Friederike Chylek harpsichord
Oehms Classics OC 1864
Music by Byrd, Dowland, Farnaby, Johnson, Purcell & Tomkins
A double celebration: Early Music Review survives into another year; and Father Christmas was kind to me, dropping three superb discs down our chimney into the wood-burner: an astounding record of Chicago blues covers by The Rolling Stones; Terry Riley’s fabulous Keyboard studies #2; and Quire Cleveland’s luminous live recording taken from two concerts devoted to Byrd that they gave last spring in Cleveland and Akron, OH. So I was well equipped for good listening throughout the festive period. However, the very day that postal deliveries resumed after Christmas, a package containing the record under review here dropped through our front door. Riches upon riches?
Yes, or perhaps Ja, because this is an assertively Anglophile recording, played by a German harpsichordist on a German copy of a 1624 Ruckers instrument, released on a German label, with booklet notes written by a German musicologist who derides his fellow countrymen’s notion of England as a “Land ohne Musik”. Naturally, much of his contempt is based on what he perceives as the excellence of the virginalists, led by Byrd, and of Purcell. There is plenty of music by both these composers on this disc, and the entire contents are played superbly. I have only two reservations about the presentation. First, the list of items on the back of the sleeve is not identical with the order in which they appear on the recording, for which one has to refer to the booklet. Nevertheless it is still an inviting menu. Secondly, although the booklet notes are good as far as they go, more information about the individual pieces would have been welcome: for instance, one of the best pieces on the disc in terms of both quality and performance is Giles Farnaby’s setting of a Pavan by Robert Johnson. Presumably Johnson’s original version was for the lute. It would have been interesting and useful to have been told that this has not survived. It has been conjecturally reconstructed by Nigel North and can be heard being played by him on his disc Robert Johnson: The Prince’s Alman, and other Dances for the Lute (Naxos 8.572178, 2010).
Ms Chylek begins with an item from the left field of Byrd’s oeuvre, the Prelude in F which survives anonymously but which Oliver Neighbour authoritatively ascribed to Byrd. Only an incipit is included in Alan Brown’s complete edition of Byrd’s keyboard music (BK 115) and a full text can be found in volume 55 of Musica Britannica, in which it is number 3 on page 2. Part of Neighbour’s proof that it is by Byrd is its similarity to parts of Byrd’s Pavan and Galliard also in F, dedicated to Ph[ilippa?]. Tr[egian?]. However, the opportunity to include this fine pairing is overlooked. After an anonymous Galliard from the Mulliner Book, there is more Byrd, with My Ladye Nevell’s Ground followed by his setting of Dowland’s Lachrymae Pavan, followed by two short pieces from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book: an Alman by Robert Johnson, and Giles Farnaby’s Paul’s Wharf. The focus then shifts to Purcell, with his Suites in G minor and A minor, Z 661 and 663, bookending four short miscellaneous pieces, and being followed by two more. Byrd reappears with his La Volta BK 91, which is followed by the longest work on the disc, Tomkins’ Ground, and the recording closes with two arrangements with differing provenances: Johnson’s Pavan (see above) set by Farnaby; and Dowland’s song (and title track) Time stands still arranged for the harpsichord by the artiste, Friederike Chylek.
It is a pleasure to emphasize that throughout the recital Ms Chylek’s playing is immaculate and her interpretations judicious. She respects the composers’ creativity in the longer and potentially repetitive pieces such as the Grounds by Byrd and Tomkins by responding to the subtle structures and varied textures that mark these out as the products of musicians who are great and not merely good. Meanwhile she can make a brief work such as the Corant from Purcell’s Suite in A minor just as memorable by illuminating how Purcell incorporates a wonderful melody without destabilizing the piece as a whole. Similarly she relishes Byrd’s almost torrential varied repeats in his Pavana Lachrymae while treating Farnaby’s setting of Johnson’s delightful and pensive Pavan with the utmost delicacy. Her arrangement of Dowland’s song could seem incongruous but one imagines that she wished to illustrate that in the work of the English virginalists, time can indeed stand still, so this is her homage to these incomparable composers.