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Il cembalo transalpino - Keyboard Music from the Fitzwilliam Collection
Sophie Yates (harpsichord)
rec. 2017, Master’s Lodge, Downing College, Cambridge, UK
CHANDOS CHAN0819 [65:16]

The Fitzwilliam Museum holds a great many precious items, not the least among them the music manuscripts, for example the early Renaissance Peterhouse Part books and the Fitzwilliam Virginal book. Sophie Yates has raided some of this collection to produce a disc of pieces dating from probably the 1590s up to the middle decades of the eighteenth century. These manuscripts come courtesy of the founder, Richard, Seventh Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion. His portrait by the great Joseph Wright of Derby, made in 1764, adorns the inside CD cover. On the back, there is a portrait of him in later life.

Richard was able to travel throughout Europe in pursuit of music in print and in manuscript. He was enthusiastic about early repertoire but he also retrieved scores by leading masters of his time like Corelli and Zipoli. This collection reflects these eclectic interests.

Sophie Yates plays a magnificently decorated harpsichord. This single-manual instrument Giovanni Battista Boni (d. 1641) was restored by Huw Saunders and Ferguson Hooey, and pitched at the fairly usual A=415 Hz. It has quite a bright sound, and is tuned to mean tone that adds spice to several chords and harmonies especially in Picchi’s Toccata and Zipoli’s Canzona.

The music is presented more or less in chronological order. The earliest pieces are all from volume one of the Fitzwilliam Virginal book, nearly three hundred works, many of them often recorded. Yates chose – for a reason I soon will explain – some of the rarely heard, often not highly considered and rather specialist madrigal transcriptions by the English Roman Catholic priest Peter Philips. There are nine transcriptions of his in the book. The plain harmonies of the original vocal parts are used as a skeleton on which to build elaborate passages, including trills and runs and various other ornaments rather like instrumentalists improvising divisi. Interestingly, Philips seems to follow even how the madrigal might have been sung; his versions rest after the more ornate passages where breaths might have been taken.

Philips was a recusant. He lived in Holland and also worked in Italy where he would certainly have met Caccini (d. 1618), and come across the madrigals of Striggio (d. 1592) and the great Marenzio (d. 1599). I suspect also that he heard Frescobaldi play the organ, as he was there from 1604. He is represented by a typical Toccata published in Rome in 1627. This is a truly virtuoso work in a freewheeling fantasia-like style.

But even if Philips did not meet these madrigals in Italy, he might have done so earlier in England through a noteworthy and very influential publication entitled ‘Musica Transalpino’, published in 1588 and mostly consisting of Italian madrigals ‘Englished’. This reflects the title of the CD ‘Il cembalo Transalpino’, because English composers fell in love with the form and several, like Philips, felt as a consequence the need to transcribe them for keyboard.

Philips is also represented by one of his most original and finest works, the Passamezzo Pavan and Galliard. The Pavan is in no less than seven sections instead of the usual three. The Galliard is in even more, ending in a Salterello, a very Italian dance. Incidentally, the Passamezzo was originally a traditional Italian folk dance with a particular but simple chord progression.

It is also good to have music, no matter how slight, by Arresti (born 400 years ago exactly), Colonna, Pollarolo and Picchi (this from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book), and by Zipoli who acts as a bridge into the baroque.

It is fascinating to hear a complete four-movement sonata by Corelli transcribed originally by Thomas Roseingrave in an edition made by Gerald Gifford. Roseingrave spent some time in Italy from 1710, and so probably met Corelli in Rome whilst he was following Scarlatti around the country. One might even speculate that Corelli may have seen this transcription.

This is then an unusual and cleverly planned recital. It throws light on a little known repertoire. It is elegantly and exquisitely played, and beautifully recorded.

Gary Higginson

GALEAZZO (Sabbatini) (1597-1662)
Prelude [2:26]
Peter PHILIPS (c. 1560-1628) / Luca MERENZIO (1553-1599)
Tirsi morir volea [2:40]
Freno Tirsi il desio [3:07]
Cosi moriro [1:47]
Passamezzo Pavan and Galliard [12:41]
Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618) transcribed by Philips
Amarilli, mia bella [4:07]
Alessandro STRIGGIO (c. 1536-1592) transcribed by Philips
Chi farÓ fede al cielo [5:23]
Passamezzo Pavan and Galliard [4:25]
Giulio Cesare ARESTI (1619-1701)
Sonata (in A major) [1:57]
Giovanni Paolo COLONNA (1637-1695)
Sonata (in D minor) [2:57]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Toccata settima [3:04]
Carlo Francesco POLLAROLO (c. 1653-1723)
Sonata (in D minor) [2:51]
Giovanni PICCHI (c. 1571-1643)
Toccata [3:54]
Domenico ZIPOLI (1668-1726)
Canzona [3:05]
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713) arranged by Thomas ROSEINGRAVE (1690-1766)
Sonata Op. 5 No. 7 [9:57]