RICHARD MUDGE: Six Concertos in Seven Parts; Non nobis, Domine – Capriccio Baroque Orchestra Basel – Tudor 7173, 75:41 *****: [Distrib. by Naxos]
As I have mentioned before, it is always a delight to come across something new that utterly pleases to no end and reinvigorates the critical dimensions of wanting to seek out something musically special. Richard Mudge (1718-63) was an Anglican clergyman who was able to cultivate a relationship with Handel through his librettist Charles Jennens (who was from a wealthy family and the owner/sponsor of several parishes). It was this connection, stumbled upon by Mudge after obtaining his Masters degree in 1741 and seeking a worthy clerical position, that ultimately probably led to his getting published with some small degree of notoriety. Jennens did not help; the post Mudge sought went to Jennens’s cousin instead. It was ultimately Lord Aylesford who was able to find the pastor/composer two permanent posts.
When Mudge was installed at Packington (one of Aylesford’s domains) music played a great role in the life of the estate, and Aylesford is found complaining in 1752 that music was “now banished” since Mudge left and had rarely returned. Mudge’s music is quite Italian in flavor (and in the slow-fast-slow-fast model provided by Corelli) which is not a surprise considering the Handelian connection. The first concerto is actually one for trumpet, despite the title of the collection indicating strings only (and recorded to good effect by Maurice Andre in 1957), and the sixth concerto for organ. The concluding “canon” to this set is a disguised political statement (according to the notes); “Non nobis, Domine” is the beginning of Psalm 113, “Praise ye the Lord”. The music comes from Philip van Wilder, whose tunes were in widespread use among the Jacobite recusants and the Anglican “non-jurors”. This meant absolute solidarity with the Stuart dynasty and opposition to the reigning monarch. Jennens himself rejected any allegiance to the house of Hannover, and whether he pointed out any of this to Mudge, who otherwise seems apolitical as far as we are given to know, is open to question.
As mentioned, the Handelian influence is unmistakable even though the formal elements may owe more to Corelli, though that is also debatable. Anyone listening to this Organ Concerto for the first time can easily be forgiven if it sounds like a long-lost Handel composition—it is that close. But then again so are all of the concertos in this set, and Capriccio Basel plays them with unflappable authority and a good deal of knowledge of the style. It is a mystery why we don’t know more Mudge; Gerald Finzi was one of the first editors of this collection, and it was only in 1980 when it was firmly established that Mudge was indeed the same as the reverend clergyman. His talent is undeniable, and it will serve as one of the quirks of history why this fact didn’t enable him to be more productive. Perhaps it was simply his short life and difficulty in getting established in a career. Three cheers to Tudor for this CD, recorded in clear and vibrant sound, though a tad on the bright side—turn your volume down some before playing.
— Steven Ritter