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John BULL (1563-1626)
Dr. Bull’s Jewell
Doctor Bull’s Goodnight [2.57]
Chromatic Pavan (Queen Elizabeth’s) [6.04]
Chromatic Galliard (Queen Elizabeth’s) [3.40]
The King’s Hint [3.28]
Walsingham [17.34]
Bonny Peg of Ramsey [1.27]
Fantastic Pavan [5.37]
Galliard to the Fantastic Pavan [2.12]
My Self [2.20]
In Nomine [7.22]
My Jewel [2.22]
The Quadran Pavan [2.16]
Galliard to the Quadran Pavan [7.00]
Kathryn Cok (harpsichord)
rec. Laurentiuskerk, Minjnsheerenland, Holland, November 2006. DDD
LYRICHORD LEMS-8060 [68.56]
Experience Classicsonline


Who was this rather mysterious and almost mesmerizing figure Dr. John Bull? Not much is known about him but from an early age he must have been a superb keyboard player. He is found as a young man as organist at Hereford Cathedral and three years later at the Chapel Royal. He later works directly for Queen Elizabeth and then for Charles I.  Rather oddly he ends his days in Antwerp as organist of the cathedral. Some say he left England because of an adulterous affair. It has even suggested that he might have been a spy and had to leave after a diplomatic incident. His music is often highly intellectual and some of the most challenging of the period. To gain a picture of his character you could do no worse than listen to ‘Doctor Bull’s Myselfe’ which is a lively and happy ‘Gigge’. The version played here, is incidentally a much longer and more ‘flashy’ version than the one in the FitzWilliam Virginal Book, where forty-two of his works are preserved. However there are other pieces here drawn from other collections.
 
As Kathryn Cok herself says in minuscule print in the booklet notes, three forms are represented here. There are the lighter dances and short descriptive pieces like ‘Dr. Bull’s Myself’. Then there are the Pavans and Galliards. These were complex and never meant to be danced to. The Pavans are normally the longest and certainly the slowest, being in three sections with varied repeats. The only exception here is the Quadran Pavan which clocks in at a quarter of the length of the much varied Galliard. Finally there are the In Nomines and other variation sets like ‘Walsingham’. These are highly involved and decorated. They comprise several variants, in the case of the In Nomines on a famous polyphonic fragment found in Taverner’s Mass ‘Gloria Tibi Trinitas’ and in ‘Walsingham’ on a popular melody of the late Elizabethan period.
 
As the disc is entitled Dr. Bull’s Jewell that is where I started and I immediately hit a snag. Several of Bull’s compositions appear in the FitzWilliam Virginal probably compiled by one Francis Treggian whilst an inmate in the Fleet Prison. So I tracked down my copy. The CD book rather puzzlingly told me that the piece would last for 7:22 yet it consists of only three pages. In addition Kathryn Cok never plays the repeats which were standard in keyboard music of his period after about every eight bars. The work is typical in that it is structured as an eight bar theme followed by variation. Bull’s Jewell falls into three sections (like a Pavan or Galliard) each with its varied repeat. However, either due to bad editing or quirky performance the final repeat has vanished. Incidentally it lasts for just over two minutes.
 
Next I listened to the vast ‘Walsingham’, a work considered so important that it opens the entire FitzWilliam Collection of 247 pieces. It consists of thirty sections each one marked to be repeated; the final length of the work does not warrant thinking about. In Variation 18 Miss Cok sounds as puzzled by the rhythm as it appears on the page. Several variations tend to start with one rhythmic idea and glide into another unrelated one, as this one does. Indeed no. 20 begins with a three-against-two rhythm for two bars and then continues in ordinary compound time. Neither does the piece as a whole build to a virtuoso climax. Compare this with the better known ‘The King’s Hunt’. In this latter piece the left hand has some difficult manoeuvres and stretches to imitate a riding rhythm. Similarly tricky passages can be found in Walsingham, for example in variations 12 and 16.
 
The Chromatic Pavan and Galliard - curiously not in the FitzWilliam VB - is not chromatic as we know it but has several passages which use the sharp and flat keys quite extensively. This creates a somewhat ‘out-of-tune’ effect because the instrument here was - and obviously is - tuned to the mean-tone system; Cok has made herself responsible for her own tuning. In this method of tuning everything is based on the fifth or fourth. In simple keys of say two sharps or flats all is well but the more ‘black’ notes you introduce the more the tuning becomes a problem. Hence the title ‘Chromatic’ as Bull uses all ‘black notes’ but never uses a chromatic scale.
 
There are two instruments used for this recording, both illustrated in the booklet. One is a double-manual harpsichord made by Titus Crijen of Amsterdam of 1638 and the other a 17th Century Virginal made by Willem Kroesbergen of Utrecht also after Ruckers.  Although it is not clearly indicated which piece is played by which keyboard, Cok explains in her notes that “I have chosen to use the rich, resonant sound of the harpsichord for the more serious and densely polyphonic pieces and the crisp, light sound of the virginal for the secular settings and variation sets”. A little, and somewhat untypical piece like ‘Bonny Peg of Ramsey’ is therefore heard on the virginal and the ‘In Nomine’ is played on the harpsichord. They are both fine instruments and closely but realistically recorded.
 
All in all this is a very fine disc. It offers a wise and fascinating choice of pieces, nicely recorded, thoughtfully annotated - except as mentioned above - and beautifully prepared, researched and played. And this is music by a figure who can be seen to be in the first rank of early English composers.   
 
Gary Higginson
 


 


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