|REVIEWS: divine art dda 25059 Garth: Cello Concertos|
The heart of musical Durham was the Norman cathedral situated above the city. Many of the city's resident musicians were members of the choir – lay clerks, as our friends on the other side of the pond call them – lured there from around the Scepter'd Isle by the high wages available. Together with the homegrown talent, they participated in the numerous concerts that were regularly presided over by the cathedral organist, and other programs as well.
John Garth (1721-1810) had ties to neither cathedral nor city, but he still exercised a strong influence on Durham's musical life. Little is known of Garth's musical training, but he may have numbered among the early students of Charles Avison, the well-known organist and composer from Newcastle. Garth's first known musical appointment was to the post of organist at St. Edmund's Church, Sedgefield. He was apparently an organist of significant talent and frequently offered organ recitals across northeast England. Garth was later appointed organist at Auckland Castle, traditionally the residence of the Bishop of Durham, holding the post until 1793. Garth's name first appears in a Durham advertisement from 1746. As the years went by, he took responsibility for the management of the subscription concerts in several venues in and around the city.
Garth left behind an impressive body of music, including several sets of keyboard sonatas (opp.2, and 4-7) that follow the blueprint established by Avison: two violins, cello, and either harpsichord or chamber organ. The first set appeared in at least six editions, but the others never proved to be as popular. Garth's cello concertos – though written for his own use – were dedicated to Edward, Duke of York, a cellist of considerable ability. The two men met in 1761 when Garth and Avison – along with William Herschel – were part of the ensemble hired to entertain the Duke during his stay with the Milbanke family. At the time, there was a surfeit of substantial cello music and until then nothing akin to Garth's concertos had been published in Great Britain. The Newcastle Journal reported on a concert in June of 1753 where Garth played one of the concertos: “We hear from Durham that . . . several fine Pieces of Musick were performed, particularly a Violincello Concerto composed and executed by Mr. Garth, which was justly admired and applauded by all present.”
Garth was following the winds of change with these concertos. They walk away from the old school style of Corelli and Geminiani tenaciously clung to by many of England's indigenous composers and move toward the more attractive and accessible idiom of the London-based J. C. Bach. All of the concertos follow the slow-fast-slow pattern of the Italian sonata da camera and follow Corelli's plan of alternating solo and tutti sections. However, Garth was probably more influenced by the “Prussian” sonatas (1742) of C.P.E. Bach, since they make use of a form that Garth employs in both his themes and modulations.
Garth's maturation is traceable from the first through the last of these concertos; the First is more heavily influenced by the Baroque while the Fifth Concerto is more up-to-date. This indicates that these concertos were probably composed over a long period of time. The outer movements tend to follow Avison's thoughts on melody and harmony, while the middle movements – though shorter than their bookends – generally place the spotlight on the cellist, with gentle and occasional punctuation by the orchestra.
I first made the acquaintance of John Garth's music in the days of vinyl, when the first of these concertos was included on a Hyperion release entitled “The Concerto in Europe.” Ever since, I had been hoping for either a complete set of his cello concertos or at least something else from Garth's quill. It was a long time in coming, but the genie granted my wish by way of this double-disc slim pack from Divine Art. This is wonderful music, possessed of flair, style, and occasional significant breadth. The Sixth Concerto is the most expansive, having at its center a gorgeous Siciliana that would even make an Italian composer green with envy, and the unsettled mood of the opening movement of the Fifth Concerto is certainly among the best written in England at the time.
The performances are equally commendable. Richard Tunnicliffe is in complete control of his instrument (c. 1730), which is attributed to Leonhard Manisell of Nuremberg. Tunnicliffe's tone is rich and deep across the range of his cello, never thinning or becoming anemic, and his technique is more than up to the demands required by Garth. The Avison Ensemble is small – no doubt to some degree in keeping with the forces available to Garth – but there is no lack of tonal strength here. They also play with generous helpings of solid musicianship, not to mention complete dedication. The tempos are comfortable, never rushed or lugubrious, and the sound is quite vivid, no doubt due to the acoustic properties of the venue, The Picture Gallery, Paxton House, Berwick upon Tweed.
This is a must-have for cellists, Anglophiles, and all who cherish music of the era; it is also the latest inductee into our Classical Hall of Fame.
INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW:
Now the Avison Ensemble have begun to look further afield, though their loyalties are still firmly fixed on the North of England. A few years ago they successfully recorded a single cello concerto from the Durham –based John Garth’s op.1; now they’ve returned to finish the job. John Garth (1721-1810) was a fairly typical jobbing musician of the period; performing (on the cello and organ), composing, teaching and organising concerts. Garth’s Six Concertos, op. 1 were all written as a vehicle for him to demonstrate his abilities as a cellist at his regular subscription concerts. Though the collection wasn’t published until 1760, the works had all been tried and tested in public since the early 1750s. Concertos for solo instruments (other than the keyboard) were rare in England at this time; composers generally thought their concerti grossi would be more generally useful to England’s numerous amateur music societies.
We should be grateful indeed that Garth’s op. 1 achieved the security of print and that it was much more than a vanity publication. Each concerto has been lovingly crafted by the expert fingers of an experienced cellist who knew exactly how to showcase the various registers of the instrument (especially the soulful tenor range), and – most importantly of all for a concerto – how to set the teeth rattling with virtuoso flights of fancy. Garth was also a natural melodist with a real gift for pithy memorable ideas and a penchant for tenderising the listener with melting episodes in the minor mode (in no. 4 the penultimate section of the slow movement really brings out the goose bumps). As with so much English music of this period there are a myriad of stylistic influences: it’s a veritable tug of war between treasured (Baroque) traditions and (especially in no. 5) new galant turns of phrases.
After such a build-up that heavens the performers here cherish absolutely every note of the music. I could really hug Richard Tunnicliffe for his determination to send these works back out into the world after so many years with the best possible chance of survival. He digs so deep that even the slenderest of Garth’s ideas polish up like the work of a master. Violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk directs the one-to-a-part string orchestra with missionary zeal: thrusting, dynamic and witty in the fast movements; lustrous and soulful in slow ones. The wonderful clarity of the recording favours – of all things – the double bass; and Timothy Amherst’s playing is beautifully weighted, by turns nimble and groundingly sonorous.
This is a very fine achievement. Memorable music, persuasively performed, richly recorded and among the most rewarding releases of the year.
Contemporary newspaper reports mention that Garth followed the pattern of many 18 th -century composers and dedicated the works to a member of the royal family. In the second half of the 18 th century, the cello was the most popular stringed instrument, and royalty played no small part in this.. Since Handel's time, members of the royal family such as Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751) and George IV (1762-1830) had played the cello, and this, of course, had increased its popularity and made it a much sought after instrument. The extensive dissemination of music and instruments, both through the widespread printing of music and through instruments brought back as ‘souvenirs' by noblemen on the Grand Tour, had made England particularly receptive to music for this wonderfully rich instrument. Great English instrument makers such as Benjamin Banks, Joseph Hill, Thomas Dodd, Peter Wamsley and William Forster came into prominence during the second half of the 18 th century.
Garth's set of Cello Concertos, op. 1 are dedicated to the Duke of York, who in 1760 was Edward, a keen amateur cellist, allegedly of some talent. Each of the six concertos follows the same 3-movement pattern (fast-slow-fast), sometimes incorporating a popular dance movement such as a Gigue, Siciliana or Minuet. Five of the six concertos are in a major key and all have an elegant gallant feel to them, appropriate to these transitional times, at the end of the high baroque period and foreshadowing the early classical style.
Garth composed these pieces to play himself and, as these concertos show, he was undoubtedly a gifted cellist. Little is known of his cellistic training, such as whom he studied with, or what instrument he played. He is likely to have played an English instrument. One wonders whether he travelled at all, and whether he ever visited London. Would he, for example, have known of the great Italian émigré cellist, Giovanni Basevi Cervetto (1680-1783) who was a vital force in London's musical life, or was Garth working in a musical vacuum, in terms of cellists? I suspect the latter, especially since Garth's compositions date from a time when most of the great late 18 th century English cellists and composers (such as John Crosdill and James Cervetto) were only babies.
At this time there were no other cello concertos written by English composers, so far as I am aware. Those by Joseph Reinagle and Robert Lindley, for example, were written much later. It seems that the only cello concerto written by a composer living in England and roughly contemporary with Garth's set of concertos is one by Carl Friedrich Abel, composer at some point before 1759. Although Abel was latterly associated with English music, he didn't settle in England until 1759 so his concerto cannot be counted as English, and certainly it would not have been known by Garth.
All of this points to Garth being the first English composer of cello concertos, the first in a line which culminated in a flurry of works written on the 20 th century, the most famous being that of Elgar. However, at the time when Garth was composing his cello concertos, this was a form that was certainly popular on the continent, with numerous examples in the high baroque and early classical eras written by such composers as Vivaldi, Boccherini, Lanzetti, Duport, Bréval, CPE Bach, Monn, Wagenseil, Anton Kraft and, of course, Haydn. The important question seems to be whether or not Garth would have been aware of any of these works.
The Avison Ensemble's recording is nicely balanced, and Tunnicliffe's cello blends harmoniously with the small instrumental forces of the ensemble. One point of interest is the string forces that the ensemble uses in this recording. The title page of the Concerti Op. 1clearly states ‘Six concertos for the Violoncello with Four Violins One Alto Viola and Basso Ripieno '. However, in the listing of performers on the recording, only two violinists are named. I would have been interested to learn what influenced this decision, yet no mention of it is made in the CD booklet. Was it for matters of musical taste and finesse, or purely for financial economy? I do not, however, find the strings underpowered, so perhaps it was the right decision to make, despite Garth's specification.
Garth's concertos are lengthier that those of his high baroque contemporaries such as Vivaldi, moving towards the more substantial examples of the genre from the classical era so typified by Haydn. In some ways, Garth's concertos compare favourably with the wonderful cello concerto by Monn which was composed before 1750, and which was also many years ahead of its time.
For the most part, Garth's concertos offer few surprises, although there are little gems such as the third movement of the second concerto, with its wonderful pizzicato theme. In all six concertos, the solo cello's theme is normally introduced by an orchestral ritornello. Garth then develops and builds upon it, leading eventually to a cadenza at the end of each movement. Whether Garth's cadenzas exist is not made clear; those on the recording are by Richard Tunnicliffe. It seems likely that Garth would have extemporised at these points, but that his improvisations were either not written down or have not survived. Tunnicliffe's are suitably in character for the pieces, and are executed with virtuosity.
Some concertos have more energy and vibrancy than others, no doubt due in part to the key chosen. The first movement of the fourth concerto has a fine sense of urgency and determination, although this is the one concerto that Garth chooses to end gently, with a Minuet, a common musical device in the earlier part of the 18 th century. Handel chose to end several of his Trio Sonatas Op. 5 in this way, winding down gently rather than going out with a bang.
There are echoes of Garth's English predecessors and contemporaries in these pieces, as one might expect: no doubt Handel, Boyce and Avison influenced Garth's musical development. The slow movement of Concerto no. 5 in D mnor contains a direct quotation from one of Handel's Concerti Grossi in F major, which seems somewhat abrupt and out of place, especially after the slow D minor opening, with its echoes of Venetian harmony. Garth then beautifully extemporises on the Handelian theme, although all too briefly.
As a fellow cellist, I heartily thank Richard Tunnicliffe and the Avison Ensemble for bringing these works back to the English public. They very much demand to be heard and to be included in the cellist's repertoire again.
The British label Divine Art, which specialises both in music played by the Avison Ensemble on original historical instruments, and in music by almost forgotten 17 th and 18 th century composers, has recently issued two CDs of Garth's cello concertos.
That the Opus Primum has been chosen from all the possible concertos is no reason to worry, because for many years Garth was the cello soloist in the subscription concerts in Durham. So he was a true expert of the instrument. The cello concertos represented in fact only his second published work, but this was in 1760, by which time Garth was 39 years old and so far from a beginner.
Even though all the concertos follow the fast-slow-fast three movement sequence typical of the 18 th century, the pieces show influences not only of the Italian Concerto Grosso style, but also touches reminiscent of the gallant style of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). There are too a lot of musical set pieces, as well as a clear dominance of the alternating orchestral and solo segments typical of the Ritornell form. Original inspiration and individually styled movements, such as the atmospherically thick andante from the A major concerto or the Presto from the B major key concerto, are unfortunately all too rare.
Four violins and a viola, with a contrabass and harpsichord as bass accompaniment, create a chamber-musical ambience with a harmonious foundation. The principal musical action is played out between the cello and the first violin, generating an entertaining and lively dialogue. While Richard Tunnicliffe, himself a member of the viola ensemble “Fretwork”, and principal cellist in the Avison Ensemble, cannot help but convince with his unobtrusive performance, his bowing on an instrument of 1730 produces too little volume, too little warmth. Added to which the C and G strings produce a strikingly metallic sound. The fact that the solo cadenzas to be heard here are all written by Tunnicliffe is another mark against him. Pavlo Beznosiuk, on the other hand, shines as leader of the ensemble with his baroque violin dating from the year 1676.
The cello concerts of John Garth are entirely pleasant to the ear. But it is not worth listening to more than two at a time, because their similarity makes the experience repetitive. The booklet provides substantial information about the life and work of the composer, but unfortunately only in English.
THE JOURNAL CULTURE MAGAZINE:
A contemporary and possibly sometime pupil of Charles Avison, Durham-born composer John Garth (1721-1810) is almost a forgotten man in British music. In his time, however, he was a well known and influential figure, running much of Durham’s musical life alongside Avison.
The reviewer for the Newcastle Journal of June 16, 1753 thought much of his appearance at the Assembly Rooms: ‘…where several fine pieces of Musick were performed, a Violoncello Concerto, composed and executed by Mr Garth, which was justly admired and applauded by all present.’
Admirable, too, are Richard Tunnicliffe’s performances, recorded in The Picture Gallery, Paxton House, Berwick, last year. Principal cello with the Avison Ensemble, Tunnicliffe combines stylistic discipline with a refreshing freedom of expression. Together, they are an excellent pair of discs.
An adept composer, he had an especially fine ear for lyric slow movements, which he vests with considerable gravity and breadth of utterance. The D major is a case in point and is followed by a buoyant and extrovert Gigue. The Affetusoso central movement of the B flat major (No.2 – as No.4 is also in the same key) has a strongly dignified profile that embraces almost Italianate lyricism in places. The finale of this concerto is by contrast witty, athletic and sports an energetic pizzicati episode full of incident and ear catching turns of phrase. The Andante of the A major has both elegance and gravity in the C.P.E. Bach mould.
The orchestration throughout is sound, unimpeachable, and the small ensemble forces – two violins, viola, cello, bass, and harpsichord – offer Richard Tunnicliffe sterling support. This is especially true in the rather advanced opening movement of the Fifth Concerto in D minor, which seems to me the most forward looking of all the concerti, and a thoroughly distinguished composition. As for the single most beautiful movement perhaps one could suggest the Siciliana of the last concerto in G major for its melancholy beauty clothed in the gentlest beauty.
The recording was made in The Picture Gallery, Paxton House, Berwick upon Tweed and it sounds highly sympathetic and attractive. Tunnicliffe bears the soloistic responsibilities lightly. His accomplishment is to characterise these concertos with individuality, to bring them to life with a strong sense of their character but without exaggerating their relatively modest span. He also manages to do so with real flair and technical surety.
The lengthy and helpful booklet notes explain the likely origin of the forms used in these works, deriving in part from Avison, his fellow North-Eastern composer, together with the more modern gallant style coming into fashion. C.P.E. Bach may well have been the main influence in terms of their overall form. The general cut of the themes is very typical of the period, but Garth does show considerable powers of invention, avoiding cliché and turning corners with grace and wit. The slow movements are particularly attractive, especially that of No. 2 which may perhaps have been the reason that led Finzi into editing it. The performances are excellent, with Richard Tunnicliffe irresistibly mixing grace and virtuosity. The recording is clear without sounding clinical or fierce. Maybe these discs do not fill a major gap in the range of recorded music, but in performances such as these the present Concertos give immense pleasure.
LIVERPOOL DAILY POST:
Music was to be heard in the Norman Cathedral and the Red Lion, and Garth was involved in this as well as being an active organ recitalist around the area. He was a teacher until his death in 1810 at the age of 69, and he was a composer.
His six cello concerti, which he write to demonstrate his ability on the instrument, have now appeared on two CDs from Divine Art, played by Richard Tunnicliffe and the Avison Ensemble, directed by Pavlo Beznosiuk. Garth was a close friend of his Newcastle contemporary Charles Avison, who in turn was associated with the Italian composer Geminiani, who was based in London. As a result, the Italia style is much in evidence here, as well as hints of the appearance of J C Bach. Listening to this music makes one realise how ridiculous was the infamous remark from across the North Sea about Britain being a land without music. This release, with its information notes by Fleming, is very worthy of investigation.
John Garth was born in 1721 not far from Durham and was a pupil of Charles Avison, the Newcastle organist and composer. Garth was himself a gifted organist and composer. He was also highly involved with the Durham music scene.
They were composed at a time of great change in British music – away from the baroque concerto grosso style of Corelli and Geminiani towards the three movement 'da camera' approach developed by composers such as J C Bach.