Comparison disc: Pierre Hantaï (Accord 476 057-2)
a CD devoted to or containing the music of Giles Farnaby
is issued I am interested. As far as I can remember the first
time I heard some of his keyboard works was on a recording by
the late Bradford Tracey, the fine Canadian keyboard player
who died at such a young age. He made a selection from the surviving
53 keyboard pieces, all but one preserved in the Fitzwilliam
Virginal Book. When I heard this music I was hooked, and that
fascination remains undimmed. So I was happy when I got the
opportunity to review this disc, which is devoted to one part
of Farnaby's keyboard oeuvre, the
the booklet Glen Wilson writes: "From its origins in the
sixteenth century the term Fantasia indicated a sober
piece of thematic development in strict polyphony with no text
and no fixed melody or cantus firmus.
The virginalists, too, begin their
fantasias by developing one or more themes through the voices,
but add to their contrapuntal working a final toccata,
a closing section of idiomatic keyboard pyrotechnics and polyrythms,
which corresponds with the later idea of a fantasia." In
the Farnaby Fantasias on this disc
this phenomenon is abundantly demonstrated.
is known for sure about Giles Farnaby.
Some have assumed he was not a professional musician, partly
because none of the more famous composers of his time mentioned
him. Glen Wilson doesn't believe it: "If the quality of
his music be not enough to dispel the suggestion that Farnaby was an amateur composer, the remaining facts of his
sketchy biography ought to be." He mentions the fact that
in 1592 he was referred to as an "expert" contributor
to a collection of psalms, and that he graduated as Bachelor
of Music at Oxford.
And his 'Canzonets' of 1598 contained congratulatory poems from
some of the greatest composers of the day. Also the fact that
the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book contains so many pieces by him
– no less than one-sixth of the total number of compositions
– can hardly be a coincidence. He must have been held in high
regard in his time. This is by no means contradicted by the
fact that he died in great poverty: he is not the only composer
of fame who died under miserable circumstances.
Farnaby wrote pieces of many kinds: dances, variations, transcriptions
of vocal pieces – including his own – and the fantasias which
Glen Wilson has here recorded complete. The very first item
displays the qualities of Farnaby's
keyboard writing. It begins with a rich polyphonic passage,
which is followed by virtuosic figurations in the 'toccata'
section and is closed by a cadenza. Wilson
plays it brilliantly. The grandeur of the opening polyphonic
passage is expressed by the registration. I assume the two 8'
registers are used here. This is followed by the figurations
without any slowing down or pause. By doing so the piece is
kept together, whereas Pierre Hantaï
creates breathing spaces which undermine its unity.
fantasias often have themes which show Farnaby's
imagination, for instance the opening theme of the Fantasia
8. Some of his themes were also used later in history, by Richard
Strauss (Fantasia 4) and by Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (Fantasia 12 – Bach borrowed it from
Fischer for the Fugue in E of the Well-Tempered Clavier).
third item, the Fantasia 5, shows another feature of Farnaby's
keyboard music: an enormous rhythmic drive and variety. Wilson
realises this with great flair and imagination. The Fantasia
12 also displays a typical aspect of Farnaby's
style: the reduction of note values, which not only increases
the virtuosity but also creates a kind of growing agitation.
He certainly knew how to bring a piece to an exciting climax.
number of Fantasias is not enough to fill a whole disc. Wilson
has added two transcriptions of unidentified vocal pieces. These
show another side of Farnaby's compositional
skills. Wilson also
plays two transcriptions of his own. These can be interpreted
as tributes to Farnaby's qualities
as a composer of vocal music. And the two pieces he has chosen
make me curious about these compositions. 'Construe my meaning'
is characterised by strong chromaticism.
'Witness, ye heavens' is a piece for eight voices which is also
harmonically imaginative. I strongly hope Farnaby's
vocal music will be recorded some day.
one may conclude from the above I am very happy about and impressed
by Glen Wilson's interpretation of Farnaby's
keyboard Fantasias. I strongly recommend this disc. I am quite
sure that anyone listening to it will be convinced that Farnaby
was a splendid composer whose music is captivating and highly
I have some reservations in regard to the recording by Pierre
Hantaï, it is a good supplement to this
disc, as in large part it comprises pieces from the other genres
Johan van Veen
by Glyn Pursglove