Bull: Doctor Bull’s Good Night: Works for Harpsichord

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LABELS: Astrée Auvidis
WORKS: Doctor Bull’s Good Night: Works for Harpsichord
PERFORMER: Pierre Hantaï (harpsichord)
With only Bob van Asperen’s recent issue in the catalogue (Teldec), Hantaï’s and Payne’s new releases of John Bull’s keyboard music will cause jubilation among those interested in this repertoire. Both discs offer thoroughly rewarding demonstrations of the composer’s formidable intellectual and technical skill.


Hantaï illustrates the extraordinary range of Bull’s keyboard works, including plainsong settings, character pieces and dance music. Aided by the resonant tonal values of a period Italian harpsichord, he beautifully illuminates Bull’s inventive originality in four In nomine settings, portrays the brilliantly descriptive King’s Hunt with dazzling bravura and expresses the passionate emotions of the Melancholy Galliard with subtlety and finesse.


By contrast, Payne concentrates on the rich variety of Bull’s dance music. The excellent modern instrument he plays is pitched a semitone higher than Hantaï’s, and Pythagorean tuning contributes added harmonic piquancy. Moreover, the low recording level on Payne’s disc creates an intimate atmosphere that effectively focuses his impressive portrayal of this music’s intellectual and expressive content, most notably in the magnificent Quadran variations. However, in some pieces, such as the Chromatic Pavan and Galliard, the more robust sound given to Hantaï seems better suited both to his more extrovert approach, and to Bull’s flamboyant musical language. Nicholas Rast