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COMPOSERS: Bull/Farnaby
WORKS: The Nightingale and the Sparrow: Keyboard music
PERFORMER: Derek Adlam (harpsichord, organ, muselar)
The marketing title of this collection, ‘The Nightingale and the Sparrow’, attempts to capture the distinction between two representatives of the English Virginal School – the learned John Bull as elegant, technically brilliant and full of complexity, the more modest Giles Farnaby as humorous, cheerful and direct. The contrast works well and provides a nicely enjoyable mix of the dazzling, the delightful and the doleful.


Best of all, though, are these three lovely instruments – a Flemish-style virginal (muselar) with centrally plucked strings which produces a soft, flute-like glide of notes (as in ‘Mal Sims’ by Farnaby), a harpsichord based on a Ruckers instrument of 1638 (full of crisp precision in Bull’s ‘Walsingham’ variations) and a cheerful, puffy organ from c1540 (a natural medium for Bull’s ‘In nomine’ IV). Some aspects of the performance, such as the awkward time changes in Farnaby’s Fantasy or the lumpy phrasing in Bull’s ‘In nomine’ IX (written entirely in 11/4 time), suggest that Derek Adlam does not quite display the panache of Christopher Hogwood in his 1981 recording of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, from whence many of these pieces come. But he does, nonetheless, coax us into a musical world of intimacy and surprising innovation. Anthony Pryer