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Peter PHILIPS (1560/1-1628)
Fantasia in F major [7:31]
Amarilli, mia bella (after Giulio Caccini) [4:03]
Chi farà fed’al cielo (II) (after Alessandro STRIGGIO) [6:35]
Pavan in G major [3:27]
Deggio dunque partire (after Luca MARENZIO) [3:54]
Io partirò (after Luca MARENZIO) [3:07]
Ma voi, caro ben mio (after Luca MARENZIO) [3:28]
Paget Pavan and Galliard in C minor [9:57]
Bonjour mon cœur (after Orlando de LASSUS) [4:39]
Le Rossignuol (after Orlando de LASSUS) [5:10]
Margot, labourez les vignes (after Orlando de LASSUS) [2:47]
Fantasia in D minor [3:47]
Fece da voi partita [3:47]
Passamezzo Pavan and galliard in G minor [15:30]
Elizabeth Farr (harpsichord)
rec. 12-13 August 2005, Ploger Hall, Manchester, Michigan, USA. DDD
NAXOS 8.557864 [78:04]

Peter Philips was brought up by Sebastian Westcote, the catholic layman who from 1547 was master of the choristers at St. Paul’s and who, apart from his musical duties, organised the performance of plays at court by the ‘Children of Paul’s’ from 1557 until his death in 1582. Perhaps the young Philips acted in some of these plays – plays which were important in the evolution of Elizabethan drama? Several future composers were youthful choristers under Westcote’s tuition – their number included Robert Knight and William Fox, Thomas Morley, William Byrd – and Peter Philips. Perhaps it was also from Westcote that Philips learned his Catholicism? Certainly he was a beneficiary of Westcote’s death in 1582. It was surely not coincidental that it was in that same year that Philips left England for good; he was in Rome by October of 1582. He was admitted to the English Jesuit College and also entered the service of Cardinal Farnese.

He spent three years in Rome – at a time when great composers such as Palestrina, Marenzio and Victoria were at work in the city. The influence of Palestrina and Victoria (and Lassus) is audible in Philips’s choral works and that of Marenzio in his madrigals; nor need we be surprised that he chose to transcribe madrigals by Marenzio for the keyboard. Philips worked as organist at the English College, before meeting the English catholic Thomas Paget, third Baron Paget, and entering his service as a musician. He travelled with Paget to Spain and to Paris. On Paget’s death in 1590, Philips moved to Antwerp, where he made his living as a music teacher and as a music editor for the publisher Pierre Phalèse. Most of his works for harpsichord – which seem more ‘English’ and less ‘Italian’ in style than his vocal works, both sacred and secular – probably belong to the first part of his career.
While still in London in 1580 he wrote a Pavan in G major, recorded here, which became popular both in England and in Europe, though it was never published in his lifetime. It is an attractive piece, played here with dignified grace by Elizabeth Farr on a fine instrument. It was built in Rome in 1658, probably by Jerome de Zentis, and recently restored by Keith Hill - see a fascinating account of the instrument and its restoration. It exudes both charm and dignity, as played by Elizabeth Farr and proves eminently suitable for the music of Philips, with a rich bass and a sweet, clear upper register.
Elizabeth Farr plays – and plays very well – a bout half of Philips’s surviving keyboard works on this CD; one only regrets that we don’t have a second CD on which the rest might have appeared. She makes a very good case for Philips’s intabulations of vocal works, bringing out the powerfully expressive nature of much of Philips’s writing, without ever going ‘over the top’, as it were. Her booklet notes confirm her perceptiveness, being full of brief but suggestive observations on the music, especially on the elements of word-painting in these intabulations – such as those in “Le rossignol” and Striggio’s “Chi farà fed’al cielo”.
Every single one of the works recorded here is of interest and all are intelligently (and adroitly) performed. The skillful variations in the Passamezzo Pavan and Galliard, or the poignancy of the Paget Pavan and Galliard in C minor (surely written on the occasion of Paget’s death, as Elizabeth Farr suggests) would each be sufficient on their own to make a case for Philips. And that case has a persuasive advocate in the well judged playing of Elizabeth Farr. I particularly like her refusal to rush, allowing Philips’s expressive writing full scope. There are other recordings of Philips’s work for harpsichord, such as those by Anneke Uittenbosch (Etcetera 1022), Emer Buckley (Harmonia Mundi HMC901263), Colin Booth (Soundboard SBCD 992 - see review) and Paul Nicholson (Hyperion CDA 66734). Elizabeth Farr’s recording is on a par with the best of them and, in any case, this isn’t music of which a single recording can ever be ‘definitive’ to the exclusion of other recordings, if only because of the great variety of possibilities, of different perspectives on the music, created by the use of different instruments.

A lovely instrument, well-played, at the service of music which should be far better known than it is.
Glyn Pursglove



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