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John WORGAN (1724-1790)
Complete Harpsichord Music
Allegro non tanto in D minor (pub c.1795) [3:03]
Six Sonatas (pub. 1769) [39:09]
Pieces for the Harpsichord, composed purposely for forming the Hands of Young Pupils (pub. 1780) [23:26]
A New Concerto, in G major (pub. 1785) [10:55]
Julian Perkins (harpsichord), Timothy Roberts (harpsichord, Pieces for the Harpsichord)
rec. June 2018, St Saviour’s Church, South Hampstead, London (Pieces for Harpsichord) and October 2020, Holy Trinity Church, Hoxton, London

Though John Worgan’s name is now rather obscure, and his harpsichord music is heard here in premiere recordings, he was well known to Handel, who much admired his playing, and to Charles Burney who termed him ‘very masterly and learned’. His organ music has certainly made its mark and one of the two performers in this current disc, Timothy Roberts, has recorded the complete surviving corpus of Worgan’s music for the instrument on Toccata TOCC 0332.

He was known as a superior improviser so conjecturally that may account for the rather small number of keyboard works to have been printed. He studied with Roseingrave and Geminiani, whilst two other strong musical affiliations seem to have been for Domenico Scarlatti and Handel himself. The major works here are the six sonatas which were published in 1769, the first of his keyboard works to see print. Brief and compact though they are – largely Scarlattian in size in fact - they are full of liveliness and vitality and bewitching touches of sheer eccentricity, too. Indeed, it’s this element in his music that has encouraged Julian Perkins, here and there and certainly not profligately, slightly to amend some features. In the first sonata, for example, he ratchets the tension of the Presto finale by adding some dissonances and variants of his own, a practice perhaps encouraged by Worgan’s repetition of material. He also dampens the strings in the finale of the third sonata to give this Minuet a strummed, guitar-like sonority. Worgan’s music can be genial and droll, whilst here and there it reflects the influence of J.C Bach. There are some - but not too many - examples of virtuosity but there are frequent droll effects, questioning phrases, a gracious approach to Larghettos, and sparkling energy. 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.

He also plays the brief, Scarlattian Allegro non tanto, and A New Concerto, published in 1785. This last is in three conventional movements and marries nostalgic, backward-looking elements with Worgan’s grasp of caprice to splendid effect. Buoyantly played, too, into the bargain.

Timothy Roberts takes over for the Pieces for the Harpsichord, composed purposely for forming the Hands of Young Pupils to that instrument (pub. 1780). Didactic though these very obviously are, they still contain strong traces of the vibrancy and eccentricity that are so vivid a component of Worgan’s keyboard music (it makes one wonder what his improvising sounded like). The pieces are largely paired and offer lyricism and a range of technical challenges alike – derived as much from French as prevailingly Italian models. Roberts is notably fine in the flowing warmth of the Andante in F major and in the nobility of the Larghetto Affetuoso e Cantabile.
Roberts plays on a Klaus Ahrend double-manual instrument from 1973 (after Dulcken) whilst Perkins uses a harpsichord from the workshop of Jacobus Kirckman of 1772. Both sound excellent and have been splendidly recorded in two different churches.

Both instrumentalists contribute to the full and engaging booklet notes.

Worgan may not have tilled new soil, nor are his keyboard works especially grandiose or ambitious. But they 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.

Jonathan Woolf

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