Orlando Gibbons - The Woods So Wild - John Toll -

Artistic Quality 10 / Sound Quality 10

Here's one of those "instrument-right-in-the-room-with-you" recordings, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially where the "often-barely-audible" harpsichord is concerned. We're also fortunate that this particular harpsichord - a single-manual Flemish model - is so pleasingly sonorous and it's miked to maximize its bright colors (and impressive bass!) without the ear-fatiguing treble harshness that mars so many similarly "up-close" recordings of plucked keyboard instruments. The well-designed program is made more ear-friendly by mixing harpsichord pieces with those played on organ, a two-manual 17th-century instrument at England's Adlington Hall, Cheshire. This organ has a light, airy, flutey sound, and soloist John Toll wisely manages its limited array of stops by not giving away all their possible effects at once; rather, he gradually and carefully parcels out the various voices, making for welcome variety and some occasionally surprising moments, particularly notable during a sequence of four pieces in the middle of the program - Fantasia, Pavan, Ground, and Fantasia.

The music consists of various shorter secular keyboard forms popular at Gibbons' time, including dances, preludes, grounds, and several sets of variations taken from well-known songs, the best of these being "Will you walk the woods so wild?" Gibbons was one of the more solid if less-adventurous composers among an illustrious group that included Byrd, Bull, and Dowland. Nevertheless, his music's structural soundness, well-wrought internal lines, and wonderful sense of rightness to the rhythmic pulse and melodic shape make it very easy to listen to -an effect largely achieved in these keyboard works by the natural, almost inevitable flow of each line under the fingers.
Toll is a seasoned expert in this repertoire, and his articulation is invariably clean and clear, his judgments regarding tempos and stops -on both harpsichord and organ -always rendering a suitable result and effectively holding our interest. Fans of Gibbons' keyboard music will definitely want this release, not only for the excellent performances and sound, but for its program that includes such a generous selection of repertoire (24 works; 73 minutes), highlighted by the title track, the Lord Salisbury pavan and galliard, and the famous Fantasia for Double Organ.
08 April 2002