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CD reviews

Peter PHILIPS (1560/61 - 1628)

[A] Complete Keyboard Works Vol. 1 & Vol. 2
Siegbert Rampe, clavichorda, harpsichordb, organc, virginalsd

rec: April 5 - 6, 2004, Soest-Ostönnen, St. Andreaskirche; April 28 - 29, 2004, Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum; August 20, 2004, Cologne, Paul-Gerhardt-Haus; August 30, 2004, Tangermünde, St. Stephanskirche
MDG - 341 1257-2 (Vol. 1), 341 1435-2 (Vol. 2) (© 2005, 2008) (71'27, 73'24")

[B] "Harpsichord Works"
Elizabeth Farr, harpsichord

rec: August 12 - 13, 2005, Manchester, MI, Ploger Hall
Naxos - 8.557864 (© 2006) (78'04")

[A] [Vol. 1] Almande in d minord; Almande d'amor in g minord; Benedicam Dominum in g minor (after Vecchi)c; Bon jour mon Cueur di Orlando in G (1602)a; Che fa in a minor (after Marenzio)b; Chi fara fede al Cielo. di Alessandro Striggio in Ga; Deccio Dunque partire in d minor (after Marenzio)c; [Den lustelijken mei] in Gb; Fantasia in F (1582)c; Fece da Voi a. 6 in G (1596)c; Galliard in a minora; Galliard in a minord; Le Rossignuol in C (after Lassus) (1595)a; Margotte Laborez in G (after Lassus) (1605)b; Pavana (1580) & Galliarda in Gb; Pavana Dolorosa & Galiarda Dolorosa in C (1593)a; Veni Sancte Spiritus in Cc
[A] [Vol. 2] Amarilli di Julio Romano in g minora; Ecco l'aurora Luca Marenz[io] à in Ga; Fantasia in Gc; Fantasie in d minorc; Fantasie in G (after Alessandro Striggio: Chi farà fede al Cielo)c; Galliarda in g minora; Galiarde (Passamezzo) in g minorb; Liquide perle amor (Luca Marenzio) in Ga; Madrigal Horatio Vechi. Se desio di fugir in d minorc; Passamezzo Pavana (1592) & Galiarda Passamezzo in g minorb; Pavana Anglica. Thomas Tomkins. Collerirt in a minora; Pavana Pagget & Galiarda in c minorb; Tirsi. Di Luca Marenzio in Eb
[B] Amarilli di Julio Romano in g minor; Bon jour mon Cueur di Orlando in G (1602); Chi fara fede al Cielo. di Alessandro Striggio in G; Deccio Dunque partire in d minor (after Marenzio); Fantasia in F (1582); Fantasie in d minor; Fece da Voi a. 6 in G (1596); Le Rossignuol in C (after Lassus) (1595); Margotte Laborez in G (after Lassus) (1605); Pavana in G; Pavana Pagget & Galiarda in c minor; Passamezzo Pavana (1592) & Galiarda Passamezzo in g minor

Peter Philips often referred to himself being English, but in the English musical landscape of around 1600 he is a kind of an outsider. He was Catholic, which made his position as a musician rather difficult, but unlike most other Catholic English composers he left the country, and worked on the continent, mainly in the Southern Netherlands, which were under Spanish rule and therefore Catholic. Another specific feature of Philips is his acquaintance with Italian music - for instance Palestrina, Anerio and Marenzio -, which is reflected in his own compositions.

The exact date of his birth is not known, but from his certificate of residence in Brussels one can conclude that he has been born in 1560 or 1561. The first trace of Philips's musical activities is in St Paul's Cathedral in London, where he sang as a choirboy. He seems to have been a pupil of William Byrd. In 1580 he composed his first piece of music, a pavan which was later included in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. In 1582 he fled the country, travelled to Brussels and then to Rome. Here he was under the protection of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, and acted as an organist of the English College. From 1585 he travelled through Europe with another English refugee, Lord Thomas Paget. The Pavana Pagget and Galiarda (vol. 2) may have been written at the occasion of his death in 1590. In 1591 Philips settled in Antwerp, where he was teaching the keyboard, married and established relations with key figures in society. Although he lived and worked on the continent and never returned to his native country, his music was known in England, as the English poet and writer Henry Peacham testifies in The Compleat Gentleman (1627): "Hee hath sent us over many excellent Songs, as well Motets as Madrigals; he affecteth altogether the Italian veine."

In particular his vocal works were very popular and were frequently printed. In his sacred works he gradually moves from the prima prattica to the seconda prattica as his motets with basso continuo show. Unfortunately not very much of his vocal music is recorded yet. His keyboard music has fared a little better, but Siegbert Rampe nevertheless thought it necessary to record the entire output for keyboard on two discs. His recording also contains those pieces, whose authenticity is not established.

Philips's acquaintance with Italian music which Henry Peacham referred to is not only reflected in his vocal music but in his keyboard works as well. A look at the tracklists is sufficient to see the traces of that: many pieces are based on material from madrigals and motets by Italian composers. In addition he uses pieces by Lassus, the most famous continental composer of the late 16th century. In comparison the number of works which are rooted in the style of the English virginalists is rather limited. There is only one piece which is based on a lute song (Galliarda in g minor; vol. 2), but otherwise they consist mainly of pairs of pavans and galliards. But some of them belong to the best ever written, like the Pavana and Galliarda Dolorosa (vol. 1). These, and his other keyboard works, support Henry Peacham's view that Philips was "one of the greatest Masters of Musicke in Europe".

One of the most interesting aspects of these recordings is the choice of instruments. Most striking is the use of a clavichord, an instrument which is very seldom used in this kind of repertoire. In the booklet Siegbert Rampe argues: "Scholars have recently found that not only the intabulations, but other keyboard compositions as well were intended to provide material for teaching improvisation on the clavichord or pedal clavichord (the latter being the normal instrument for teaching and practising the organ at the time). This is indicated by the fact that the keyboard compass of the works mostly begins at D or C in the bass and never exceeds a" in the treble. With the single exception of Fece da Voi a. 6, the same applies to Philips's keyboard music." The clavichord used at that time is not comparable with the clavichord mostly used in the 18th century, which is first and foremost associated with the style of the Empfindsamkeit (Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and others). Here two types of clavichords are used, both described by Michael Praetorius (1619), which are different from each other in sound and character.

Siegbert Rampe also uses a harpsichord, the oldest playable Ruckers which is still almost in its original state, and a virginal by Artus Gheerdinck, built in Amsterdam in 1605, which is entirely in its original state. In addition two organs are used. The first is one of Germany's most famous historical organs, in the St Stephen's Church in Tangermünde, built in 1623/24. The other one is situated in Soest/Ostönnen, and was assumed to date from the early 18th century. But fairly recently it was discovered about 80 percent of the pipework and 6 of the 8 registers date from the 15th century, which makes it one of the oldest playable organs in the world. All instruments are tuned in a mean-tone temperament of some sort, whereas the organ in Soest is referred to as being tuned "after Arnold [sic] Schlick (1512)".

I have greatly enjoyed this recording. Siegbert Rampe plays very well, even though I sometimes feel his performance tends to be a little too academic (more so on the first than on the second disc). There is enough variety in the programme to keep the listener's attention. One of the greatest delights of this project is the use of different instruments and their superb quality. One of the things one has to consider is the strong difference between the instruments: it needs a little time for the ears to switch from the loudness of the organ and the harpsichord to the much softer and more sensitive sound of the clavichords. Maybe it is a good idea to programme the tracks according to the instruments used.

With these two discs Siegbert Rampe has erected a monument for Peter Philips' skills as a composer and player of the keyboard. Hopefully it will stimulate other musicians to give proper attention to other aspects of his oeuvre.

Elisabeth Farr has made an attractive choice from the oeuvre of Peter Philips. She uses only one instrument, but that harpsichord is a very special one: it was built in 1658 by Jerome de Zentis and restored by Keith Hill. But that in itself doesn't make this recording a winner. In comparison to the recording by Siegbert Rampe Ms Farr's interpretation is largely disappointing. The main problem is the choice of tempo: most tempi are so slow that the pieces tend to fall apart, all notes get the same weight and the ornamentation often sounds very unnatural. In addition Elizabeth Farr's playing is too inflexible. The record company has contributed to the misery by creating too large gaps between pieces which belong together, like the three stanzas of Deccio Dunque partire and the pairs of pavans and galliards.

Even though I can understand not everyone wants to have all of Philips' keyboard works - notwithstanding their first-rate quality - I just can't recommend this choice of pieces from his oeuvre, as Elizabeth Farr doesn't do them any justice

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

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Siegbert Rampe

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