord.
W. A. Mozart: Keyboard duets, volume 1
Julian Perkins joined Emma Abbate to record Mozart's complete keyboard duets on original instruments. This is the first volume.
Among Mozart’s lesser-known compositions, his keyboard duets span most of his active life; the earliest was written when he was nine. Often delightful and lyrical as well as humorous and exciting, these works are given an authentic air on period instruments. On this first volume are duets in D major K 381, C major K 521, and B-flat major K 358. Also included is a duet by Johann Christian Bach, with whom the infant Mozart is alleged to have played keyboard duets whilst sitting on the older composer's lap.
The two original instruments used on this recording form part of the Richard Burnett Collection of Historical Keyboard Instruments: a grand fortepiano by Johann Fritz (Vienna, c1815) and a travelling piano by Anton Walter (Vienna, c1805). This album, the final recording made at Finchcocks