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Basically Bull / Alan Feinberg


Release Date: 06/25/2013 
Label:  Steinway & Sons   Catalog #: 30019  
Composer:  Thomas TomkinsJohn BullWilliam ByrdJohn Blitheman,   ... 
Performer:  Alan Feinberg
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews


English virginal music from the 16th and early 17th centuries played on a modern Steinway? Unthinkable! Shocking! Forget it; this disc is fabulous. It may be a heretical notion in this era of authenticity, but the simple fact is that anything a harpsichord or virginal can do, a piano can do better, never mind its other advantages. Compare, for example, pianist Alan Feinberg’s way with the conclusion of John Bull’s In Nomine IX to a very good harpsichord version (Bob van Asperen on Teldec), and you will have to acknowledge the piano’s inherent superiority (sound clips). The latter’s sensitivity to touch, dynamic range, degrees of articulation, and timbral warmth just blow away the dense, mechanical
Read more clatter of the harpsichord—and that’s no bull.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the harpsichord, and have never agreed with Beecham’s description of the sound of the instrument as “two skeletons copulating on a tin roof”. However, it is very difficult to find a really good-sounding instrument, and particularly in heavily contrapuntal music such as this the piano offers an unbeatable medium in which to explore a style that at times sounds astonishingly modern. The aforementioned In Nomine IX, for example, moves forward in an unexpected 11/4 meter. Some of the fantasias employ a striking degree of chromaticism. Redford’s Eterne rex altissime, Blitheman’s Gloria tibi Trinitas, and Bull’s Christe redemptor omnium, like the two In Nomine pieces, take a fragment of vocal polyphony and turn it into a virtuoso extravaganza of intertwining melodic lines and affecting harmonies.

Indeed, all of the works here, from the simple Dutch Dance to the Pavanes and Galliards of Bull’s contemporaries Byrd, Gibbons, and Tomkins, reveal a remarkably mature, expressive musical language, one that you can appreciate afresh in Alan Feinberg’s vibrant interpretations. He doesn’t romanticize the music. Indeed, as you can hear for yourself his rhythm tends to be steadier than van Asperen’s, who uses agogic inflection tastefully to compensate for his instrument’s inherent lack of expressivity. But Feinberg also isn’t afraid to exploit the piano’s full range of musical capabilities, wholly to the music’s advantage in terms of balance, rhythm, and articulation.

Sonically the recording sounds beautiful, richly capturing the timbre of the piano without any blurring of the musical lines. After listening, you will certainly be left wondering why this music has remained the province of early music specialists. It would grace any modern recital program. Glenn Gould’s disc of music by Gibbons and Byrd gave piano mavens a first inkling of the riches contained in this repertoire, and it’s surprising that so few major pianists have taken up the challenge. We’re lucky that Alan Feinberg has done it so superbly. A revelation.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

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If John Bull’s keyboard music hasn’t received the kind of attention given to that of William Byrd (which the learned and agile David Moroney has recorded complete, and with copious notes, on Hyperion 44461), it still has several adherents. Siegbert Rampe recorded a fine disc in 2005 (MDG 341) that I praised at the time, while criticizing a penchant for rushing. Bob van Asperen (Teldec 4683619) and Joseph Payne (BIS 729) have joined in as well. The most hopeful development has been the first release (301) in what promises to be the complete keyboard music from Musica Omnia, featuring Peter Watchorn and Mahan Esfahani; and though that appeared in 2009, the small company is still active, and promises future updates. I hope this works out for them. Small companies rely even more heavily than large ones upon the proceeds of sales to determine future direction.

That said, we have here an entry out of left field, a disc of Bull’s music (technically 13 selections, with seven by his English contemporaries) performed not on the clavichord, harpsichord, virginal, or organ, but modern piano. Alan Feinberg is best known for his several recordings of 20th-century works by the likes of Ives and Cowell, though clearly he relishes the challenge of working against stereotype. This applies as well to thinking through an approach to this Elizabethan keyboard music that would be acceptable on his instrument.

Feinberg effects a compromise between the sound of the harpsichord and piano. To get a greater definition approaching that of the harpsichord, the sustaining pedal is all but eschewed, while the piano’s ability to deliver a wider range of colors through variation in touch is made use of to good advantage, with Bull’s delicate Pavan in the Second Tone and exuberant Galliard furnishing strong examples. Feinberg doesn’t press the point greatly, so that at no time does the music come across as though rendered by an early 20th-century advocate looking to make the most of orchestral-sounding contrasts (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that view, when it’s delivered by a skilled and thoughtful performer such as Mordecai Shehori).

It’s the intimate sensitivity of Feinberg’s playing here that ultimately wins me over, all other virtues to one side. His version of Bull’s ninth In Nomine is performed more flexibly than Rampe’s, and taken at a moderate tempo that works to greater advantage, as well. Simpler pieces (Bull’s Canon 4 in 2) are treated simply; and a few of the dances that could have been done boisterously, such as the Dutch Dance, are instead given what we moderns might call the French treatment: supple style brisé phrasing, thoughtful pacing, and turns supplying a functional weight. My only regret for this album is that Feinberg, who clearly relishes the complexity of Bull’s voicing, does not take on the most technically and structurally ambitious of all his keyboard works, the Walsingham Variations. That aside, and in excellent sound, this is a winner of a release.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal

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"Feinberg translates the exquisite chromatic ruminations and intricate counterpoint of Bull's keyboard works, and some contemporaries, into the lush sound world of the modern piano. ... It is a mark of Mr. Feinberg's skill that playfulness, along with grace and exuberance, characterize his performances of these 400-year-old miniatures even though their technical demands are of a sort rarely encountered until the 20th century." – The New York Times

"John Bull, who met and was to exceed in productivity the Antwerp keyboard genius Jan Sweelinck, provides the focus of pianist Alan Feinberg’s excursions on this disc. Feinberg has taken a select group of diverse works and transcribed them to the demands of the modern Steinway, sensitive to the originals’ timbre and affect while preserving their often daring harmonic progressions. ...Excellent Steinway sound, courtesy of engineer Daniel Shores. " – Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition

"Usually Feinberg is heard championing the works of contemporary composers, but here he proves he has a deft hand at Renaissance music as he imparts an airy and expansive countenance to Bull's music. And because some of the works are getting their first outing on the modern keyboard, it is more than notable. There is something fetching about this Elizabethan music; it sounds contemporary, bratty and fresh." – Edward Ortiz, The Sacramento Bee

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A pianist explores the uncharted territory of the 16th-century keyboard.

Of all the great English composers of this period, it is John Bull who stands out as the most maniacal keyboard virtuoso.

While others provided popular tunes and simple dances for the new instrument called the “virginal,” John Bull offered up experimental, challenging works, pieces that exuberantly overstepped conventional musical expectations. Fashioning a group of these works to function in concert and translating them to the wildly different timbre of the modern piano has been an exciting venture into the 16th- and 17th-century avant-garde. Bull’s music is brimming with invention and inspiration, power and passion. – Alan Feinberg




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Works on This Recording

1.
A Sad Pavan for these Distracted Times by Thomas Tomkins
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 1649; England 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 3 Minutes 49 Secs. 
2.
Pavan and Galliard "St. Thomas Wake": Galliard by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 2 Minutes 31 Secs. 
3.
Qui passe for my Lady Nevell, MB 19 by William Byrd
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 3 Minutes 55 Secs. 
4.
Pavan in the Second Tone by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Renaissance 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 6 Minutes 15 Secs. 
5.
Galliard by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 2 Minutes 6 Secs. 
6.
Gloria tibi Trinitas I by John Blitheman
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 16th Century 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 2 Minutes 13 Secs. 
7.
Fantasia by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: England 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 3 Minutes 55 Secs. 
8.
In nomine no 9 by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 6 Minutes 23 Secs. 
9.
Canon 4 in 2 by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Renaissance 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 2 Minutes 11 Secs. 
10.
The Galliiarde to the Third Pavian  by William Byrd
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Renaissance 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 1 Minutes 27 Secs. 
11.
In nomine no 5 by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Renaissance 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 3 Minutes 21 Secs. 
12.
Dutch Dance by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: England 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 1 Minutes 49 Secs. 
13.
Fantasia by Orlando Gibbons
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Renaissance 
Written: England 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 4 Minutes 53 Secs. 
14.
Pavan by Orlando Gibbons
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 6 Minutes 5 Secs. 
15.
Aeterne rex altissime by John Redford
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Renaissance 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 2 Minutes 18 Secs. 
16.
Galliard for Keyboard, MB 129a "Lord Lumley" by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 1 Minutes 53 Secs. 
17.
Fitzwilliam Virginal Book: Ut re mi fa so la by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: England 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 5 Minutes 47 Secs. 
18.
Christe redemptor omnium, K 33 by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 2 Minutes 14 Secs. 
19.
Fantasia (ii) by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Date of Recording: 01/2013 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 6 Minutes 17 Secs. 
20.
Bull’s Goodnight by John Bull
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: England 
Date of Recording: 1/2013 
Length: 4 Minutes 3 Secs. 

Featured Sound Samples

Pavan in the Second Tone (Bull)
Lord Lumley's Galliard (Bull)
Fantasia (Bull)

Sound Samples

A Sad Pavan for these distracted times
St. Thomas Wake Pavan and Galliard (Musica Britannica, Vol. 19, No. 126): Galliard
Qui passe for my Lady Nevell, P. 19
Pavan No. 2: Pavan in the Second Tone (Musica Britannica, Vol. 19, No. 77)
Galliard (Musica Britannica, Vol. 19, No. 78)
Gloria tibi Trinitas No. 1
Fantasia (Musica Britannica, Vol. 14, No. 5)
In nomine IX (Musica Britannica, Vol. 14, No. 28)
Canon, 4 in 2 (Musica Britannica, Vol. 14, No. 50)
Pavan and Galliard No. 3 in A minor: Galliard
In nomine V (Musica Britannica, Vol. 14, No. 24)
Dutch Dance (Musica Britannica, Vol. 19, No. 99)
Fantasia No. 4 in D minor
Pavan No. 16 in G minor
Aeterne rex altissime
Lord Lumley's Pavan and Galliard (Musica Britannica, Vol. 19, No. 129): Lord Lumley's Galliard
Ut re mi fa so la (Musica Britannica, Vol. 14, No. 17)
Christe redemptor omnium (Musica Britannica, Vol. 14, No. 33)
Fantasia (Musica Britannica, Vol. 14, No. 12)
Bull's Goodnight (Musica Britannica, Vol. 19, No. 143)

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  9 Customer Reviews )
 Timeless January 15, 2014 By Kathleen S. (Poulsbo, WA) See All My Reviews "Consistent quality piano performance. Recommend this for any occasion when a pleasant background of melodic sound is desired." Report Abuse
 Basically brilliant! July 27, 2013 By S. Murnaghan (Ardmore, PA) See All My Reviews "A spirited, masterful, and deeply sympathetic tribute to some great neglected composers." Report Abuse
 Basically great July 26, 2013 By Leonid K. (San Jose, CA) See All My Reviews "Although piano adaptations for JB's works may seem inadequate, a "modern ear" is more than happy to listen to them. It is an oustanding and deeply touching music and a great interpretation. I can only guess who of the three greats (JSB, Handel and Scarlatti) was more influenced by John Bull." Report Abuse
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