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I imagine the majority of those few who recognise the name John Christopher Smith will know him for his long association with Handel: Smith acted as Handel’s amanuensis towards the end of his life, and after 1759 worked hard to establish the older man’s legacy. Harpsichordist Julian Perkins has made the first recording of Smith’s six suites for the instrument – a fascinating collection of works, none of which conforms to the traditional, dance-based suite structure; instead these pieces are more akin to sonatas.

Perkins has chosen two strikingly different instruments for this recording – a ‘fruity’ English single-manual for the suites in flat keys, and a ‘powerful’ French double-manual for those in sharp keys — and uses their specific characteristics imaginatively and captivatingly. The fifth suite (in G major) is utterly delightful, in particular the Rameau-tinted Minuet and variations. Turn then, if you will, to the second suite, in C minor: here is another mood entirely, influenced – Perkins suggests – by Domenico Scarlatti, and marked by chromatically ascending and descending passages. Handel does make an appearance, his own arrangement of the overture from his opera Riccardo Primo opening the disc and reinforcing the point that Smith’s finest music is certainly comparable to Handel’s.

Adrian Horsewood Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Early Music Today, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing