Gibbons

COMPOSERS: Gibbons
LABELS: Deux-Elles
ALBUM TITLE: Complete Keyboard Works
PERFORMER: Daniel-Ben Pienaar (piano)

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CATALOGUE NO: DXL 1126
Here’s a recording to set the iconoclastic cat among the purist pigeons – Gibbons’s music for organ and harpsichord/virginals performed on the piano. Pienaar makes a bold claim ‘to explore how the finest productions of this era… may transcend issues of tuning and medium’. He adopts a largely detached touch with admirable control, especially restraining the myriad ornaments within the texture. A contrasting texture is less convincing – romanticised, heavily pedalled and with wide contrasts of tone, for example Pavan 17 and the Mask ‘The Fairest nymph’, No. 43 (Musica Britannica numbering). He varies his approach – the similarly-structured ‘Lincoln’s Inn Mask’ is crisp and full of harpsichord-inspired sparkle.

Pienaar challenges convention too in his choice of tempos. The familiar Pavan ‘Lord Salisbury’ is extraordinarily slow, more dirge than dance, while the subsequent Galliard is almost twice as fast as most choose to play it. Pienaar may have a point here – on-line video clips from the Library of Congress show dancers reconstructing the step-patterns of the 17th century at a pace which would have had Salisbury and his guests galliard-ing with remarkable vigour. But Pienaar’s Fantasias are surely too extreme, their divisions flashing by in an aural blur.

This is the only ‘complete works’ on offer but John Toll’s final recording, produced posthumously in 2001, provides a deeply-felt selection of pieces for harpsichord and a magnificent 17th-century organ.

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George Pratt