Philips: The English Exile: harpsichord works

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Philips
LABELS: Soundboard
WORKS: The English Exile: harpsichord works
PERFORMER: Colin Booth (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: SBCD 992 (available from Colin@harpsichords.demon.co.uk or tel 01749 870516)
Colin Booth builds harpsichords – exceedingly fine ones, to judge from the copy here of a rare and exceptionally colourful Italian instrument. He then plays them, fluently and with scholarly attention to period conventions of fingering techniques, tuning systems, pitch. Such a cohesive approach generates persuasive performance of music from a curiously unexplored composer, a Catholic in self-imposed exile from Elizabethan England, Peter Philips.

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The instrument is immediately striking – the silvery sheen of the opening ‘Pavana dolorosa’, the full-bodied sonority and prismatic colours of its related ‘Galliarda’. A setting of Caccini’s ‘Amarilli’ is particularly charming as Philips alters (mis-remembers?) details of phrase-lengths. He betrays his English origins in wistful harmonic twists of a Pavan written before his exile but, as a contemporary commentator noted, ‘affecteth altogether the Italian veine’ in a pair of dances on the familiar harmonic pattern of the passamezzo, breaking into a wild Italian saltarello.

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There are less inspired moments. Dr Burney gave lukewarm praise to an extended Fantasia demonstrating Philips’s ‘considerable abilities’ but with ‘monotonous modulations and divisions too common and vulgar to afford pleasure’, and Booth’s enthusiasm cannot wholly lift it above the workaday. But for delight in sheer harpsichord sound, this disc is hard to beat. George Pratt