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The Byrd and Gibbons both appear in 'Parthenia or the Maydenhead of the first musicke that ever was printed for the Virginalls', an enchanting compilation of 1612 to honour the betrothal of Frederic, Elector Palatine of the Rhine to James I's daughter, Elizabeth. At the time they were both sixteen, and the match was one of Salisbury's last diplomatic coups. The epistle dedicatory affirms that the virgin Parthenia had always been companion to the young princess but now must be the more welcome 'having learnd to tune and twine together these next neighbour letters E and F'. Frederic and Elizabeth were to become in time the 'Winter king and queen' of Bohemia; meanwhile Gibbons must be allowed to send them on their way to Heidelberg with the carefree brilliance of an Italian Ground [listen -- track 3, 0:00-1:00]. James Johnstone has the technique and panache to give such a piece its rightful due.

The virginals used on the CD are based on a Ruckers instrument of 1611, a date that could not be more suitable for Gibbons at the keyboard. The case of the harpsichord is more problematic. The Ruckers family were already constructing such instruments in the early seventeenth century, and modern copies are not hard to find. It is less than ideal, therefore, that Johnstone makes use in the recital of a modern replica after a Bartolomeo Stephanini of 1694, by which time Bach, Handel and Scarlatti were exercising their youthful fingers at the harpsichord. That said, the CD remains a thoroughly enjoyable affair, though the harpsichord is mostly in the ascendant. Gibbons was by no means as prolific a keyboard composer as Byrd, or the other 'Parthenia' composer, Dr John Bull. The range of Orlando Gibbons can be savoured first in another expressive and touching pavan [listen -- track 10, 0:00-0:48]. In dramatic contrast there comes the cheerful and rumbustious skittishness that informs a tiny miniature of little more than half a minute, the Mask, 'Welcome home' [listen -- track 14, 0:00-0:38].

Copyright © 23 March 2003 Robert Anderson, London, UK


Orlando Gibbons: Music for Harpsichord & Virginals

CD GAU 191 DDD Stereo 67'40" 1999 ASV Ltd

James Johnstone, harpsichord and virginals

Prelude (Musica Britannica IV); Ground (MB XXVI); The Italian Ground (MB XXVII); Pavan: Lord Salisbury (MB XVIII); Galliard: Lord Salisbury (MB XIX); Fantasia (MB XIV); Alman: The King's Jewel (MB XXXVI); Whoop, Do me no harm good man (MB XXXI); Galliard (MB XXV); Pavan (MB XVI); Fantasia (MB VIII); Fantasia (MB VI); Alman (MB XXXII); Mask: Welcome Home (MB XLII); Fantasia (MB XI); Pavan (MB XV); Galliard (MB XXII); Mask: The fairest nymph (MB XLIII); Pavan (MB XVII); Galliard (MB XXIV); Fantasia (MB V); Fantasia (MB IX)



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