Philips: Harpsichord Works

COMPOSERS: Philips
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Philips
WORKS: Harpsichord Works
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Farr (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557864
Peter Philips studied with William Byrd, was a Roman Catholic like him, but unlike him did not endure religious persecution in London: Philips went on to study with other English refugees in Rome, and finally settled as an organist in Antwerp, where he may have met his great keyboard contemporary Frescobaldi. Philips’s keyboard music was popular back home in England, but was not published in his lifetime: most of what we have comes through the English manuscript, the ‘Fitzwilliam Virginal Book’.

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His style is as Italianate as you would expect, being richly decorated with what were called ‘divisions’ – elaborate patterns of small notes filling out long ones – which allow the player great freedom to express colour and mood. Elizabeth Farr takes full advantage of this freedom, letting the loose-jointed longer pieces – the pavans and fantasias – gently follow their serpentine paths. But though her sound is airy and transparent, her approach is at times too leisurely: one misses the drive and energy displayed by Colin Booth (SBCD992), playing many of the same pieces on a dark-toned instrument he made himself. For this is very emotional music, inspired by thoughts of love and death, and it should spring from the gut. Michael Church