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Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, January 2008

"Four harpsichords are used for these recordings and they are quite different. All were made under the guiding eye of Keith Hill, who writes eloquently about his instruments and who supplies his e-mail address in the booklet! ... Documentation is good and there is a very useful accompanying essay by Elizabeth Farr, writing from a performer’s angle. This offers (in the usual micro-print) a discussion of Byrd’s keyboard works and of several of the pieces. We are treated also detailed information about the editions used something I have called for in reviews of other discs. It can be very helpful ...This set serves as a handsome reminder that this priceless collection is now in the hands of the British Library and it is a very impressive achievement. It is also very well recorded."

J. F. Weber
Fanfare, January 2008

This is a splendid production all around. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Bradley Bambarger
Newark Star-Ledger, December 2007

Feeling especially flush or adventurous, one could plump for Davitt Moroney's seven-disc boxed set of Byrd's complete keyboard works on Harmonia Mundi. Others should go for this wonderful three-CD set by fine American harpsichordist Elizabeth Farr, who plays the entire manuscript anthology known as "My Ladye Nevells Booke," a sort of greatest-hits collection compiled in 1591 for the half-sister of Francis Bacon.

Aside from Farr's grace at the keyboard, this set has the beautiful-sounding advantage of her Keith Hill-built, Ruckers-style instruments, which never tinkle as some harpsichords do. Especially intoxicating are the rich tones of Hill's lute-harpsichord (no examples of which survive, but was built after the specifications of Bach, known to have played one). Farr uses that intimate hybrid for "My Ladye Nevells Grounde" and several of the sighing tunes known as pavans. Upbeat galliards, songs without words and a memorial battle suite also come alive under Farr's fingers.

An aural time machine, this set will send a listener swooning back to Elizabethan times, and it only costs about $28 for the trip.

Ted Libbey
The Absolute Sound, October 2007

"Musically, My Ladye Nevells Booke is exquisite - energetic but not self-consciously showy or virtuosic, notable for its harmonic audacity and for the richness of sound and texture that were key elements of Byrd's musical language. To make the recording, harpsichordist Elizabeth Farr used four different instruments, all replicated or restored by American builder Keith Hill and chosen for their suitability to specific pieces.

The instruments are a lute-harpsichord designed and built by Hill; an Italian single manual harpsichord dating from 1658 restored by Hill; and two Flemish double manual instruments based on different Ruckers models from the first half of the 17th century. All are spectacularly well played by Ms. Farr on this outing, and well-recorded by the album's producer, Wolfgang Ruebsam, a Naxos artist and no stranger to the keyboard.

The sound is breathtakingly big, bold, and present. If you want to know what a lute-harpsichord sounds like, the first track of Disc One puts one right in your listening room. So here it is: The best collection of Byrd's keyboard music you can find on disc. Period."

Lawson Taitte
Audiophile Audition, September 2007

William Byrd, arguably the greatest keyboard composer before Bach, presented a beautifully bound volume of his best work to a patroness in 1591. There have been very few recordings of the whole book, and only this new one seems to be available currently.The book contains a wide variety of pieces. The dominant prestige form of the day was a pair of formalized dances, a pavane followed by a galliard.

My Ladye Nevells Booke contains 10 such (one without a galliard, actually). Other dance movements, sets of elaborate variations on popular tunes, dense contrapuntal fantasies and even musical evocations of battle scenes make up the 42 numbers.

Elizabeth Farr, who teaches at the University of Colorado, plays this music with a winning lack of fussiness. (Davitt Moroney's formidable complete set of Byrd keyboard works on six Harmonia Mundi CDs sometimes seems clotted and overly subtle by comparison.) The flourishes that abound in these pieces sound alternately charming and sweeping under Ms. Farr's fingers.

The player has four invaluable assets in harpsichords either constructed or restored by Keith Hill. They range widely in size and sound. Ms. Farr seems particularly inspired by the Lautenwerk that Mr. Hill made in 2001. The variations on Will You Walke the Woods Soe Wylde are absolutely enchanting, for instance.

Glenn Gould's performances of a few of these pieces on piano remain unrivaled for tragic intensity of expression. But Ms. Farr's renditions of this wonderful music make a fine, and inexpensive, introduction.

Kirk McElhearn
MusicWeb International, September 2007

My Lady Nevells Booke is a collection of 42 pieces for keyboard by William Byrd. It seems that it was compiled for, Elizabeth Bacon, the third wife of Sir Henry Nevell but there is some uncertainty surrounding this attribution. This luxurious book, bound in leather and decorated with gold, contains one of the largest groups of keyboard works by Byrd. It includes some pieces that are found only in this book and which appear to have been composed especially for this collection.

While many recordings of Byrd’s keyboard music exist, there seems to be no other complete set of the works in this book. There is one exception, of course, in the shape of Davitt Moroney’s extraordinary Complete Keyboard Music on Hyperion. In addition to this being a full recording of the collection, the set benefits from the use of four outstanding instruments by Keith Hill. They are a lautenwerk (or lute-harpsichord), which is used on the first piece of the set, as well as a dozen others; an Italian single manual harpsichord; and two Flemish double-manual Ruckers copies.

It has become somewhat trendy to record English keyboard music on multiple instruments. Moroney’s set includes several harpsichords, muselar virginal, clavichord, chamber organ, and organ. This gives a more varied range of colours than a single instrument is capable of delivering, and, in most cases, better represents the variety of instruments used at the time. We can contrast this with Bach’s music, where the harpsichord was the norm - though Bach probably played a clavichord at home, and much of his music sounds excellent on that instrument. English music of the kind found in My Lady Nevells Booke was played on a variety of instruments. Recordings like this therefore have the advantage not only of presenting excellent music, but also of providing a more “authentic” experience. This is how listeners might well have heard the music. Of course, they would never have heard all three-and-three-quarter hours of this music in one sitting.

As for the music itself, William Byrd’s keyboard music is both idiomatic of his time, and unique. The very first work in this set, My Ladye Nevels Grownde, played on lautenwerk, is a French-like work with broken chords and attractive melodies. Farr plays this with subtlety and detachment, letting the music come through. The lautenwerk fits this piece very well, as it does most of the others where it is used. Another very attractive ground, Hughe Ashtons Grownde, sounds almost like Couperin with its ornamentation and style brisé. The Italian harpsichord used gives it a beautiful, almost other-worldly sound. This piece is slow and introspective, and, again, the combination of music, performer and instrument is nearly perfect.

Many of Byrd’s keyboard pieces are combinations of galliards and pavans. These two-part works feature a first movement, the pavan, which is slow and melodic, much like a saraband. The second part is much more lively and rhythmic. Thematically related, the pavans are generally longer than the galliards, and one can imagine how people would dance to these types of music, though harpsichord pieces were more for simply playing than for accompanying dancers. Each pavan/galliard set is played here on a single instrument, with the instruments changing from one set to the next. Listening to just the pavans and galliards gives an excellent introduction to Byrd’s music, and highlights the varied colours and tones available from the four instruments used here.

While Byrd did not write suites, as the French or Germans did, he did produce some pieces that are relatively long in comparison. Several pieces go over the eight- or nine-minute mark, including the excellent Have With Yow to Walsingame, a set of twenty-two variations. The performance here is understated, and exploits every possible effect of the Colmar Ruckers copy on which it is played.

So we have here an exemplary recording of great music; Byrd was arguably England's greatest composer of music for the keyboard. Beautiful instruments are deployed and the sounds of all four are luscious. The sessions took place in a fine acoustics with a hint too much reverb, but otherwise the instruments can be heard in all their splendour. The picture is completed by sensitive and distinctive playing. Elizabeth Farr is an excellent performer and seems perfectly suited to this music. I regret to say that I was unfamiliar with her before hearing this set.

If you do not know William Byrd’s keyboard music, you have no excuse now. This is undoubtedly the best collection available for its price - thank you, Naxos. If you are familiar with this music, you’ll certainly want this 3 CD box. Not only is it well-played and on beautiful instruments, but it contains all the works from Lady Nevells Booke, the only such set available right now. Trust me; you simply can’t go wrong with this.

Stephen Pettitt
, August 2007

Byrd compiled this volume of his choicest keyboard music, it is thought, for Elizabeth Bacon, the wife of Henry Nevell, in 1591. It was a lavish tribute. The music is beautiful and infinitely varied: popular tunes, learned contrapuntal works, pavanes and galliards – even a picturesque battle suite. Byrd shows himself both the master abstract composer and a genius at responding to and exploring a preexisting tune’s mood. For this recording, Elizabeth Farr plays on four contrasting harpsichords, three of them modern reconstructions, the fourth an original Italian instrument of 1658. Perhaps her style sometimes seems slightly too studied, but, equally, there is much to admire, especially at this price.

Giv Cornfield, Ph.D.
August 2007

Three cheers for William Byrd, Elizabeth Farr and Naxos!!! Here we have a happy convergence of great music, splendid performances, and a great bargain, given Naxos' affordable price. Moreover, the 42 pieces are played on four different instruments, all lovingly built or restored by Keith Hill, and recorded in close-up, intimate and splendid sound, affording the listener a variety of tone-colours - a wise move, since there is not that much variety in the music unless one is following it with a score. The American artist Elizabth Farr provides exhaustive notes in the booklet. Her playing is meticulously phrased, though I would have liked a little more emphasis on the dance-like quality in the many pavans and galliards, even if that meant fewer ornaments.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2007

Born in 1543, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis were the two outstanding British composers of the 16th century, their financial security guaranteed when granted a patent on printing and marketing part-music and manuscript paper. First gaining recognition when Master of Music at Lincoln Cathedral, he was more often seen in London where he soon established himself as a major composer, becoming a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from 1570. He was much admired in Royal circles, and in 1593 moved to the rural surroundings of Essex where he passed his final years through to his death in 1623. His output was prolific and included the 42 pieces that form My Ladye Nevells Booke a compendium of pieces bound together in one volume by John Baldwin. The name of the recipient has remained a matter of conjecture, but modern thought places her as the wife of Sir Henry Nevell, an educated woman of sufficient means to warrant such a volume. More than that I am not going to elaborate as the accompanying booklet is very informative on this and the contents of the book. The performance of this large undertaking is in the hands of the American expert on harpsichord music of the period, Elizabeth Farr, She performs on four harpsichords both original of the 17th century and reproductions, the most interest will certainly be on the restored 1658 Italian single manual instrument. It opens the second disc with the Fourth Pavian and Galliard, its almost harp-like tone very different to our modern concept of the instrument. To my ears the whole package is most persuasive, Farr's articulation immaculate and her approach to the very differing moods always interesting. The sound quality is very good.

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