Clement Matchett’s Virginals Book

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COMPOSERS: Anonymous,Bull,Byrd
LABELS: University of Abertay Dundee
WORKS: Carman’s Whistle; Monsieurs Almayne; Frogge Galliard
PERFORMER: Kenneth McAlpine (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: UAD-CD-0001

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This is an attractive programme from a large collection of early 17th-century virginal pieces housed in the National Library of Scotland, 30 volumes in all, which include Clement Matchett’s Virginals Book and also the eight pieces of Lady Jean Campbell’s Book. Some of the music is familiar – Byrd’s ‘Carman’s Whistle’ and ‘Monsieurs Almayne’, Dowland’s ‘Frogge Galliard’ in an arrangement by Wilbye. Several items, though, are unique to this archive, and it’s good to have them available on disc.

Kenneth McAlpine plays on a Kirckman harpsichord dating from around 150 years after the music was collected. Although he doesn’t justify this anachronism, he restricts himself to a single eight-foot stop rather than availing himself of all three ranks of this late Baroque instrument. The timbre, though, is very far from that of a virginal, all the more so for a dry, close-sounding recording. McAlpine’s positive touch is translated into a constant percussive thumping as keys hit their beds.

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Final lift-offs are noisy as jacks fall, and plectra twang nasally against still-vibrating strings. The playing is clean, if rather heavy-handed and under-phrased, perhaps in response to such an unsupportive ambient acoustic. McAlpine’s notes are informative and scholarly, clarifying the provenance of several of these justly popular pieces. George Pratt