William Byrd: Late Music for the Virginals

Aapo Häkkinen
67:31
Alba ABCD 405
+ Gibbons Pavan & Galliard Lord Salisbury

Two decades ago, when Davitt Moroney’s boxed set of Byrd’s complete keyboard music was released, there was the worry that it might have the effect of stalling many or indeed any further recordings of this repertory. Thankfully it had the opposite effect, and there has been a steady succession of recordings featuring aspects of Byrd’s output for harpsichord, virginals and organ. One such in 2000 was Music for the Virginals, a fine cross section of Byrd’s oeuvre  played by Aapo Hakkinen (Alba ABCD 148). After what does not seem like as many as seventeen years, he has followed this up with a selection of pieces identified as coming from the later period of Byrd’s career.

It is another judicious combination of reassuringly familiar pieces plus others less well known, all of them of course outstanding compositions. So beside the pavan and galliard sets dedicated to Sir William Petre, 1575-1637 (sic: the later version in Parthenia  from 1612/13, not the version dedicated to “Mr:” Petre in My Lady Nevell’s Book, 1591) and to the now currently fashionable Lord Salisbury (aka Robert Cecil, the King’s Secretary at the time of the Gunpowder Plot) which is also in Parthenia, we have the fine pair in d from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (BK 52), plus the arrangements, paired in one source, of Dowland’s Lachrymae  and James Harding’s Galliard, and the delightful Galliard (BK 77) from Will Forster’s Virginal Book, which could be paired with the Pavan BK 76 (not included here) though they are not placed adjacently by Forster… who is shortly to be identified for the first time, in a forthcoming article by the arch genealogical sleuth John Harley, possibly early next year. Forster is also the source of a setting of Dowland’s If my complaints  which has now been admitted into the Byrd canon not only for its quality but also because an inferior setting in the same source is attributed to Byrd, probably in mistake for this one. Meanwhile Fitzwilliam is also the source of the usually neglected third setting of Monsieur’s Alman  which setting was recognised only relatively recently. There are major sets of variations in the great John come kiss me now  and the less flamboyant Go from my window  alongside the amazing ground The bells  (the ringers at our parish church are practising as I type this) and the now famous Fancy for My Lady Nevell.

The disc concludes with Gibbons’s pavan and galliard also dedicated to Salisbury aka Cecil; no explanation is given for their inclusion on a disc the title of which specifies Byrd. While these fine pieces are in principle always welcome, it is a shame that the opportunity was not taken to include two more pieces by Byrd himself, perhaps even from his peripheral repertory which I mention below.

All the performances are straight out of the top drawer. Hakkinen’s greatest virtue is in his metrical flexibility, not adhering rigidly to the metronome, but never losing his rhythmic or structural grip when responding to the ebb and flow which Byrd builds into his music. This is an ideal recording for anyone test-driving Byrd’s music for the first time, or for any aficionado of Byrd seeking some different slants on how his work is interpreted. This is supposed to be a critical review so, besides my reservation about the inclusion of music by Gibbons, I will scrape up one gripe: many of the recordings of Byrd’s keyboard music since Moroney’s have made for themselves a niche by including at least one piece which does not appear in Moroney’s monumental and comprehensive set – usually a contemporary arrangement for keyboard of a song or consort piece by Byrd. Hakkinen did this on his previous disc, including a contemporary arrangement of Lulla Lullaby. This time he commendably includes the recently accepted If my complaint s but Moroney had already done so in his box. Nevertheless this illustrates the lengths to which this reviewer has to go in order to find anything about which to complain: if my complaints are this trivial, it confirms that Aapo Hakkinen’s disc is simply outstanding.

Richard Turbet
5535