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Hatchlands Park is a Georgian mansion, built in 1750 for naval hero admiral Edward Boscawen, with interior design by Robert Adam, set in 400 acres of parkland laid out by Humphrey Repton. Situated in the Surrey countryside 45 minutes from central London, it has belonged to the National Trust since 1944 and is now tenanted by Alec Cobbe, whose furniture and paintings provide the sumptuous backdrop to an incomparable collection of keyboard instruments; nearly all now belong to the Cobbe Collection Trust.

Boydell & Brewer’s large-format (280 x 215mm) 160-page catalogue of impeccable elegance, contains more than 200 colour plates and details the historical context, provenance and technical specifications of each instrument. It is compiled by collector Alec Cobbe and historian, restorer and maker Christopher Nobbs (with contributions from David Hunt and others) and the scholarship renders technical data with clarity and still provides digestible narrative into which the casual reader can dip at will. Unusual developments in manufacture are documented, including quadruple-strung upper registers (now a feature of modern pianos) and a ‘Venetian swell’ mechanism, audacious though short-lived. Meticulous illustrations encompass historical documents, period portraits and detailed photographs of the restored instruments in situ.

Content divides in two. The first part, ‘Instruments of Composers and Patrons’, includes virginals for King Charles ii (1664), a piano for Jc Bach (1777-8), Haydn’s english grand piano (1794-5), two pianos used by Chopin (Pleyel, 1848; Broadwood & sons, 1847). Among others are instruments owned by Liszt (an Italian piano by Carlo Ducci, Florence, after 1873; plus a Bechstein also owned by von Bülow, 1874-5) and those of Mahler (Graf, Vienna, c.1836) and Elgar (Broadwood & sons, 1844). The second part, ‘a choice collection’, presents keyboard instruments which illustrate the development of the craft from 1622 to 1904. Clavichords and spinets from across Europe give way to harpsichords from Rome, Antwerp and London; there are organs by Snetzler (1759) and JW Walker & sons (1903), and many more pianos from the 18th and 19th centuries. This book will make essential reference material for keyboard performers and scholars, yet will also enhance any discerning coffee table.

MATTHEW POWER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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