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GRAMOPHONE ( 07/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Read carefully. This is not a disc of music from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book – the giant manuscript of keyboard pieces by Byrd, Bull, Farnaby and others, copied out in the early 17th century – but of selected works from the larger collection that contains it, assembled in the second half of the 18th century by the seventh Viscount Fitzwilliam and now held in the Cambridge museum that bears his name. Sure, many of the pieces here are from the FVB, but they sit alongside music by various later Italian composers, and even a surprisingly successful harpsichord arrangement (perhaps by Thomas Roseingrave) of a violin sonata by Corelli.

Sophie Yates says her intention is to highlight connections between English music and Italian, and this she does well by including some of Peter Philips’s keyboard ‘intabulations’ of madrigals by Marenzio and others. Philips’s technique was to take the rich harmonic skeleton of the originals and use his restless keyboard imagination to turn them into genuine harpsichord pieces driven by free-flowing ornamentation. They are still recognisable if you know the originals, as many will in the case of Caccini’s Amarilli, mia bella. But Yates also links Italy and England by offering two examples of that quintessentially English pairing of pavan and galliard, given an Italian groundplan by passamezzo chord sequences. The anonymous one, from Tisdale’s Virginal Book, is the kind of piece that could be better known if it had a composer’s name attached to it – Philips’s would fit well. The sonatas by Arresti and Pollarollo won’t change your life but there is drama in Picchi’s Toccata and Zipoli’s Canzona, while Frescobaldi’s Toccata shows his usual balance of capriciousness and control, the tension of it well captured by Yates’s playing.

The Fitzwilliam connection is clinched by Yates’s use of the Museum’s early 17th-century Tuscan harpsichord by Boni, a crisp, full-throated and deep-coloured beauty. Her playing is strong-fingered, buoyant and well-paced – strange, then, that there are missing notes here and there that you would expect to have been fixed in the editing. But this is an unusual and well-conceived programme, appealingly performed.

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