John Garth is a composer whose name is hardly well known. In fact, if it wasn’t for the research by Simon Fleming, for a PhD at Durham University, we should probably never have heard of him at all. Garth was active as organist and concert organiser in 18th century Durham. It was an important city in those days, being the centre of political power in the North East, and run on the King’s behalf by the Price Bishop. Assizes were held there, it was an important stop-over on the journey between London and Edinburgh, and the social life was very important.
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.