JOHN BULL: Complete Works for Harpsichord, Volume 1 – Peter Watchorn/ Mahan Esfahani, harpsichords – Musica Omnia 0301 (2 CDs), 92:48 ****:
John Bull (1562-1628) was undoubtedly a major talent, not only as evidenced on these recordings, the first volume of a seven-volume series devoted to his complete keyboard works (harpsichord, organ, virginal) and the first such recording ever attempted, but also according to the many degrees he took and the evidence that suggests he “passed out” of several normally prescribed requirements. But his life in general was something of a scandal plagued by bad luck; robbed several times, he was always throwing himself on the mercy of the church or state for his provisions, and seems to have been the type of person always getting himself into trouble. He had a definite reputation as something of a debaucher, and was fleeing this reputation much of his life even though he did have a number of prominent appointments to his credit. His flight to Antwerp from England was finally dubbed an exercise in religious freedom (he was probably of the recusant movement during the time of Elizabeth, though he served her well) though many other reasons has been given before this one. But there is little doubt that he was a genuine Catholic.
Questionable morals aside, and perhaps a penchant for arrogance and disobedience, his music was recognized as being second only to Sweelinck on the continent. This recording will prove that fact, for the variety and sheer invention of the man’s muse is extraordinary. Not only do we have set pieces like pavans, galliards, and preludes, but folksong variations as well in the manner of the time. The music is sprightly, intensely crafted, and remarkably communicative. The playing of Peter Watchorn and his now professional student Mahan Esfahani (the two of them will be doing the entire series) is never less than fully committed and brilliantly realized in vibrant sound. For those interested in this period or those looking to expand horizons a bit, this will be an essential series. This volume is offered at about $14 for the two discs—a real steal.
Prelude; Lord Lumley’s Pavan; Lord Lumley’s Galliard; The King’s Hunt; My Grief; My Selfe; Prelude; Walsingham; Fantastic Pavan; Fantastic Galliard; Bonny Sweet Robin; Why ask you?; Pavan; Galliard; Why ask you? (II); Melancholy Pavan; Melancholy Galliard; Why ask you? (III); Chromatic Pavan; Chromatic Galliard; Fantasia; Bull’s Goodnight
— Steven Ritter