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Early Music America, October 2007

Why isn’t the music of Peter Philips (1560/61–1628) better known and more widely performed?  Perhaps, as Peter Holman suggested, he was a victim of musical chauvinism. Philips, a Catholic, left England to escape religious persecution and eventually settled in the Spanish Netherlands.  Was he viewed by the English as not English? And/or seen as an outsider in Holland?

Philips’s keyboard works were popular in his day, though never published. Nineteen of his 32 surviving keyboard pieces are included in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and he also left a body of sacred works in the European style—presumably further alienating the English.

The keyboard works on this recording, played by Elizabeth Farr on a beauty of a 1658 de Zentis instrument, are mostly intabulations of French and Italian songs, fantasias (also after vocal models?), and English dances. Farr is an emotive and technically proficient player and does a fine job here. She brings a sense of noble grief and tenderness to the “Paget Pavan and Galliard,” possibly written for Philips’s patron, the exiled Catholic Lord Thomas Paget. The intabulations are tastefully ornamented and dabbed with color.  Most interesting are Philips’s take on Lassus’s “Bon jour mon Coeur” and “Le Rossignuol.” Excellent liner notes (by Farr), top-notch engineering, and a budget Naxos price make this an irresistible purchase.

American Record Guide, February 2007

In my review of Ms Farr's release of Jacquet de la Guerre (Mar/Apr) 2006, I noted her frequent use of staggering-varied degrees of non-synchronous coordination of the right and left hands-and observed that sometimes it work­ed against the grain of the music. For Peter Philips, though, the technique works quite well-especially when the performer takes slow to moderate tempos, as Farr does. The program includes two pavans and galliards; his early Pavan in G; intabulations of vocal music by Caccini, Striggio, Marenzio, and Lasso; and the Fantasias in F and D minor. Her performance is so perfect that I can't find the slightest thing to complain about. In particular, she makes all of the intabulations sound very lyrical and heartfelt. (Usually they sound jangly and technically brilliant.) She plays a 1658 Italian harpsichord that has been expertly restored by Keith Hill, and once more Naxos's engineers capture the delicacy of the instrument and Farr's deft articulation in vivid detail.

Comparisons are few: my library contains the first volume of Rampe's readings for MDG (Jan/Feb 2006) and Paul Nicholson's program for Hyperion (Mar/Apr 1995). Rampe plays with lightning-fast speed in the intabulation for Lasso's 'Margot, Labourez'; compared with Farr's more singing approach, Rampe's sounds like a breathless Renaissance dance. Rampe also varies the instruments: his recording of the F-major Fantasia (on organ) makes for an interesting change from Farr's, but I prefer the sound of these works on the harpsichord. Nicholson plays a fine copy of an Italian instrument. His performances are comparable to Farr's (and duplicate some selections) and are still available at more than twice the price. All three discs are important to the diehard collector of Philips's work, but everyone else can make do very well with Farr. Naxos, keep up the good work. I hope Farr records some Bach before too long: her performances would be revelatory.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, October 2006

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) 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.

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