Collection: Early English Music

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Blitheman,Bull,Byrd,Farnaby,Mundy,Philips
LABELS: ISIS
WORKS: Organ works by Byrd, Bull, Farnaby, Philips, Mundy, Blitheman
PERFORMER: Martin Souter (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CD 005 DDD

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Isis Records was founded in 1991 to record keyboard music of historical periods on the kind of instruments for which it was originally written. Martin Souter’s discs of harpsichord suites by Handel (CD 003) and Purcell (CD 004), recorded on instruments from Oxford University’s Bate Collection, have both been praised highly on these pages.

Now Souter offers an equally fine collection of pieces from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, played on the ideal instrument: a Jacobean chamber organ, with a mere four ranks of pipes, in the chapel at Knole, near Sevenoaks, Kent.

The celebrated virginal book was compiled by a persecuted Catholic, Francis Tregian, while he was a guest of James I in the London Fleet Prison from 1612 to 1619. Most of the composers represented were Catholics, and many sent their music to Tregian to copy while he was behind bars.

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The booklet notes speculate that since Knole was one of the great Catholic establishments of the early 17th century, some of these composers may even have played the organ heard on this disc. Souter’s playing is unflashy, but it perfectly captures the spirit of these pieces. With their lilting dance rhythms and freewheeling improvisatory flourishes, their simplicity of expression, tinged with gentle melancholy, speaks anew through this eloquent contemporary mouthpiece. Barry Millington