Il cembalo transalpino -Keyboard Music from the Fitzwilliam Collection
Sophie Yates (harpsichord)
rec. 2017, Master’s Lodge, Downing College, Cambridge, UK CHANDOS CHAN0819 [65:16]
If you do a quick search for the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book you might be surprised at just how many releases there are featuring music from its pages – so many that you could wonder whether another disc is needed. However, look closely and you find that this disc contains music from the Fitzwilliam Collection, of which the Virginal Book is only a part. Indeed, the music contained on this disc does not feature on any of the discs containing pieces from the famous Virginal Book that I own. All the pieces, apart from the Frescobaldi, receive their premiere recordings in this issue.
Sophie Yates offers a fascinating insight into the more neglected recesses of the Fitzwilliam Collection, and I for one am glad that she has. There is some wonderful music here and all of the pieces are well worth a listen. Richard, Seventh Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, was a lover of music and an inveterate collector of manuscripts, many of which appear in the famous Virginal Book. Also in the collection, though, are items such as the Peterhouse Part Books as well as countless other pieces all housed in the museum that bears his name.
Some of the earliest pieces on this disc are to be found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, but Sophie Yates has chosen them carefully, selecting those that rarely see the light of day. Opening with a wonderfully measured Prelude by Galeazzo, Sophie Yates shows that, as well as the usual English pieces, there were also items from other countries in the collection that exerted an influence upon the development of English keyboard music and, indeed, music in general. These came not only in the form of Italian harpsichord pieces but also as transcriptions of Italian madrigals. The title of the disc, in fact, comes from a collection of madrigals published in England in 1588 by the English Catholic priest and composer, Peter Philips. It contains examples of his settings of Luca Marenzio, Alessandro Striggio, and Giulio Caccini, all of which sparkle under Yates’s hands.
There are many highlights on this disc, not least the short sonatas by Arresti, Colonna and Pollarolo, which are colourful and engaging works. Frescobaldi and Zipoli, on the other hand, show a marked progression in the development of the Italian keyboard style. But it is Peter Philips’s own compositions, the Passamezzo Pavan and Galliard, which are the standout pieces. Here Philips, who had spent time in Rome, shows the benefit of his Italian experiences whilst calling upon his English training and tradition, providing the clearest evidence for an Italian influence on English music.
For many it could well be the inclusion of the transcription for solo keyboard by Thomas Roseingrave of Arcangelo Corelli’s Violin Sonata Op. 5, No. 7 that is the draw. It is certainly the best-known music here. For me however, this piece took repeated listening to get into it. I just wanted to listen to the original, which I did again and again, and at first I found it far superior to this transcription. It was only after I had listened to this version five or six times that I began to admire its merits, its intricacies and the way Roseingrave shaped his version. It then began to grow on me. It will never replace the original, but it is rising in my esteem, thanks especially to the great panache of Sophie Yates’s playing.
Sophie Yates is, as ever, excellent throughout and makes a very strong case for these neglected pieces from the Fitzwilliam Collection. Her touch is wonderful and the way she adapts it to suit the differing aspects of each of the different styles presented here is magnificent. Yates also provides the introductory note to the disc as well as the brief notes on each of the pieces. Add to this the notes by Huw Saunders on the beautiful Boni Harpsichord, which itself is a part of the Fitzwilliam Collection and sounds as good as it looks, and the usual Chandos sound quality, and this disc is a real winner.
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