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CD Review: John Jones

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J. Jones, Eight Setts of Lessons for the Harpsichord, M. Meyerson

(released on May 27, 2016)
Glossa GCD921808 | 107'03"
Charles T. Downey, CD reviews: Mitzi Meyerson
Washington Post, September 2

Mitzi Meyerson loves to explore the dusty corners of the harpsichord repertory. Her series of recordings for the Glossa label has resurrected music by Gottlieb Muffat,Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, Georg Böhm, Giovanni Battista Somis and Richard Jones — none of them exactly household names. Her latest discovery is “Eight Setts of Lessons for the Harpsichord,” composed by John Jones in the 1700s (with no relation to Richard Jones). This Jones served as organist and choirmaster at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where, at the end of a distinguished, four-decade career, he was succeeded by Thomas Attwood, who had studied in Vienna with Mozart.

These harpsichord lessons, a varied mixture of dance pieces and other movements, have never been recorded before. The third set consists entirely of dances, in almost the order standardized by Bach and others. Meyerson gives the two-voice Courante a genial simplicity, which trails off innocently. The Saraband, which she takes after no pause, exchanges melodies between hands, the echo played on a stop with a nasal buzz. The set’s concluding Gavot takes on Scottish bagpipe colors, with some wrong-note grace notes in the opening drone and plenty of Scotch snap rhythms. A lute stop, or something like it, serves as the mandolin-like accompaniment of the Siciliana that opens the fourth set.

Other pieces reveal the Italianate influence of Handel and other composers in London. Although many of the movements are simple in texture, making an impression with liveliness of rhythm and melody, Jones also shows a more organ-like use of counterpoint in the fifth set’s opening movement. The quasi-improvisational opening movement of the sixth set has the feel of an intonatio or toccata, part of an overall impression that Jones’s aim was to cover as broad a range of musical styles as possible.

Throughout these performances, Meyerson did not feel bound by the written score, adding fanciful embellishments or triumphant cadences; truncating repeats or adding partial repeats as tags; and filling in chordal textures. Perhaps because the ending of the eighth set was not grand enough, Meyerson inverted the last two movements, ending with the heavier March. She appends a more virtuosic Brillante in the same key (D), drawn from the 17th grouping of movements in Jones’s later “Lessons for the Harpsichord” — a preview, one hopes, of more Jones to come.

John Jones, Eight Setts of Lessons for the Harpsichord (London, 1754)
---, Lessons for the Harpsichord (London, 1761)
Charles T. Downey, Mitzi Meyerson at LoC (February 25, 2014)

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