Gibbons: The Woods so Wild; keyboard works

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WORKS: The Woods so Wild; keyboard works
PERFORMER: John Toll (harpsichord, organ)
This outstanding disc is a testament to the musicianship of John Toll, who died last year. He was a familiar continuo player but this is his only solo disc, several years in the planning and reflecting his feelings for a composer whose 45 keyboard pieces have yet to enjoy a definitive complete recording. The 24 items here include all ten fantasias and the best of the dance-derived music.


For the unequivocally secular pieces Toll played a modern copy of a single-manual Ruckers harpsichord. He used its limited specification with great imagination – (I remember ribbing him in a radio interview about the expressive limits of harpsichords, and he answered from the keyboard with a kaleidoscope of colours, textures, densities and articulations). Most moving is the familiar Pavan and Galliard: Lord Salisbury, where he leans on its poignant dissonances, lightly ornaments repeats and luxuriates in the mean-tone temperament mistunings.


Most of the fantasias are played on the organ of Adlington Hall in Cheshire, restored in 1959. Thus spared 19th-century ‘improvement’, it is a wonderfully apt instrument for Gibbons. Delightful quirks include harmonics strong enough to deceive the ear into mis-hearing pitches, spluttering ‘chiffs’ from slow-speaking pipes and the rattle of long trackers with which the ‘Chaire’ organ borrows stops from the Great. But what sets this disc apart is Toll’s insight, reflected in transparent textures, beautifully crafted lines, and a poise and involvement in the music all the more precious because we shall never share it again.