The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book is a collection of keyboard pieces compiled in England in the 1610s under murky circumstances. It is both large (297 works) and in many places difficult, and recordings of the whole thing are rare. The one in progress by Dutch harpsichordist Pieter-Jan Belder (the term "virginal" denoted various kinds of keyboard instruments, and performance on Dutch harpsichords and on a northern European variant, the muselar, is entirely appropriate) has the virtue of budget prices, appearing on the Brilliant label from the Netherlands. It may also be a good pick if you're looking for one album from the set: it's largely devoted to the composer John Bull (even some of the pieces not credited to him may in fact be by him), and his spectacular style fits Belder's muscular playing. Bull was a libertine and a wildman, memorably dissed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said he "hath more music than honesty, and is as famous for marring of virginity as he is for fingering of organs and virginals." He eventually fled to the Netherlands, where his music remains popular. Many of the pieces here are taxing in their virtuosity, and Belder, playing several powerful harpsichords including a modern copy of the famed 1638 Ruckers model from Amsterdam, delivers big, booming performances. Sample the towering Ut Re Me Fa Sol La, a grand fantasy on the notes of the hexachord (a kind of Renaissance scale), which is almost Lisztian in its scope and tone. Belder does this and several others like it justice, although in some of the lighter dance pieces he's a bit wooden. The smaller anonymous pieces, not generally available, are another attraction. The overresonant sound from the Reformed Church of Mijnsheerenland is neither appropriate nor serves the music well, but for sheer steely virtuosity, Belder's readings are good picks.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2
|Pavana and Galliard XCVII-XCVIII|