Maurice Greene: Overtures

Baroque Band, Garry Clarke
David Schrader solo harpsichord
Overtures in Seven Parts, nos. 1-6, Overtures to Phoebe and Ode for St Cecilia
Pieces in C minor, G minor and A minor from Lessons for the Harpsichord

I still do not understand why Handel’s English contemporaries so rarely feature on concert programmes and recordings. Hyperion’s enterprising English Orpheus series brought us Croft, Stanley, Arne and Boyce amongst others. One published set that had not appeared on disc before a ridiculous court case forced Hyperion to tighten its belt was Maurice Greene’s excellent Overtures in Seven Parts, which the present CD combines with overtures to the pastoral opera Phoebe and an Ode for St Cecilia from 1730 (premiered on the eve of the composer’s appointment as Professor of Music at Cambridge University). Greene was no lightweight – he was organist at St Paul’s cathedral, organist and composer to the Chapel Royal and Master of the King’s Musick…

Four of the six have three movements, while numbers 4 and 6 have four each, and there is an easy tunefulness about them all. The last of the set is for strings alone, as are the two unpublished works. The remainder of the disc features three sequences of music printed in “A Collection of Lessons for the Harpsichord“, though not in the order published by John Johnson in around 1750. After the richness of the orchestral sound (33221 strings with oboes or flutes), the keyboard instrument sounded a little insubstantial; having initially thought that it would have been more sensible to programme these pieces between the overtures, having a longer sequence actually allows the ear to acclimatize. Personally, I think I would have sought out more ensemble music, or even added pieces by Stanley and/or Boyce, who were among Greene’s many students.

If you do not know Greene’s music, do not miss this first class introduction!

Brian Clark