Performances of Bach's St. John Passion, BWV 245, with these forces or close to them have become an annual Eastertime tradition in London, and this recording is guaranteed an appreciative audience. Certain details relate specifically to this tradition: several chorales are sung unaccompanied, but an accompanied version is included at the end for those who reject the dramatization.
John McCabe's recording of Herbert Howells' clavichord music is a chance to hear some twentieth century music inspired by C.P.E. Bach's favorite instrument. While other composers were re-discovering the harpsichord, Howells' love for early English music and the instruments of two modern clavichord makers led to the composition of the three sets of miniatures: Lambert's Clavichord and Howells' Clavichord Books One and Two. Howells dedicated every piece in each set to a friend, and in the last two sets he even sometimes attempted to put something of the dedicatee into the music, whether it was a description of that person's character or an imitation of a fellow composer's style. Howells' titles, and in many instances the style of the piece, is a reference to the keyboard compositions of the English virginalists of the late sixteenth/early seventeenth centuries. On the one hand, "Lambert's Fireside" and "Goff's Fireside," named after Herbert Lambert and Thomas Goff, the two clavichord makers, are almost completely idiomatic of virginal music. On the other, the meandering tonality of "Rubbra's Soliloquy" and "E.B.'s Fanfarando" marks them as twentieth century compositions.
This outstanding two-CD survey of the piano music of Christian Wolff comes courtesy of the composer's longtime friend, pianist John Tilbury, with a little help from Matchless label boss (and fellow AMM mainstay) Eddie Prévost and the composer himself. Wolff's studies with John Cage began at the tender of age of 16, and "For Prepared Piano" (1951) is an affectionate nod toward the rhythmic procedures of his teacher, who sent his student off to the hotbed of avant-garde Europe that same year to meet Pierre Boulez.
John Lee Hooker, as anyone with a decent-sized blues collection knows, recorded for a virtual parade of labels early in his career, including Chess, although his stays with the company were fairly brief. Hooker's best early recordings, most would agree, were issued on Modern and Vee-Jay, not Chess.
The first volume of this series (Naxos 8.550761) mixed the first two sonatas of Field's Op. 1 with the first nine Nocturnes. The Sonata Op. 1 No. 3 in C minor logically appears on this second volume, in a most successful performance. Dedicated to Clementi, the first movement shows distinct tendencies towards 'Sturm und Drang'. Neither movement is fast: the concluding Rondo (marked Allegretto scherzando) is bursting with wit and charm to balance the stress of the first. This piece alone justifies the modest outlay for this disc. The remaining tracks, the next nine Nocturnes in the series, demonstrate Frith's sensitivity. Importantly, he shows a laudable restraint with the sustaining pedal. His sweet cantabile is the result of an acute musical sensitivity, and he never overblows the scale of these miniatures.