Tomkins: Barafostus’s dream

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COMPOSERS: Tomkins
LABELS: Metronome
WORKS: Barafostus’s dream
PERFORMER: Carole Cerasi (harpsichord, virginal)
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1049
Many of the keyboard works of Thomas Tomkins were written during the troubled years of the Civil War and following the execution of Charles I, though stylistically they bring to mind music of an earlier generation – of Byrd or Dowland, both of whom Tomkins greatly admired. Several pieces were prompted by the ‘distracted times’ of the mid-17th century and their acidulous chromaticisms, static harmonies and wistful turns of phrase create a sense of melancholy nostalgia, as if the composer were looking back to the rarefied atmosphere of Charles’s court.

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Despite the limitations of a disc devoted to one genre and one composer (and Tomkins’s keyboard works are not his most inspired music), Carole Cerasi achieves variety through a carefully planned programme, including dances, plainsong settings, variations and fancies, and by using two instruments – a harpsichord and a muselaar virginals. This is playing of high refinement: Cerasi combines meticulous keyboard technique with a sense of restrained spontaneity, fully in keeping with the spirit of Tomkins’s age. The repertoire might be rather too recherché for many tastes, but those interested in early keyboard music will surely be impressed by the playing of this talented artist. Kate Bolton