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Giles FARNABY (1562-1640)
Complete Fantasias for Harpsichord
Fantasia (6/320) [3:36]
Fantasia (8/323) [7:28]
Fantasia (5/82) [5:20]
Unidentified part-song, arranged by Farnaby (7/333) [3:55]
Fantasia (4/489) [4:30]
Fantasia (12/343) [4:31]
Canzonet: ‘Construe my meaning’, arranged by Glen Wilson [3:30]
Fantasia (13/347) [3:12]
Unidentified part-song, arranged by Farnaby (3/340) [4:14]
Fantasia (10/313) [4:08]
Canzonet: ‘Ay me, poor heart’, arranged by Farnaby [2:39]
Canzonet: ‘Witness, ye heavens’, arranged by Glen Wilson [2:43]
Fantasia (9/270) [4:02]
‘Loth to depart’ [4:41]
Glen Wilson (harspichord)
Recorded October, 2005 at “Schüttbau”, Hofheim-Rügheim, Unterfranken, Germany.
NAXOS 8.570025 [58:30]


Since there is no standard catalogue of Farnaby’s Fantasias, they are identified here by two numbers, given in parentheses: the first is the item no. in Richard Marlow’s edition, Giles & Richard Farnaby Keyboard Music (Musica Brittanica, XXIV, 1965); the second is the page number in Volume 2 of The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, with introduction and notes by J.A Fuller Maitland and W. Bartley Squire (1899), reprinted by Dover Publications, with a Preface by Blanche Winogron, c.1979.

There often seems to be a rather condescending air to discussions of Giles Farnaby and his music. He is often presented as a kind of Sunday composer, a man for whom music was no more than an occasional indulgence – with implications drawn about the quality of the works he composed. Even Richard Marlow, in a brief introduction to the edition mentioned above, writes that Farnaby “was a joiner by trade: music was his hobby, not his livelihood (although it may have supplemented his income occasionally) ... Although he was gifted musically, his enthusiasm probably outweighed his aptitude for composition. Moreover, his training seems to have been fairly haphazard.” To be fair, Marlow does also say that Farnaby was “an instinctive composer with something original to say ... his music is spontaneous, vital, almost innocent at times, and at its best it has an arresting charm and tunefulness that few of his contemporaries can surpass.”

It is worth reminding ourselves that Farnaby’s training and work as a joiner probably involved work on musical instruments – we know that his cousin was a ‘joiner’  and ‘virginall maker’ and Giles, too, may well have specialised in the building of instruments. Nor should we overlook the fact that in July of 1592 the University of Oxford admitted him to the degree of Bachelor of Music – qualification for which required the demonstration of several years of study and some considerable compositional skills. In the same year, 1592, he contributed eight settings to Thomas East’s important collection of The Whole Book of Psalms. When Farnaby’s collection of vocal music, Canzonets, was published in 1598 it was prefaced by commendatory poems by Anthony Holborne, John Dowland, Richard Alison and Hugh Holland (a poet who contributed a commendatory poem to the Shakespeare first Folio). Later, Farnaby was employed as a music teacher. All of this suggests that he was well regarded by quite a few contemporary musicians and that he was no mere ‘amateur’. He deserves to be taken seriously as a composer.

It is pleasing, then, that Naxos should have issued a disc of Farnaby’s keyboard music played by Glen Wilson, a thoroughly accomplished harpsichordist. Of the 53 surviving keyboard compositions by Farnaby, 52 appear in the Fitzwilliam Virginal book (constituting something like a sixth of the whole collection). Wilson’s programme includes his own arrangements of two of Farnaby’s canzonets. Otherwise it is largely devoted to Farnaby’s 11 Fantasias, all of them taken from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. While it is good to have all of the Fantasias gathered together – especially when so well-played – on a single disc, it may not, perhaps be the ideal way of serving Farnaby’s reputation.

Farnaby’s fantasias are not, it has to be admitted, amongst his most consistently successful compositions; the fantasias don’t, on the whole, have the immediately attractive charm of pieces such as ‘Giles Farnaby’s Dream’, ‘Farnaby’s Conceit’, ‘Tower Hill’ or ‘The King’s Hunt’. Some of them rather fade away, in terms of invention, or grow disappointingly repetitive, after promising starts. But there is still much to enjoy. The fascinating modulations in No.4 (in Marlow’s edition, track 5) or the antiphonal writing in No.9 (track 13) are evidence of Farnaby’s inventiveness; in No.5 (track 3) the opening theme is delightful and its development is beautifully handled. The use of ornament in No.7 (track 4) and, especially, No.3 (track 9) is rich and fascinating. There is a fair variety of mood – there is grave poetry in No.10 (track 10) and dignified happiness in No.9 (track 13). Outside the fantasias, Wilson’s own arrangements of Farnaby’s vocal works are thoroughly idiomatic. The variations on ‘Loth to depart’, which close the disc are characterised by some subtle rhythmic changes.

Previous recordings of Farnaby’s keyboard music have been in the nature of general ‘samplers’ (such as that by Pierre Hantaï on Accord), rather than collections focusing on a single genre, as this new CD does. If your collection has room for only one CD of Farnaby’s music, then a ‘sampler’ will probably serve you best. If, like me, you are happy to find room for fuller representation of Farnaby, then this is warmly recommended.

Wilson takes entirely fitting and necessary interpretative freedoms in places – the texts in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book are certainly less than perfect – and plays with obvious love and respect for the music. His instrument – a replica of a Ruckers harpsichord – is handled with an informed understanding of what would have been possible (so far as we know) on an Elizabethan instrument. The bass is powerful but not unduly heavy, the treble notes bright without fierceness; the recording quality is good.

Glyn Pursglove


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