Wigmore Mondays – Richard Egarr: Keyboard music of the Tudors and Stuarts

Richard Egarr

Richard Egarr (photo Marco Borggreve)

Byrd Fantasia in A minor; Pavan and Galliard; The Bells

Purcell Suite in G major; Ground in C minor

Blow Chaconne in FaUt

Purcell Suite in G minor; Suite in D major; Ground in D minor

L-R William Byrd (c.1540-1623);   Henry Purcell (c.1659-1695); John Blow (1648-1708)

Listen to the BBC broadcast here

Written by Ben Hogwood

The harpsichord enjoys a rather chequered reputation in concert, and from personal experience at least among friends I can say it is one of those ‘marmite’ instruments.

Certainly it is unusual for it to have a place alone in a BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, yet here it was, with Richard Egarr beginning the 2017 part of the Wigmore Hall Monday lunchtime concert season.

In the event the BBC had chosen well, Egarr compiling a fascinating program of keyboard music from the Tudors (Byrd) and Stuarts (Purcell and Blow).

The music of Byrd, a composer for Queen Elizabeth, flows with obvious inspiration. Egarr’s selection here began with the free and at times elaborate Prelude and Fantasia (from 1:43 in the broadcast), moved on to a more stately Pavan and Galliard (from 10:54 and 14:39) from the impressive collection My Lady Neville’s Book and concluded with the descriptive The Bells (16:19), a remarkable piece of writing beginning with a single toll and working its way intricately through thrilling peals of bells.

Purcell, even now one of the greatest composers England has ever produced, appears to have written his harpsichord suites as a tuition aid, yet they are all characterised with dances fast and slow. Egarr played three suites here, the G major work (from 23:55 on the broadcast) the simplest and the G minor (from 37:07), with its brisk Corant dance, seemingly the most challenging. Most engaging, however, was the three-part D major suite (from 45:45), with its thoughtful Prelude and brief but vigorous Hornpipe.

Egarr also included two brief Grounds (pieces with a short, recurring bass line) by Purcell (27:24 and 49:31), with a third, A New Ground, as an encore (52:50). We also heard a Chaconne by Purcell’s teacher John Blow (30:18), a chirpy piece that became increasingly busy and eventful, leading to a series of grand, block chords near the end.

Egarr’s performance manner was conversational. He turned his own pages, and even gave the harpsichord itself a clap at the end, as though thanking it for staying well-tuned! His demeanour encouraged the audience to feel part of an intimate concert, and lightened some of the heavy cloud around London for the first Monday proper of 2017.

Further listening

You can listen to the music in this concert on Spotify below, with recordings from Egarr himself:

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