Byrd, Randall, Bull, Phillips, Gibbons, Munday, etc

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bull,Byrd,etc,Gibbons,Munday,Phillips,Randall
LABELS: Musica Omnia
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Music of Tudor and Jacobean England
WORKS: Works
PERFORMER: Peter Watchorn (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: MO 0104 (distr. www.musicaomnia.com)
This imaginative selection of keyboard music covers a span of 80 years, with William Byrd and John Bull deservedly predominant. Style ranges from the liveliest dance music (including a rather breathless ‘La volta’), through a spry self-portrait of ‘Dr Bull’s My Selfe’, to a deeply felt arrangement by William Randall of Dowland’s Lachrymae.

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Musica Omnia releases feature a complementary disc, here an illustrated talk, beguilingly informal, by Howard Schott. He makes the case for Watchorn playing music for the virginal on harpsichord – English nomenclature was vague, inclusive of all shapes of plucked keyboard instruments. He doesn’t, however, explain the anachronism of two fine copies of Ruckers harpsichords from 1640-42 playing music written up to a century earlier. The first disc, recorded in 1998, is unexpectedly assertive, especially with the bright four-foot register of the earlier (Andreas Ruckers) instrument. The Ioannes Ruckers harpsichord, recorded this year by a different producer and in a different venue, is closer to the familiar plummy sound of true virginals (especially rich in a Gibbons Pavan), while gloriously silvery in John Munday’s ‘Robin’.

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Surprisingly in such a scholarly enterprise as this, there’s no information about which (unequal) tuning is used, though it’s spine-chilling as Bull tours more distant tonalities. Though the amount of music is rather ungenerous, this is a package well worth unwrapping. George Pratt